Category: Blogger's Corner, culture, Discrimination, Disability and Neurodiversity
“Are you going to give him a white name?” a friend of mine asked casually over lunch.
I was four months pregnant at the time, and taken aback by the question.
“I don’t know,” I responded slowly, not sure whether I should be offended by her question. I had never given it much thought. I had several names floating around in my head, but they weren’t sorted into racial categories. They were just names that I liked.
She promptly read confusion and surprise on my face and clarified her question, “I mean, since you’re always having a hard time with your own name.”
She had a point.
My name is Geetanjali. Few people know my full name as it has been conveniently shortened to a myriad of nicknames from the instant I was born. It is not easy to pronounce, even for Indians like myself. My life thus far had been littered with moments of awkwardness centered on my name: a substitute teacher’s long pause when she got to my name on the attendance list, a hesitant call from the nurse at the doctor’s office, a potential employer stumbling through the one too many syllables during an interview. It was a point of frustration when I was a child. Now that I am an adult it is a mild annoyance I have learned to live with.
But the question was, as my friend pointed out, would I want the same for my son?
It wasn’t as if we were living at the turn of the last century, when new immigrants arrived to America and adopted a new identity, often changing their names in an effort to assimilate. No. This was the 21st century. Times were changing; differences were embraced and celebrated and the notion of a “melting pot” seemed ludicrous.
Sadly, reality tends to shatter that rose-colored vision: Since the 9/11 attacks, people who appear to be Muslim have been regularly profiled, and with Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island in the news, the myth of a post-racial society is a topic of discussion once again. All of a sudden, the “race” linked to my baby’s name mattered. It mattered a lot.
An “ethnic” name for my inevitably tan-skinned, dark-haired son would raise eyebrows at every security checkpoint. His name would headline every job application, and stereotypes would ensue; some people would assume he was a programmer or engineer, lacking creativity, or interpersonal skills. Perhaps they would sidestep his résumé altogether because of his difficult to pronounce name. The thought of my unborn child facing a life of prejudice made me furious.
The one-step solution to my problem would be to settle for a “white” name for my “brown” son. It would level the playing field in a world that lacks face-to-face interaction and relies so heavily on communication via a screen of some sort. It would open up a few more doors, bring to light a few more opportunities in his life.
What it wouldn’t do was fix the larger problem: the deep-rooted, widespread racism and intolerance in our society. It would send the implicit message to the universe that I had bought in, somehow, to the need to at least accept that world. That simply is not true.
My son’s name is Aashay. He is brown. He is also creative, smart and loving. His name and the color of his skin are the superficial exterior that have nothing to do with the person that he is.