“Do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?”

10 04 2009

First, Texas Rep. Betty Brown says that Asian Americans should change their names so that it’s easier for “Americans” to pronounce and understand:

Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?

…Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?

Lumping all Asian Americans as Chinese is monolithic and racist.  Surprise surprise Brown, Asia is a big continent and “Asian” applies to more ethnic groups as well, not just Chinese people.  And referring to Chinese people as “you and your citizens” is just otherizing and reinforces the idea that Asian Americans aren’t “real” Americans.  Who are the “real” Americans?  White people.

Besides, the problem isn’t that Asian Americans don’t have easy to pronounce names for Americans.  Many of them have adopted “American” names:

Ko told the committee that people of Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent often have problems voting and other forms of identification because they may have a legal transliterated name and then a common English name that is used on their driver’s license on school registrations.

Asian Americans, like many other minority groups in this country, have been and are still disenfranchised when it comes to exercising their democratic right to vote.  So of course, when citizens of color (believe it or not, just because they aren’t white doesn’t mean that they aren’t citizens) want to reduce barriers that they face in voting they are being problematic and un-American?

Brown has refused to apologize for or retract her racist remarks and instead claims that the Democrats who have asked for an apology are using “racial rhetoric” to push back against the bill.  “Racial rhetoric”?  No, it’s just plain old racism.

The question should not be “Do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” but it should be “Do you think that it would behoove you to see past your white privilege for a change and learn how to embrace diversity?”

And now we have the bias incident at Tufts.  We are clearly not beyond racism.



One response

13 04 2009

A bit of historical context: One of the parts of the Ellis Island immigration experience that is always mentioned in schools is how immigrants (white Europeans too) were given shortened or new last names on account of them being “too complicated.”

While the situation mentioned above certainly has middle-ground solutions, it’s possible that the woman was attempting to make a suggestion on similar reasons that immigration officials used decades ago. This debate should be more about the extent to which immigrants must give up their identity to “assimilate” into American culture, and not how “racist” the woman was.

Plus, when people talk or ask questions, they tend to simplify — the idea behind her point was “You should change, not us,” and the bit where she used the Chinese language as a convenient aggregate doesn’t automatically mean racism. If she had said something more like “Shouldn’t you Chinese people change your last names?”, then she’s using an aggregation inappropriately (because there’s no such thing as “the Asian language,” but there is such thing as “the Asian people”).

I get frustrated when people simplify in general because they can distort facts, create untrue implications, and the like. But it happens all the time, on all sorts of subjects.

Also, I think it’s silly to suggest that one has to learn another language to deal with someone’s last name — I sure don’t know Polish, but I can handle working with Polish names, for example.

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