Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sounding Black versus Sounding Red

An interesting post from the Freakonomics blog: Blacks who "sound black" earn about 10% less than blacks who "sound white;" whites who "sound black" earn 6% less than whites who "sound white," and; it's almost as "bad" for your wages to "sound southern" (redneck) as it is to "sound black" (even if you live in the south). I wonder how much it costs to sound foreign?

It sort of reminds me of Levitt's (author of Freaconomics) articles on "name discrimination." Some have suspected that people with "distinctively black" names, a trend that began to emerge in the 1970s, earn less. Levitt (and coauthor Fryer find no such discrimination, which is interesting in light of the finding that voice distinctiveness does lead to discrimination.

In turn, this reminds me of my own job application process. My last name is Bang. It's a Danish name, but I'm frequently confused (on paper) with being Korean (in person, my Scandanavian heritage is clear at 6'3" with relatively fair skin). Once, after I had actually obtained a job and had been working a couple months, my employer confessed his own initial misgivings about hiring me to teach for fear of a possible accent or language barrier (on account of my Korean name). At a conference, I was about to meet a Korean colleague for breakfast (he had invited me blindly), and he was surprised that when he met me I was white (he still paid, but I think his intent was to help out a "countryman"). I also get loads of junk mail from Korean Air.

In an unrelated story my last name (Bang) was initially rejected by a social networking site for being "fake" and "inappropriate."


  1. Where did the Korean colleague story come from? That's anew one

  2. That was this year at Westerns - A session chair had to fly out early, and wanted to meet with me to discuss how to make sure things run smoothly without him. He already had a replacement, so I think he was just trying to meet a Korean to keep the social network strong.