'Growing Up With My Name' Hashtag Reveals Subtle and Surprising Racism

Source: YouTube
Source: YouTube

Sometimes names can be tricky. On Sunday night, Twitter users shared their experiences with how their names influenced the way they've been treated, as well as their own self-perception in various ways, under the hashtag #GrowingUpWithMyName. While some posts revolved around skeptics (as the seeming originator of this hashtag began), pronunciation mishaps or celebrity comparisons, plenty also revealed the way in which certain names hold weight in our society — and how others are erased completely.

Plenty noted that their peers and teachers continuously failed to correctly pronounce their names, demonstrating how white names are considered the norm and "ethnic" names are othered in dominant society.

Others shared the ways in which their names were completely unrepresented in or erased from dominant society.

Others shared the ways their names made them targets for ignorant stereotypes and hatred.

This isn't a tiny problem: Studies show racial minorities face name-based discrimination in housing, the classroom, and — perhaps most publicly studied — in the hiring process and workplace. A 2004 study demonstrated that applicants with names suggesting they were white received 50% more interest in the hiring process than applicants with black-sounding names. A later study of British employers bolstered this finding, revealing that individuals with "African and Asian names" face racial discrimination in the hiring process, according to a 2009 Guardian report. And it's certainly a conversation — and problem — that continues today. When José Zamora changed his name to "Joe" on job applications, his once futile search for employment quickly ended, BuzzFeed reported in 2014. 

Zamora isn't the only one to have altered his identity in order to conform to these racist norms. Plenty of people of color with nondominant names intentionally conceal aspects of their identity, like their real names, to protect themselves against this type of discrimination — it's a phenomenon that scholar Kenji Yoshino has termed "covering."

In fact, these patterns of discrimination influence parents of color when naming their children. As Phill Branch, the filmmaker behind the documentary Searching for Shaniqua, told Mic's Marcie Bianco, plenty of parents feel they must comply with white cultural norms. "Considering what parents know about the obstacles their kids may face, I understand why naming is done with an eye toward a desired future," he said.

As Matthew Salesses wrote in a 2013 Salon article about his own experience with racism he faced related to his name, "For some of us, ownership of a name, of a person, is something that can bring up some serious personal and historical trauma."

While racism related to individuals' names may not be the most pressing or lethal form of racism minorities face today, it's a clear indication of the systemic attitudes that allow forms of racism to persist and one about which all individuals must be more conscious.

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Julie Zeilinger

Julie Zeilinger is a staff writer at Mic as well as the founder and editor of The FBomb (thefbomb.org), a feminist blog partnered with the Women’s Media Center. She is also the author of "A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not A Dirty Word" and "College 101: A Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year."

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