As a warning to you parents — both current or future: you might wanna reconsider what name you put on your child’s birth certificate.
I just read an amazing article from last week showing how blatant racism can get:
A high school in Covina is considering reprinting yearbook pages that included offensive phony names for members of the Black Student Union.
Charter Oak High School Principal Kathleen Wiard says that she is working with the publisher to replace all pages in the 2008 Chronicle that have incorrect names.
The yearbook handed out earlier this month carried names such as “Tay Tay Shaniqua” for nine Black Student Union members. The principal says students put phony names in the yearbook proofs and failed to correct them before printing. Some students were offended and demanded the books be reprinted.
At the outset, I was outraged after reading this article. As far as I know, the 4.5% of the blacks who made up the student body at this school could have been the complete antithesis of the depictions to which they were subjected based on those ghetto names. I mean, these black students were conscious enough to have a student union for heaven’s sake. That deserves a great deal of respect from the school. At my old high school (predominately black), the only students who received any sort of respect were athletes and the popular kids. So — if for no other reason but to honor these black kids for displaying their social awareness — the yearbook should be reprinted and the students and/or staff who produced this nonsense should be punished. Besides all of that, I was left to wonder what (besides the obvious racism) could have possessed that ignorant editorial staff to ever allow the yearbook to go to print.
But after I let my blood pressure stabilize, I thought to myself that the reason ignorant folks like this seem to have a legitimate leg to stand on is because of the stuff we do to contribute to their ignorance. In this case, the bizarre Name Game we often play with our children gave these yearbook clowns the very tools they need to reinforce the racial mocking and stereotypical behavior they exhibited.
I suspect that our obsession with coming up with unconventional names for our children stems from the time in our history right around the end of the Civil Rights Struggle. As people and entire communities were establishing a prideful connection (or perhaps a reconnection) to Africa, names were used as a method of expressing that connectivity (of course, I’m only speculating. But being a student of history, I don’t think my assessment is too far off). Fast forward to today. In this day in age, it is not uncommon to take those African-rooted names and create adaptions of them by adding a little more to them. In an effort to be even more creative (needlessly, IMO) spellings started to change; extra syllables were added, accents were included, and odd names started to spread like wildfire. As much of a fan as I am of creative expression (being as boring and unoriginal as I am), I argue that the name game has completely go out of control; much to detriment of the children stuck with those names. This is our fault.
There is no doubt the name stigma is directly attributed to the prejudicial nature of a systemically racist society. We must never lose sight of that. In fact a few years back, researchers from the University of Chicago and MIT conducted a groundbreaking study measuring the extent of race-based job discrimination in the current labor market. So there is no denying the apparent existence of racial bias and discrimination. Still, I also maintain that as players in this sick, twisted, and unfair game, we have to be hip to the rules. So in this particular instance: whether or not we choose to accept it, there are significant ramifications to giving our children polysllabic names. Please believe that! While I’m sure that there are plenty of successful people with socially unconventional names (just as there are unsuccessful people with ‘ordinary’ names) you can’t deny that ascribing more syllables to a child’s name increases their odds of them being discriminated against even before their skin color, hair type, clothing styles, or any other physical attributes are ever factored in. In the general and less-than-socially-conscious society, strange sounding names often inaccurately shape people’s impressions, even if the person’s characteristics is already clearly defined. For example, even
Condi Condoleezza Rice; dope as she is right now (not because of her policies by any stretch; but by virtue of the fact that she’s one of the most influencial people on the planet) has had her name come up as an issue. I mean, her name is Condoleezza after all.
To be certain, I understand that many parents often express some element of symbolism or cultural identity when naming their children. I get that. Far be it for me to begrudge their decision. But when parents go far above and beyond what is considered normal, the child is usually left to deal with the consequences.
Now, I aint’ gon even lie: I’ve heard some real humdinger names for white people as well. So this certainly is not a practice exclusive to black folks. In high school for instance, I knew a white girl named “Lanaya”. Once I met a woman at a conference named “Bermuda”. I even have a close friend named “Sheremma”; who is undoubtedly one the most brilliant and socially conscious people I know. But generally speaking, people of color are usually tagged with the uncommon — and indeed ackward sounding — names.
I try to avoid using hyperbole when making assessments. But putting unsuspecting children in compromising situations that come with having unordinary names is potentially destructive, irresponsible, and negligent on the part of the parents. Even before a child is able to form words, they are already in a position where they will be unfairly labeled. It shouldn’t be that way; but it is. Now obviously, this doesn’t fall in line with more severe cases of child abuse. But — regardless of the level of severity involved– you have to admit this is pretty unfair to the child.
There has been a satrical piece circulating around the ‘net about how a judge ruled that black women could “no longer have independent naming rights for their children.” Although the article was written in gest, I can’t help but think of how benefical that would be. And of course, no black person in America will soon forget Bill Cosby’s unforgiving rants about how we name our children; among other things he considered destructive. Messages like this — though not always delivered with grace and tact — should at least be taken to heart. The reality is: the shameful practices of discrimination in this country will be with us for quite some time. Until the day where we can happily declare that discrimination is a thing of the past, one of the best ways to combat this recurring problem is for us not to feed it in the first place.
That’s what I think. But what say you?