Wednesday, July 11, 2018

It's the names!

Way back in 2008 I wrote the story of a progressive white friend's interior struggle to understand her own hesitations about then-Senator Barack Obama's presidential run. Finally she blurted out: "It's the names. I felt it when I watched Michelle's speech and his daughters came on stage. They were called something I can't pronounce." Being the good soul and justice warrior she is, she rapidly learned how to pronounce "Barack," and "Sasha," and "Malia." I suspect she would hardly remember her discomfort today.

But I remember, because that phrase -- "it's the names!" -- has become one of my touchstones in this dark era. A segment of white people fear they are being erased and look to Trump to Make America White Again. But I look at bylines and mentions in U.S. media every day and rejoice that our everyday names have irreparably changed and we now live in a wider world amid a wider national family.

For a few days, I grabbed a small selection of names that would have been strange and foreign to my parents' generation. (A little more behind each link.) Vivek Ranadive. Duke Tran. Ishaan Tharoor. Malkia Amala Cyril. Seung Min Kim. Latona Giwa. Taurean C. Sanderlin. Atossa Araxia Abrahamian. Rustem Kazazi. Karthik Nemmani. Yphtach Lelkes. I could pull hundreds more, just from my regular reading.

Trump and the GOPers stumble over this reality. Kris Kobach (perhaps a German-origin name?) -- Secretary of State of Kansas and inventor of numerous stratagems to prevent people of color and other Democrats from voting -- fell on his face when he tried to convince a federal judge that many non-citizens were polluting his state's elections. He produced an "expert witness" to explain how they had identifed these improper voters.

[Kobach's expert Jesse Richman] simply flagged people with “foreign”-sounding names, although he was inconsistent in his execution. As Talking Points Memo reported, “two respondents with the last name Lopez were coded as foreign, and three Lopezes were not.”

On the sixth day of the trial, [ACLU lawyer Dale] Ho read a series of names and asked Richman if he would label them as foreign-sounding. When he came to the name Carlos Murguia, Richman said he probably would flag it as foreign. Ho responded that Carlos Murguia was a federal judge in that very courthouse in Kansas City.

Ooops.

The exponentially increasing number of names we bear in this country is one of our national joys and strengths. I'll give the last word to Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozado, whose Latinx name seems conventional to most of us in the U.S. Southwest.

The American experiment is not just worth the fight — it is the fight. With passion always strained, the pursuit of prosperity, freedom and belonging is an endless battle, an enterprise in equal measures exhausting and exhilarating.

2 comments:

Rain Trueax said...

Maybe. There are things to learn about names from other places. I struggle with remembering that Chinese surnames aren't in the same order as ours. Having a husband work in a multinational company-- even before it had so many sites overseas-- I've had a lot more interaction with those from other places-- and, of course, where I live does also. I was for Obama from the start with donations and wanting him to win-- both times. Only later, his second term, did I see more of what he was doing to dislike based on issues.

Remember it was for a time the Irish who were threatening those already here by coming in big numbers and taking their jobs. In the end, most of the time, it's the ones who might lose their jobs who are most threatened (just wrote a blog on the Chinese and what they went through coming here in the 1800s). People who benefit from laborers coming in aren't the ones feeling threatened.

Michael Strickland said...

Great, positive post. And I love the quote, "The American experiment is not just worth the fight — it is the fight." I'm feeling very much that way these days, and have no patience with people who should know better, either through education or circumstance, who don't understand this reality. Every time I read a "But Clinton did this to Bernie...and capitalism is the real enemy..." bit of handwringing nonsense, I usually reply, "Most Trump voters are uneducated racists, so at least they have an excuse. What's yours?"

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