What’s my name?!


Ali-Whats-My-Name-FightNames are important to their bearers and generally to the society at large.  They are a source of pride and at other times scourge; people invest themselves with names of meaning or shed their names because  of its meaning.  We’ve seen people mercilessly pummel others for not recognizing their names and calling them by the chosen name, and we’ve seen others brutally whipped to acknowledge a name give to them by people in order to strip the name bearer of any sense of cultural identity or self worth and replace it with whatever value the name giver is trying to impart. kunta-getting-whipped-1

There are some people who intimidated by the idea that their name is identified with a certain ideology or belief chose to change it of their own accord in order to fit in and not be singled out, while some people change their names willingly to hide their cultural identity to avoid religious or cultural persecution. Others tonycurtiscolortake on names because of careers whereby the name distinguishes them from all others in the performing arts.  “Sting”, “Prince” come to mind to name a few. Such decisions are made artistically and usually enhance the image of the name bearer in the eyes of an adoring public.

People have denigrated entire classes of their fellow mankind by grouping them under one name, nigger, cracker, spic, kike, sandnigger, cockroach, gook are just a few examples that come to mind.  These names are meant to hurt; they come with their own invective; even the pronunciation rolls off the tongue with a certain inflection that’s meant to hurt the ears as much as the hearts and minds of the subjects of such abuse.  By using such language it’s meant to dehumanize and weaken the resolve of a person, to soften them up for the inevitable. We have not gotten over this ability to harm with the spoken word, or name.  When applied enough times to groups of people the result is systematic and relentless oppression, subjugation or intended and eventual annihilation.

AlexWhile I was  a freshman in college Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was the rave in American literary circles.  His book, The Gulag Archipelago had recently been released and became required reading in universities across the West, no less so where I studied. His was the first exposure many of us in my English literature class had to someone with a name like his and as we discussed his work, quite a few of us awkwardly pronounced or made fun of while attempting to pronounce his name so much so that our English teacher stopped the class and with all the seriousness and indignation appropriate for the moment declared, ‘young people every human has the RIGHT to have his/her name pronounced correctly’.  With that declaration he (I wish I could honor that teacher by recalling his name, but unfortunately I have forgotten it) made every student stand one at a time in class and pronounce Solzhenitsyn’s entire name until we got it right.  No student was spared as time was suspended until we said S-O-L-Z-H-E-N-I-T-S-Y-N correctly, no matter how many times it took for us to do so. I left that class with a deep sense of the importance of names and how its bearer should be honored with the correct application of that name to him or her. I realized no matter how hated by me a person or no matter how difficult the name I owed it to its bearer to honor them with their name, no suffixes or prefixes attached, no racial or cultural tags added. Such things could be done in a separate sentence but never immediately juxtaposed with the name….unless that person wanted it so.

During the late 70s toward the end of Jimmy Carter’s term in office when the Nation was gripped by the Iranian hostage crisis, America began its assault on Muslims.  American Muslims who showed any support for the revolution in Iran came under fire, scrutiny by a federal government bent on flexing its muscle to resolve the crisis and cap a ground swell that was boiling in America (which we survived and have since gone on to greater heights of prosperity).  During that time I ran across a young Muslim American who related how he was caught up in the turmoil of the time and indicted by the federal government.  He was told, he said, by officials if he would only agree to have the name “Al” affixed to his indictment instead of “Abdullah” the name he had on all his legal documents  they would eventually drop or reduce the charges. He was faced with a modern day horse whipping much like the character Kunta Kinte in the movie Roots, except in his case he refused and was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years for a crime he didn’t commit.  Finally after his appeal reached and was decided on by appeals court where he was awarded a new trial, the government having extracted its pound of flesh from him and countless others and satiated its blood lust, refused to re-try him and released him with time served.  Six years he languished in prison because he refused to go by any  name other than his name. That young man’s story reinforced to me the importance of one’s name and how authority sees the importance of names.

CAIRFoleySqIt came as no surprise, therefore, for me to read that names were being used AGAIN by the government to determine guilt or innocence or even if criminal activity or the THREAT of criminal activity existed.  Too often we in America especially and  the West in general rely too much on social schemata to define who a person is instead of listening to or watching how that person defines himself.  In today’s age of instant gratification, and sound bite, bumper slogan ideology, no time is given to evaluating the person beyond that brief first impression that usually starts with one’s name.  We are conditioned to make credible or inconsequential that person’s existence just by the sound of their name, whether it is anglicized or latin, mono or polysyllabic, foreign or American.  Everything after the name is totally irrelevant; it is why people today at the start of  Obama’s second term still think he is an illegitimate president and therefore nothing he says or does is American.  As a result there’s now talk of secessionist movements gaining ground in some parts of the country where such notions weren’t even whispered during the time of any other contemporary president.

notAmerica is a country made of people from all over the world, each of them, those who are law abiding, are citizens of this Republic with all the rights and responsibilities due by the Constitution and no one person can have that fact denied because of their name, yet such denial is becoming increasingly more prevalent.  We come from races and tribes with different and yes even unusual names but none of that allows us to deny or curtail the rights of such people because we cannot pronounce or don’t like a person’s name.   Nor should we expect people to conform to the names we want to bestow on them.  I was sitting with a friend a few years ago when we were approached by an elderly African-American with a soft, appealing  southern accent.  His voice was  melodic like that of a Sunday preacher as were his manners.  When he made eye contact with me and my friend he approached the two of us and introduced himself.  We in turn told him our names, but my friend’s name was a bit difficult for this gentleman to pronounce.  He prodded my friend several times to say the name and each time my friend pronounced his name slower and with more elaborate intonation.  Finally after the fourth or fifth time, the elderly gentleman scratched his name and said to my companion ‘do you mind if I call you Willie?’

