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I'm a White Woman with a Black Woman's Name

Updated on April 25, 2019

I'm an Basic White Soccer Mom

That’s me up there.

Pretty much your standard slightly-goofy, middle-age, middle-class, thick-in-the-middle white soccer mom. With all of the privileges that come along with it.

My name is Shaunta.

For as long as I can remember, when people hear my name without knowing anything else about me, they assume I’m black.

It happened all the time when I worked at a paralegal firm. I’d answer the phone like this: “Legal Data, this is Shaunta, how may I help you?” And sometimes, people were very rude to me. They’d talk over me or interrupt me. They’d yell at me if I told them something they didn’t want to hear.

Then they’d come into the office and meet me. And I could actually see their entire attitude toward me shift. White privilege clicking into place was almost audible. And it stayed there.

What that means is that I have white privilege, but it often doesn’t kick in until someone sees me. By far the most disturbing is my experience with job applications.

I’ve struggled with how to write about this. Because I’m not whining. This post isn’t about me complaining about my history of difficulty getting a job interview.

But, seriously, no one ever calls me on a blind job application. Ever.

It’s better in person, if I apply with the person who is doing the hiring and they take a minute to talk to me so that my name sticks to my face in their brain.

But if I just turn in a paper application to a random person, it’s the same thing. I just never hear anything.

I’ve been offered nearly every job I’ve ever applied for, if I was given an interview. Getting to that interview, though, has historically been very difficult for me if the person setting interviews doesn’t know what I look like.

A while back someone posted a thing on my Facebook wall. A challenge to google my first name and post the image results.

Here’s what comes up in a Google image search for the name “Shaunta.”


Is a Google Search a Snapchat of What People Think of When They Hear My Name?

I searched in an incognito window, to make sure it wasn’t skewed by my own past searches. What you’re seeing there is five pictures of me (three on the second row, two at the bottom), a few pictures of a blonde stripper, and a variety of black women.

I don’t know if a Google image search is a good indication of how the general public perceives a name.

Maybe no one gets called when they apply for jobs online. Maybe we live in a post-racist society and people just don’t want to hire me.

That would make more sense if I didn’t get hired once someone knows I’m white. But I do. I get to show up and be white. As soon as someone sees me, I’m given all of the privilege that accompanies being white.

I Was Almost Called Amy

I don’t know what it’s like to live as a person of color in a country full of people who voted for Donald Trump. If just having a name that’s perceived as belonging to a black person has affected my life, I’m going to say: Difficult. Scary. Or maybe just status quo. Because those voters have always been there. (Scarier. More difficult. Because they’ve been given a megaphone?)

I really don’t know.

I was very nearly called Amy when I was born. In fact my mother named me Amy and my dad changed it a couple of hours later. I wonder if my experience searching for jobs as an adult would be different if I was Amy Grimes.

If Google images really is a representation of how people perceive a name, I would probably be given white privilege sight unseen, anyway.


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