I just heard today that a CSU professor made a claim: only black people have had to change their names to more "white" sounding ones. Though I totally agree that the people we categorize as black in the U.S. have historically been forced to use western names, this is not the only group of people that have had their names altered for the sake of assimilation. I immediately think of one of The Vindicator’s staff members we all call Roy. His name is not Roy. His family is from India, and he stays in the U.S. for school. Most people here can’t pronounce his real name, Prattyush, so he just goes by Roy. Quite honestly, most people on our staff haven’t even tried to learn his name because he accepts the more western one. This is quite probably wrong, but that’s another discussion. My point is, he’s not what we would automatically categorize as “black” by this professor’s standards, and yet he has also has had to change his name.
I’m reminded of immigrants at Ellis Island and the people from Europe whose names were butchered or changed when they first came to the U.S. – many probably had white skin. There are names from Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria, and more all altered – a sacrifice made to enter this land. It was only a hundred years ago “Irish need not apply” signs were prevalent in this land, discriminating based on names in an application. Throughout the history of this country, people have been required to abandon their own names, their own cultures; their own identities in exchange for acceptance in our borders. I dare not compare the struggle of these immigrants to the abomination of slavery. Those slaves had their names stolen from them; they did not offer them up in exchange for citizenship. However, I think in this modern, more global version of the United States, we cannot forget immigrants who have lost their cultural ties for our sake.
So many colors of people can relate to you, so many colors of people can understand you when you say your name and your culture have been washed away by an overwhelmingly white America. As the U.S.A. becomes more and more diverse, the cost of freedom should not be your own culture any longer (it never should have been for that matter.) So, professor, instead of isolating the black community, let them acknowledge that their struggles have been felt around the world. Let the overwhelming weight of a world-wide perspective of race and culture overcome and break down the lie of a racial divide. Immerse yourself in your real name and cultural identity, but please don’t say the rest of the world cannot empathize. And please, don’t say that you don’t have a place in this land. We need you to break down the racial walls that divide us, not build them up. Our world is more than black and white – it is made of every possible color and gradient in between. Every color is human, and every difference a piece of our larger earth-bound community.