Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Quote of the Day

Tracy Clayton, writing in Uptown Magazine:
"It began when I heard Ryan Seacrest say that 'they' (meaning, I assume, he and his E! red carpet cohorts) had decided to call Quvenzhané Wallis, the 9-year-old dynamo nominated for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild, 'Little Q' instead of her actual name.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the problems with this:

1. That isn’t her name.
2. To my knowledge, neither Quvenzhan√© nor her family OK’d this nickname.
3. That nickname wasn’t given to her out of love or adoration; it was given out of discomfort and a need to control what they deemed as 'other' in society.

Naming and names are important because they are entwined in our identities and the ownership of us and our bodies. We name things that belong to us. We name our children. We name our pets. We name our cars and our plants and our stuffed animals and even our hair. The act of naming and/or re-naming something is absolutely about power and control, and this is something that slave owners knew very well–a standard practice in 'seasoning' and 'breaking' a slave was assigning them Anglo-Saxon names. This established that those men and women were, without a doubt, property of their purchasers, and completely severed them from the identities they knew. Further, the names that were assigned to enslaved black men and women were often diminutive versions of common names–Billy instead of William; Donnie instead of Donald. These were verbal reminders that you were not a whole man or a whole woman, that you were not fully human. And when that wasn’t enough, they were stripped of those names and called 'boy' or 'gal,' because acknowledging a person’s self-approved name is to acknowledge the humanity in someone.

This is still the function of naming, and precisely why the insistence on not learning how to prounounce Quvenzhan√©’s name is so problematic and outright offensive."
At the end of her piece, Clayton suggests that people beware of those who refuse to call people what they prefer to be called.  For, "they mean you no good."

I agree.

Her entire aticle is great. By referencing the historical context of white people naming slaves as a means of control, power, and containment, she aptly builds the case for why a white guy making up his own nickname for a black girl is not cute or funny and is actually really problematic, regardless of his intent.

Generally, I think that refusing to do the simple act of calling people by their preferred labels and names is an uncivil power play, especially in certain contexts.

It seems similar, but not identical, to cisgender people mis-gendering trans* people, to heterosexuals calling gay people "homosexuals" even when gay people tell them that this term is out-dated and not appreciated, and, in the workplace, to bosses who bestow nicknames like "kiddo" on their employees without their consent.

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