Wednesday, December 12, 2012
I ask this question, my mother ask me this question, and I figure non-blacks must silently (if they are wise) ask it too.
No right appears more sovereign to socio-economically disadvantage blacks than naming their offspring some phonetic combination of sounds, apostrophes, prefixes and suffixes that mimic what is believed to represent an African name.
If such naming correlates to reduced life outcomes, including income, as studied by Freakonomic-economist Steven Levitt and Harvard economist Roland Fryer (here), we are left to wonder why parents, especially mothers, choose this route.
I will postulate that naming one's offspring is a non-trivial extension of the ultimate expression of independence, that of bringing a child into this world, such as it is.
For the downtrodden, however they come by their downtrodden-ness, control over their lives is practically non-existent. From birth to the grave, others tell them the measure and direction of their every move, less they end up in some worse place or shape. The decision to have a child and what to name them is, sadly, part of the one time in their lives that they get to do exactly what they please. Never mind that the child might forever pay a price. To the parent, the name is a lasting show of independence to a society that will forever force them, and their child, to conform to what others think is best.
Some might say that such naming is selfish, and it might be, but Levitt and Fryer offer that correlation is not cause. Being born poor is the greatest influence to adult disadvantage, not your name. A 'black' name, like Roshanda, does not cause the holder to live a life of social and economic disadvantage, but rather it is still the choices that Roshanda and her caregivers make in her life. The choice of studying well and working hard, even as the playing field is un-level, is still hers. I have met many impressive, accomplished, funny-sounding named people, of all colors and backgrounds.
However, let's be clear, the naming objective of all parents, throughout the ages, has been the reasonable accommodation of self-expression and placement of their child on a proper road to success, including one of minimal ridicule. Those parents who choose self-expression alone are telling the world where their priorities come to rest.
James C. Collier
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