“Every black American is bilingual,” Dave Chappelle once said. “We speak street vernacular and we speak 'job interview’.” The same can be said of black Brits, who have long known to affect an entirely different accent when an unknown number graces your phone after a bout of applications. And, while we’re aware of the discrepancies between us and our white peers when applying for jobs, the stark difference in experiences was brought into focus today by a controversial cover letter.
After an unsuccessful job search, Anastasia Glover from Derbyshire penned a “grime-style rap” in lieu of a cover letter, and has achieved the widespread adulation that only a white person could for using the word “innit” in the subject line of a job-application email.
"I'd been sending CVs here, there and everywhere, and it came to a point where I just thought, 'Do you know what, I'm actually going a bit mental here,’ so I deliriously at midnight started writing this stupid rap," she told the BBC.
In her “stupid rap”, she claimed she had "worked propa 'ard and achieved a goal" but had "been messed about bare". The subject line of her email was "gimme a job innit” and, since it went out on 20 March, Glover has received an "immediate" response and several interview offers. PR agencies have flocked to help her land a job and she will soon be speaking on local radio.
"This is the perfect way to grab the attention of an employer," said Steve Thompson, managing director of Forward Role, the recruitment agency that initially received the email. "It shows brilliant creativity and a real willingness to think outside the box. With that level of creativity, we believe she has a brilliant future."
While it’s great that Glover is able to showcase her “skillz” in this way, the reporting of her story has unsurprisingly been met with eye-rolls and ire from black Twitter users. The boundless support from employers and subsequent fawning from media outlets is a slap in the face of thousands of black graduates who would have no doubt been penalised for doing the exact same thing.
This celebration of “brilliant creativity” fails to acknowledge this type of creativity is white-only. Black applicants spend the best part of prepping for the interview process by donning the closest thing they can to white-face – straightening their hair, giving themselves makeshift elocution lessons and even anglicising their names. But Glover’s success is being roundly framed as a win for “different thinking”, as if had black applicants embraced the slang most of us are taught to suppress during interviews, we’d somehow have been more successful in our job searches, as opposed to escorted off the premises.
If Anastasia’s name had been Amaka for instance, we wouldn’t have even heard her story, because her CV would have been promptly binned
Racism during the recruitment process means black applicants can rarely afford to “think outside the box”, let alone have the luxury of being themselves. If Anastasia’s name had been Amaka for instance, we wouldn’t have even heard her story, because her CV would have been promptly binned before HR even arrived at the bit where she rhymed “mandem” with “tandem”. Even when black applicants play by the rules and do their very best impression of a white person, unconscious bias persists; it remains so rife that, in 2016, David Cameron gave a speech citing research that proved people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get job call-backs than people with ethnic-sounding ones. Since then, the country has toyed with the introduction of name-blind job and university applications to weed out racism (the very same racism that, common sense suggests, will still be present at face-to-face interviews).
Glover’s application “stood out” for using language many of us have been actively taught not to use. In 2013, Harris Academy South Norwood, where I attended sixth form part-time, banned students from using specifically “urban” slang words, which included words Glover used herself, such as “bare”, “innit” and “extra”. It was a move praised by Labour MP David Lammy, who told The Daily Mail: “I think this is a very good idea. Speaking slang is fine in a social setting but as school should be a professional, educational environment and if part of that means banning slang than that's fine by me.
“Too often I see young people going into job interviews or writing cover letters without being able to use correct English. Any attempts to change that should be encouraged.”
His comments particularly grate, given his new found penchant for the use of the word “bruv” on Twitter. On top of this, according to a report from the Social Mobility Commission, accents remain one of the biggest barriers to employment within the financial quarter. It’s quite simple – the only time black people in Britain would not be chastised for using these terms at work is if they were grime artists.
The rewards Glover has received in response to her “rap” are painfully predictable. Ayesha Siddiqui, summarising it in her essay, Can The White Girl Twerk?, focused on Miley Cyrus. “Transfer to a white body elevates the action,” she wrote. “It’s no longer primitive because while nonwhite culture is assumed to be rooted in instinct, white culture is one of intent.” A black applicant “spitting bars” can never be viewed as anything other than an aspiring rapper with a lack of interview etiquette. When a white person does it, it’s intentional and ironic. Like grills and gaudy nail art, white people doing absolutely anything black working-class people do is viewed as wry and clever, and stupid and knee-jerk when black people do it. The only people who can do black things properly are white people. In Glover’s case, it’s even more apparent how certain actions are afforded “edge” dependent on the actor, given how banal and commonplace it is to see middle-class white girls using the word “bare” in 2018.