In a recent case, a 25-year-old British Asian man, Asad Farooq, is suing Liverpool Football Club, alleging racial discrimination after his job application for an administrative role was rejected. Farooq, who holds a degree in stadium and event management and boasts previous experience with Tottenham Hotspur and the Qatar World Cup, did not receive an interview for the position he applied for in November last year.
In today’s diversity-focused climate, rejection often hastily gets attributed to race or background. Some seem to automatically assume that not getting a job must equate to biased, discriminatory hiring practices.
It’s understandable to feel disappointed or even suspicious when rejected for a role you seem qualified for; however, employers weigh many factors when searching for candidates or making hiring decisions. No single criterion, even extensive experience, guarantees a job offer or an invitation to an interview.
Many of us, particularly those with substantial experience in the job market, have grappled with the harsh reality of continuous rejection. How often have we encountered so many setbacks in our pursuit of dream careers and roles that we eventually quit and settle to retrain in another industry? It’s not unusual to be turned down for a position you are undoubtedly qualified for on paper, only to later land a completely different role – sometimes due to a stroke of luck or perfect timing.
It becomes somewhat reactionary and infantile to automatically presume that your race was the sole factor the employer used to determine whether or not you were suited for the position.
There are other factors that employers take into account, such as compatibility with the company culture, interview performance, attitude and personality, alignment of salary expectations with the company’s budget, and the willingness to negotiate benefits and terms. Most of these factors can only be accurately assessed during an interview, and it’s fair to recognise that this was an opportunity Farooq was not given. However, the club claimed the rejection of the application was due to his salary demands, which is a key aspect in an employer’s decision-making.
It’s increasingly common for job seekers to express their salary expectations boldly, which is a positive trend. However, the organisation or business retains the right and the final say in deciding whether to meet stated salary demands, especially if they exceed their initial or advertised offer. Perhaps the football club should have conducted an interview with Farooq to gauge whether he would be open to negotiating on that aspect if that was the sole reason for not progressing further.
Yet in our culture of entitlement and privilege politics, it’s easy to forget that the world, in fact, owes us nothing. Possession of a “protected characteristic” grants no guarantee of preferential treatment or advancement, and rightly so. Where would the entitlement end in that case?
Suppose that Farooq received an interview but was still passed over for someone else, even if he was the more qualified candidate. Would he still argue that he faced discrimination based on his racial identity? The likelihood is high, and following Robin DiAngelo’s logic, he would have substantial grounds for his claim. Racism, as she posits, isn’t a matter of whether it occurred, but how it occurred. And in this instance, being rejected as a non-White individual leads to the natural conclusion: racism – unequivocal, systemic, institutionalised, deliberate racism.
Many people are well aware of the current DEI culture and the eagerness of companies to appear diverse and inclusive. Armed with this awareness, they may tactfully use their understanding to gain an upper hand, taking advantage of their skin colour to manipulate processes and outcomes. If someone automatically claims racism without substantial proof beyond mere rejection, it suggests a deliberate and calculated attempt to exploit the situation for their own personal gain.
Seeing racism in every setback for people of colour says more about our own limited perspectives than institutional biases. Moreover, it once again denies the personal agency and resilience of so-called minorities. The co-founder and CEO of Canva, Melanie Perkins, reportedly faced over 100 rejections from Silicon Valley investors before securing a yes for her company’s investment. Some might attribute this to mere bad luck or an inherent part of the entrepreneurial journey, but how would they label it if she were a Black woman?
Mere rejection, adversity, or unfavourable outcomes should no longer be considered conclusive evidence of racism. Not only does it oversimplify complex and multi-layered issues and scenarios, but it also continues to perpetuate the disempowerment of non-White individuals, reducing them to passive agents in their own existence.
Rejection affects talented applicants across all groups; getting passed over for a role does not necessarily and automatically equal racial discrimination.
Ada Akpala is the senior content officer of The Equiano Project.