Friday, April 10, 2009

Why Can’t Asian Americans Have More American Names?

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Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.  Unless you happen to be Asian because you’ll never really be American anyway.

Rep. Betty Brown would prefer it if Asians would change their names to make it easier for “Americans” to understand.  After all why should anyone have to be inconvenienced by being forced to acknowledge that America is a country of immigrants and therefore, each group will have names that are reflective of their culture and ethnicity. Nope, American means white and English speaking therefore conformity is a must.

“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?” Brown remarked.

Wow, Asia is a pretty large continent and yet it is so easy for Brown to turn them all into Chinese “others”.   Notice how she refers to them as “your citizens” as though their residency in the US is inconsequential…

“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?” she added.

How does it make it easier for Asian Americans to deny their familial and cultural links because ignorant white women like Rep. Betty Brown refuse to admit that they are not the center of the universe.  Imagine how she would have reacted had they suggested that she change her name to make it easier for those for whom English is not their first language.  Whether it is ability, sexuality, patriarchy, or bourgeoisie leaders, groups that have privilege and power assume that no form of concession is ever necessary on their part.  Minority groups are expected to pull themselves up, or make whatever changes are deemed necessary to negotiate a culture that is systematically ordered to give advantages to certain bodies.

According to the Raw Story, A spokesman for the Texas Republican legislator told the Houston Chronicle her comments weren't about race -- she was only attempting to "overcome problems" with identifying Asian names "for voting purposes."

Of course they can declare that it is not a racist suggestion that Asians change their names to more “American” sounding ones.  What are we all back on Ellis Island again? We should all simply ignore the fact that they don’t have the experience to decide what is and isn’t racist or that such a declaration necessarily favours them. MMM… I think I need to move up wind,. How many times have you heard people admit that what they said was indeed racist after being called out? Of course they are not going to admit to being racist because it is the label that is considered bad and not the action.

Whiteness constantly seeks to assert its privilege but when it is called to task for its behaviour, denial is its first course of action. It’s either that they supposedly didn’t know that a comment or an action was racist, or their intent was not to be racist.  The very fact that they refuse to admit that American does not necessarily mean white and English speaking is enough to prove the racist nature of their remarks. Finally, racism is not about intent, it is about how it affects the groups that is being addressed. Until whiteness can stop making itself the center of the conversation we will continue to live in a society in which bodies of color are routinely “othered “to promote underserved privilege.


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