Monday, June 01, 2015

Defending non-traditional names against racism smacks of stupidity

Groundless and ridiculous accusations of racism are one of the best ways to make a fool of oneself. Quoting from Karthick Ramakrishnan's essay Condemning non-traditional names smacks of racism, published in the Los Angeles Times:

"Duke University professor... Jerry Hough wrote that African-Americans “just feel sorry for themselves” and compared “the blacks” unfavorably to “the Asians.” He argued, specifically, that African-Americans adopt “strange new names” because they lack a desire for integration, as opposed to Asian-Americans, who choose “simple old American” first names... It seems worth pointing out that unfamiliar names are not necessarily a barrier for advancement. A prominent circuit court judge, and likely next nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, is named Padmanabhan Srikanth “Sri” Srinivasan."

A characteristic feature of poor argumentation is that the author produces arguments that suit better his opponents. Why is Judge Srinivasan using as his first name "Sri" - an abbreviation which may not be American but is certainly simple, old and, above all, easily pronounced? Maybe because he has found out that having to spell your name every time and to teach people its pronunciation is not the best way to make a career. I also suppose that, had he been born in America, he would most likely receive another name.

Ramakrishnan's text continues: "Unusual but European-sounding names — such as Imogen and Maxton — gain in popularity each year, and these are unlikely to lead to discrimination..."

I googled the two names and found out that they are not "European-sounding", they are European. Imogen is a character from Shakespeare's Cymbeline, and Maxton is a Scottish clan. So they may be rare but they are as traditional as it gets.

I wonder, why does an established journal like the LA Times publish such an article? I guess, because it is fashionable to deny reality and common sense. Reality is that, as one commenter wrote, "the faux Afro or ridiculous Hollywood names or trailer trash names that send a red flag to schools and employers... connote uneducated parents and/or urban ghetto and/or white trash." And common sense tells that if a child is born to trash parents, he is more than likely to be a trash himself, due to important environmental factors (their upbringing) and maybe even genetic factors (their heredity). Of course, there is a chance that the young person with the strange name will turn out to be a beautiful flower grown on bad soil, but employers hate taking chances. So, as another commenter asked, "Why would anyone hamper their child's chances at gainful employment and success in business?" Why, indeed?

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