African professionals ‘whitening’ CVs when applying for jobs to bypass institutional racism

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Yasin Kakande

Black foreign jobseekers are ‘whitening’ their CVs by removing references to race, culture and creed in the hope of avoiding the “colour cull” in the initial stages of the UK’s “racist and xenophobic” recruitment process, worrying new research reveals.

A three-year study has found that almost 90 per cent of qualified African applicants are altering their resumes to conceal ethnic features that could lead to early rejection or subsequently “weaken” their chances of an interview.

Christian names are routinely replaced with anglicised versions, whilst profile photographs are being digitally modified to give the appearance of lighter skin.

Britain’s largest companies are said to be so “anti-Africa” that a third of applicants also use a false UK residential address to hide their true nationality, the study shows.

Others undergo elocution lessons in a bid to rid themselves of their “unappealing” native accents and sound more ‘British’.

The findings follow an in-depth examination of African-UK migration by the Reuters journalist, migration expert and bestselling author Yasin Kakande.

He interviewed more than 1,000 black African men and women for his latest book, ‘Why We Are Coming’, to determine their experience of and success in the British recruitment system.

Kakande, who was born in Uganda, said a specific bias against African nationals continues to run rampant through the CV screening process at companies throughout the UK.

He said: “There clearly remains a gross and inaccurate assumption amongst British corporations that jobseekers from Africa are not as intelligent, capable, applied or reliable as white jobseekers from other countries.

“As a result of this ingrained prejudice, African people are routinely rejected in the early stages of the recruitment process.

“To avoid this discriminatory colour cull, it is unsurprising that so great a proportion of jobseekers feel the need to whiten their resumes in order to get their foot in the door.”

Kakande, a TED Fellow who writes for the Thomson Reuters Foundation and Al Jazeera, amongst others, added: “To be screened out of the selection process for no other reason than the colour of one’s skin is an absolute travesty and a shocking indictment on the effectiveness of UK employment law.”

For the study, Kakande interviewed 1,006 qualified men and women aged between 21 and 50 from Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Cameroon and Ivory Coast about their experiences of applying for a variety of roles in the UK corporate sector.

All were university graduates or otherwise possessed the prerequisite academic qualifications for the job in question.

Of those he interviewed, 885 (88 per cent) had ‘whitened’ their CVs to varying degrees after the original versions prompted one or more early rejections for similar UK-based jobs.

A third of applicants with uniquely traditional African names now use “more appealing” anglicised versions to suggest dual heritage, with examples including David for ‘Dafari’, Issac for ‘Isoke’, Sarah for ‘Salama’, and Tamara for ‘Tamala’.

The majority also give British contact details, typically by using the home addresses and telephone numbers of UK-based friends and relatives.

Almost all respondents said they avoid profile photographs to conceal their skin colour “for as long as possible”. In a handful of cases, applicants said they had “lightened” their appearance using digital software such as Photoshop.

Approximately a quarter said they have taught themselves to speak “less African” English by watching elocution videos on YouTube.

To date, fewer than five per cent of the 1,006 people that Kakande interviewed have succeeded in landing a job in the UK corporate sector.

Of those, most had applied for between 50 and 100 jobs over the course of two or more years.

The overwhelming majority were “summarily rejected” for professional roles, with many now working in the UK manual labour market or care sector on the minimum wage.

Kakande, whose latest book investigates the historical and contemporary reasons why Africans migrate to the West, said CVs were altered, rather than embellished, out of necessity.

“Whilst this ploy may at first glance seem underhand, it stems from absolute desperation given the racist and xenophobic culture and attitudes of the British recruitment process,” he said.

“There is an attitude hanging over from the colonial era that is prevalent among British employers that Africans should stay where they are until needed.

“In any event, a ‘whitened’ CV is not in itself a ticket to employment because an applicant cannot continue to conceal his or her identity at interview.

“In my experience, many African professionals were on course for a job until the interview stage when they noticed a distinct cooling in enthusiasm from their potential new employer – something that I attribute to an unconscious bias against Africans.”

Kakande, a human rights campaigner and migrant activist, also suggests that African professionals are turning to the UK because Western nations are “economically exploiting” their native countries, leading to fewer career opportunities and a lower standard of living.

He added: “African leaders are complicit with the British Government in allowing UK companies to enjoy exclusive rights to natural resources such as oil, with the wealth of these nations being syphoned off to the detriment of their citizens.

“To stem African migration, the British Government must be honest about the true reason for migration and make fair reparation.

“This would bring greater economic prosperity in Africa and would work towards achieving parity with the West – at which point migration will be done through choice, not necessity.”

Why We Are Coming by Yasin Kakande is out now, priced £15.43 in paperback and £4.64 as an eBook (£4.64). Visit Amazon. For more information, visit www.yasinkakande.com.

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