The burden of African-American names: Hi my name is Lakisha. I love my name. Apparently, America does not.
Today I read, “Your Name Says More About You Than You Think” in Mic.com. The story shared by the young women in the article is the story of my life. In case you don’t know, my name is Lakisha. Since we are friends you can call me Kisha. I love my name. Apparently, America does not.
Let me be honest with you, when I read the article and study above both broke my heart. I have been stereotyped because of my name. People from all sorts of backgrounds have assumed that I am hood, ghetto, hypersexual, low-class and uneducated simply because of my name. But to see it so systemically, hurt. The reality is that many believe anything of African-American origin is inherently inferior, i.e. low class, hood, ghetto, etc. My African-American Blackness is far from any of those characteristics. I know my opportunities have limited because of my name. When I applied for jobs using my full name on my résumé, I received very few call backs. When I used my first initial and my Anglicized middle name, L. Ann and emailed the same resume, I was contacted by those same companies. Need further proof? They addressed me as Ann.
Ironically, both of my parents have Anglophile names. You see, they were a part of the Black Pride movement where African-Americans tried instill Black love and pride in themselves. I understand that African-Americans had to find ways to counter centuries of American state sanctioned laws that justified idea of Black inferiority. As noble as my parent’s efforts may have been, the things they failed to see were the power dynamics, racism and consequences of our names. The consequences were that Black power did not translate into Black economic power and independence, and many of those who do the hiring and firing are not Black.
There is a trend in certain spaces for people to ask why don’t African-Americans have normal “American” aka European names. First all, normal American names would be First Nations names. After all, they were here first. Secondly, my relatives are not European. We are of African ancestry, and our ancestors were stripped of their names and various cultures. To fill the void they created their own unique identity. Finally, why should African-Americans have to make Whites feel comfortable, when we are supposedly free? Instead of putting the onus on the victims of racism why not look to eliminate racism? How about not judging people by their names, but seeing people for the wonderful and unique individuals they are.
In some ways, I am torn. Unlike my parents, my husband and I were not naïve and knew the deal. We know that racism still exists and our children will be judged by their names. So what can African-Americans do? Should we continue giving our children beautiful ethnic names and as a consequence they’d face another layer of racism? Should African-Americans do what my husband and I did by choosing race-neutral religious names so at least someone will take a look at a second look at their resumes? The questions we should really ask are why should a name, who you are or where you are from and other subjective qualities determine your opportunities and chances for success in a country that claims it should not? Shouldn’t we strive to judge people based on the content of our character?
I believe African-Americans must create their own spaces without being dependent on opportunities from racist institutions and individuals. But that won’t happen anytime soon. Until then, this is just another one of the burdens African-Americans must face in a White supremacist country that says one thing, but does another.
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