Sunday, April 23, 2017

Ebony Thomas on Black Names

It's common among white Americans to disparage black people for naming their children as they do. There is clear evidence that people with “black” names are discriminated against in job searches. In the past, I’ve cited Ta-Nehisi Coates on this topic, when he wrote,

Would love to read a history of naming. Strongly suspect that there's nothing particularly original about "making up" names. So much of this just comes down to cultural ("racist") snobbery. You hate "Shaniqua." But why precisely? Seriously why? ...not sure why naming your kid "George Washington" because you think he'll have presidential properties is any more legit.
Ebony Thomas (@Ebonyteach), assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, yesterday tweeted a series of thoughts on this that I found instructive and want to be able to refer to later:
Nothing's wrong with our names. I'm glad that my name is Ebony. It signals my ethnicity. Something IS wrong with antiblackness, though.

We face discrimination [from] our names not because of what's inherent in a particular collection of sounds, but because racism exists.

Black American coined names are just more evidence of our creativity. For instance, some parents will use a portmanteau of their own names.

Our names? Handed down from history. Linguists can tell you about the La- prefix's origins from Creole, Greek names from enslaved ancestors.

Whatever you think of their politics, "Barack" and "Condoleezza" aren't exactly "Jack" and "Jill." They were who they were even with their names.

Stop repeating deficit, antiblack nonsense. Your screeching and laughter about our Black American names sounds like nails on a chalkboard.

Our names have deep meaning. This noise is nothing but antiblack, poverty-shaming, slavery-denying ignorance.

Black Americans can't pull our names from other cultures without being accused of appropriation OR coin our own names without being shamed.

(If we have names from Arabic or African languages? We're appropriating.
European or Asian ones? We're wannabes.
Invent our own? Ha! Memes!)

We even somehow "taint" names that came from other languages or cultures if we bestow it on too many of our kids. Exhibit A is "Tyrone."

Poking fun at the descendants of enslaved people (torn from their ancestors!) for having the audacity to freely choose names is disgusting.

You don't hate the name. It's a *word.*
You don't hate the way it's spelled, either, because you're speaking English.
You hate us.
That point about Tyrone is a good one (as are all her points, of course). Just as Evelyn became a woman's name, despite Evelyn Waugh, Tyrone is now a black name, despite Sir Tyrone Guthrie.

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