Black names reflect heritage, do not deserve trivialization

Opinions Columnist | Public relations freshman

The societal demonization of black names is a form of covert racism based on historical bigotry that needs to be acknowledged and admonished.

Modern day black names, as people call them, have roots in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s. This idea was consistent with other causes within the community at the time, such as the natural hair movement for black women. The entire notion of naming children differently was created to positively distinguish black culture from the more mainstream white culture.

Black Americans finally started to embrace their own culture in the 60s and 70s, unlike in earlier decades when the majority of the community attempted to appeal and conform to white America through their actions, dress, hairstyles and names. Part of this embracement was eschewing traditional white names in favor of uniquely black ones.  

Essentially, black people began to own their identities, taking pride in blackness and their heritage in the face of the dominant white culture. Black slaves were robbed of their language, religion, history and names the moment they set foot on American soil. They were previously kings, queens, laborers, artisans and everything in between, but after landing in America they became nothing. They were only what their masters made them.

It angers me when I hear people callously mocking black names, laughing like drugged-up hyenas at the mere utterance of a name such as “Shaniqua.” It should not offend anyone if a woman’s name is Shaniqua. The only difference between Shaniqua and Jane is cultural connotation. Both are names, and neither is more important or right than the other.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, people with black-sounding names were 50 percent less likely to receive callbacks from employers than completely equal applicants with white-sounding names. This perfectly illustrates the covertly racist nature pertaining to black names in our society today, regardless of whether the attitude is conscious or not.

According to the same report, applicants with white-sounding names, when they had better credentials, received 30 percent more callbacks than white-sounding applicants with lower-quality resumes. In contrast, high-quality applicants with black-sounding names only received 9 percent more callbacks than their less-qualified counterparts. It is a double-edged sword—not only is it harder for more people with black-sounding names to secure employment, but it is much harder for them to distinguish themselves or improve their employability through their achievements. Even after a job seeker builds a strong resume, the presence of a black name continues to dissuade employers from hiring him or her.

When people demonize black names, it goes much deeper than simply preferring “normal” names or ones that are easier to pronounce. I really doubt a person with a traditional Jewish, Asian or Polish name would have to put up with the same stigma those with black names do.

When people call black names “ratchet” or “ghetto,” what they are actually saying, whether they know it or not, is that employers and society-at-large have the right to discriminate against a person based on his or her race and the negative stereotypes that accompany it.

Since the very beginning, even simple allusions to blackness have been under attack in this country. This attack on black names is just another example of tightly concealed racism that continues to pervade a country and world bent on maintaining an outdated system of racial dominance and subservience.