What's In a Black Name?

Harry Reid was on to something.

Poor Harry Reid!  Not only did he fail to drag health-care reform through a Senate in which his party supposedly commanded a supermajority; not only is his own Senate seat under heavy threat as generally-conservative Nevadans realize that he doesn't represent anything they stand for; but now, a new book gives gleeful Republicans the opportunity to tar him with the same racist brush he so eagerly slaps on his political opponents.  The AP reports:

The top Democrat in the U.S. Senate apologized on Saturday for comments he made about Barack Obama's race during the 2008 presidential bid and are quoted in a yet-to-be-released book about the campaign.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada described in private then-Sen. Barack Obama as "light skinned" and "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." Obama is the nation's first African-American president. [emphasis added]

As fun as it is to watch "Dingy Harry" squirm, it's more than a little confusing.  As blacks go, Barack Obama is, in fact, "light-skinned."  During the election there were not a few genuine American blacks who publicly expressed concern that he wasn't black enough to properly represent them, whatever that's supposed to mean.

To assuage these fears, Sen. Obama gave speeches in historically-black shrines like Selma, Alabama... where, sure enough, he abruptly took on distinctive vocal cadences and expressions generally associated with black ministers and orators, for which the term "Negro dialect" has long been used.  In other words, the point Sen. Reid was making was not only factually correct, but politically relevant and in wide-ranging general discussion at the time.  What's wrong with that?

Apparently, the problem is something inherent to the very word "Negro."  Now, we are all familiar with the evil associations of that other infamous N word which we will not herein repeat, but for centuries "Negro" was the polite term used to indicate those of darker hue.  The word itself simply means the color black in Spanish, a language which the left in particular seems eager to hear more of all across the American landscape.

Which raises some questions: what's corrosive about a particular name that, while associated with a past time period, was not used or intended in a derogatory way?  Is it obligatory for the world to bow to constantly-changing and increasingly awkward self-designated names?

During the very early civil rights efforts, America's blacks wanted to be referred to as "colored people;" hence the name of the organization which is still called the "National Association for the Advancement of Colored People", or NAACP.  The joke back then was that the acronym stood for "Negroes Are Actually Colored People," but that was then, and this is now.  If Sen. Reid had dared to refer to Barack Obama as a "colored person," despite his manifestly being one, the outrage would if anything be even more intense.

On the other hand, today's politically-preferred nomenclature of "African-American" sets them apart as being not wholly American, as Teddy Roosevelt pointed out.  Wasn't the whole point of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s demands that American blacks be given their civil rights based on the fact that they were as American as anyone else?

Herein we find a contradiction.  It looks like the self-anointed leaders of black America want to have their cake and eat it too: to separate themselves from mainstream America with their own look, their own culture, their own styles, and so on whenever it's to their advantage, while also demanding that they be included and treated the same as everyone else whenever that's to their advantage.

This is simply impossible: you can only be as included in something as you yourself choose to be, you can't be included if you insist on acting differently.

On that note, we turn to the smallest-scale question of what blacks choose to call themselves: their own individual names.

Of Shaneequa and LemonJello

In slavery days, the enslaved weren't considered to need last names of their own; insofar as the question ever arose, they'd use the name of their master.  After the Civil War, freed slaves often stuck with what they were used to, leading to a helpful situation in which both blacks and whites commonly were named Jefferson, Jackson, and so on.  Others chose to rename themselves and their children in honor of those who'd helped to free them: Abraham Lincoln, William Sherman, and even Ulysses Grant.  In, say, 1940, the vast majority of American blacks would not stand out in the phone book because of strange names.

Come the '60s and the Black Power movement, though, and a great many blacks chose to express themselves by anointing their innocent children with "Africanized" names which were never actually found on that continent; at the same time, Black Muslims like Cassius Clay renamed themselves in honor of their new faith (Muhammad Ali).  Instead of becoming more a part of American society in general, black names have become less so.

Today, almost any random assortment of characters both alphabetical and punctuative can be found masquerading as a name.  From the gross misspelling of an otherwise ordinary name ("Camryn" for Cameron) to the mispronounced inappropriate word ("sha-TEED" spelled Shithead), a sizable number of people no longer seem to concern themselves with any historical, traditional, or even common-sense references when it comes to saddling their kids with a moniker.

While this practice isn't exclusively confined to blacks, there are quite a lot of names that, when encountered, almost certainly are worn by a black person.

How convenient for racist hiring managers!  No need to discriminate overtly, or even to waste time meeting persons of the offending color: simply throw all resumes for "DaShawn" or "Taneesha" straight into the trash and interview the Jasons and the Marys.

Are hiring managers being racists when they do that?  This accusation seems so understandable that assuming it to be true is used as proof of other racist slanders.  A recent Washington Post article defined Mr. Obama's opponents as racists with the following logic:

To better measure people's "implicit" (or unconscious) prejudice, the California researchers asked those in the study to quickly sort stereotypically "black" and "white" words and names (Tyrone and Shaniqua vs. Brett and Jane) into positive and negative categories. They found that individuals displaying above-average levels of racial prejudice on this task were 42.5 percent less likely to have voted for Obama than those with average scores.

Aha!  Proof positive that the only reason to vote against Mr. Obama, or oppose his socialist agenda, is hard-core racism!

The Post has it exactly backwards, of course.  Here's the logical flaw: the Post's biased writer makes the assumption that names are assigned completely randomly, so it doesn't make any practical difference whether an individual is named William or Destanney.

Wrong!  Names do not come randomly from the government, they are assigned by parents and specific types of parents use certain types of names.  Listen to the National Bureau of Economic Research's explanation:

The paper says black names are associated with lower socioeconomic status, but the authors don't believe it's the names that create an economic burden... The data do appear to show that a poor woman's daughter is more likely to be poor when she gives birth herself - but no more so because she has a distinctively black name.

To [researcher Dr.] Fryer, that suggests black parents shouldn't be afraid to choose ethnic names. It also, he says, suggests more broadly that for blacks to improve economically, they don't have to change their culture, but should push for greater integration in society.  "It's not really that you're named Kayesha that matters, it's that you live in a community where you're likely to get that name that matters," Fryer said.  [emphasis added]

In other words: the sort of parents that currently want to name their child Kayesha tend to be the bad sort of parents - and more commonly parent, singular.  A child named Kayesha is more likely to go to a worthless union- and violence-infested inner-city school; be raised, insofar as she's raised at all, by a teenage single mother; and become a single mother herself.  This sort of life doesn't make a person a good employee or a likely success in any career except for raising more welfare babies.

Is Kayesha's probably failed life caused by racist bias against her name?  Of course not: it's caused by the corroded and degrading culture in which she marinated, and which led to her being given that name.

By contrast people named George, regardless of their color, are more likely to have a full set of parents, a stable family, and an upbringing that prepares them to contribute to society and the nation.

A Keen Perception

So when people find the names Tyrone and Shaniqua to be negative, that doesn't have anything whatsoever to do with race.  It has to do with the statistically well-founded probability that people named Tyrone and Shaniqua will prove to be ill-behaved, undisciplined, illiterate inner-city hoodlums, just as the parents who gave them those names were.

Why does this matter?  The irredeemably bigoted blowhards at the Post thought they'd found proof that all conservatives are racists.  Instead, they found something far more interesting: people are skilled at identifying probable miserable failures... and consider Barack Hussein Obama to be one.

Maybe he should change his name to Harry?

Read other Scragged.com articles by Hobbes or other articles on Society.
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