sittingbullWe are uncomfortable with names that require effort to say and translate that difficulty into stereotyping the bearer negatively…especially if that person insists on us calling them by their name correctly.  As a society we don’t have an English teacher who will make us pronounce and honor a person’s name until we get it right….we give in too easy and suggest ways to call(define) a person that are acceptable to us.  But that is no longer acceptable in a pluralistic society such as America and it’s not desirable either.  Our names are European, African, Asian, Semitic, Latin, Oceanic and many times a mix of all of them and they all are as valuable, meaningful AND American as any other name you may find in the white pages of your local phone book.  If we are as exceptional as we claim to be, as great a Nation as we say we are, we will learn to respect the names of our countrymen and the diversity of these names that are brought to our society, otherwise we are no better than the tin pot despots, the banana republics we have supported and then invaded because of their perceived inhumanity to their fellow man.  Are we up to the task, America? Then, what’s my name?

Erroneous analogies


Kudos to the Washington Times for publishing this viewpoint which makes mince meat of analogies that are floating around government circles in the US and Israel about the genocide which took place in Gaza.  I’m encouraged to see that the author, himself Jewish, places the analogies  in proper context.

In the wake of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak made this analogy: “Think about what would happen if for seven years rockets had been fired at San Diego, California from Tijuana, Mexico.”

Within hours scores of American pundits and politicians had mimicked Barak’s comparisons almost verbatim. In fact, in this very paper on January 9 House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor ended an opinion piece by saying “America would never sit still if terrorists were lobbing missiles across our border into Texas or Montana.” But let’s see if our political and pundit class can parrot this analogy.

Think about what would happen if San Diego expelled most of its Hispanic, African American, Asian American, and Native American population, about 48 percent of the total, and forcibly relocated them to Tijuana? Not just immigrants, but even those who have lived in this country for many generations. Not just the unemployed or the criminals or the America haters, but the school teachers, the small business owners, the soldiers, even the baseball players.

What if we established government and faith-based agencies to help move white people into their former homes? And what if we razed hundreds of their homes in rural areas and, with the aid of charitable donations from people in the United States and abroad, planted forests on their former towns, creating nature preserves for whites to enjoy? Sounds pretty awful, huh? I may be called anti-Semitic for speaking this truth. Well, I’m Jewish and the scenario above is what many prominent Israeli scholars say happened when Israel expelled Palestinians from southern Israel and forced them into Gaza. But this analogy is just getting started.

What if the United Nations kept San Diego’s discarded minorities in crowded, festering camps in Tijuana for 19 years? Then, the United States invaded Mexico, occupied Tijuana and began to build large housing developments in Tijuana where only whites could live.

And what if the United States built a network of highways connecting American citizens of Tijuana to the United States? And checkpoints, not just between Mexico and the United States but also around every neighborhood of Tijuana? What if we required every Tijuana resident, refugee or native, to show an ID card to the U.S. military on demand? What if thousands of Tijuana residents lost their homes, their jobs, their businesses, their children, their sense of self worth to this occupation? Would you be surprised to hear of a protest movement in Tijuana that sometimes became violent and hateful? Okay, now for the unbelievable part.

Think about what would happen if, after expelling all of the minorities from San Diego to Tijuana and subjecting them to 40 years of brutal military occupation, we just left Tijuana, removing all the white settlers and the soldiers? Only instead of giving them their freedom, we built a 20-foot tall electrified wall around Tijuana? Not just on the sides bordering San Diego, but on all the Mexico crossings as well. What if we set up 50-foot high watchtowers with machine gun batteries, and told them that if they stood within 100 yards of this wall we would shoot them dead on sight? And four out of every five days we kept every single one of those border crossings closed, not even allowing food, clothing, or medicine to arrive. And we patrolled their air space with our state-of-the-art fighter jets but didn’t allow them so much as a crop duster. And we patrolled their waters with destroyers and submarines, but didn’t even allow them to fish.

Would you be at all surprised to hear that these resistance groups in Tijuana, even after having been “freed” from their occupation but starved half to death, kept on firing rockets at the United States? Probably not. But you may be surprised to learn that the majority of people in Tijuana never picked up a rocket, or a gun, or a weapon of any kind.

The majority, instead, supported against all hope negotiations toward a peaceful solution that would provide security, freedom and equal rights to both people in two independent states living side by side as neighbors. This is the sound analogy to Israel’s military onslaught in Gaza today. Maybe some day soon, common sense will prevail and no corpus of misleading analogies abut Tijuana or the crazy guy across the hall who wants to murder your daughter will be able to obscure the truth. And at that moment, in a country whose people shouted We Shall Overcome, Ich bin ein Berliner, End Apartheid, Free Tibet and Save Darfur, we will all join together and shout “Free Gaza. Free Palestine.” And because we are Americans, the world will take notice and they will be free, and perhaps peace will prevail for all the residents of the Holy Land.