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Tuesday, 26 February 2013

"My Name is Not Annie"

By: Liberate Zealot


I’ve worked with children and adults from Ireland, Poland, Russia, French, Hawaii, China, India, Iran, and who are African-American, all of whom have had “traditional” names that could be difficult for people of other cultures to pronounce. 
I’ve always made the effort to pronounce people’s names correctly, and every other teacher and adult I know has made the same effort for Niamh from Ireland, Katarzyna from Poland, and Guillaume from France. Not so for Jinyue or WeiWei from China, Negeen from Iran, or the African-American La-a or Aungenette, or say, Quvenzhané.  When these white teachers and adults who struggle so much for white people with long names or sounds unfamiliar to English tongues don’t care.  A close approximation is good enough, or else it’s:
“Don’t you have an English/nick name?” 
“I’m going to call you…”
As if not working our white person tongues, or feeling embarrassed from mispronouncing a name while we struggle to get it right, is more important than the feelings and identities of people of color.  
And if your response to this is “Well I’d call Katarzyna ‘Kat’ or some other nick name, or everyone with long names has a shortened version” than you’re missing the biggest part, the historical/racial context.
For centuries white people, Europeans, have forced name changes upon people of color. We’ve done it to Asian immigrants.  To the Native Americans from “King Phillip” all the way down to the children in the Christian re-education schools in the 1960s.  We’ve done it to the Africans we enslaved, and in modern times by refusing to hire people with “black sounding” names.  Sure, that history isn’t *our* fault, but if you don’t want to be associated with it then don’t repeat it by refusing to call people of color by their real names. 

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