A reader sent me a link to reason.com, a
right-wing libertarian website, describing the newest form of microaggression: mispronouncing someone’s name. (They, in turn, took most of their story from a CNS News report (also a conservative site) by Amy Furr. As you’ll see, the reader was dismayed to have to find this stuff on right-wing sites, but it’s simply not reported on Left-ish media sites, which ignore this kind of story for obvious reasons.
At any rate, Furr says this (my emphasis):
Hundreds of school districts across the country have taken a pledge to “pronounce student’s names correctly” to avoid the “microaggression” of mispronunciation.
According to ‘My Name, My Identity: A Declaration of Self,’ a national campaign launched in 2015 by the Santa Clara County, Calif. Office of Education (SCCOE) and the National Association for Bilingual Education, a teacher who mispronounces a student’s name can cause that student “anxiety and resentment”.
“Mispronouncing a student’s name truly negates his or her identity, which, in turn, can hinder academic progress,” according to Yee Wan, SCCOE’s director of multilingual education services.
Rita Kohli, assistant professor of education at the University of California at Riverside, says it is a sign of “microagression” when a teacher mispronounces, disregards, or changes a child’s name, because “they are in a sense disregarding the family and culture of the student as well.”
The Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada is one of 528 school districts across the country that have recently implemented a campaign to “pronounce students’ names correctly” – including names teachers and administrators find difficult or unfamiliar – in order to be sensitive to the ancestral and historical significance of a child’s name.
Truly, a good teacher should make every effort to pronounce a student’s name properly, though it’s hard to do when you teach 100-200 students, as I often did in beginning evolution. There is simply no time to go around the class during the first session and have everyone say their name, so you have to learn names during either labs or office hours, and you can forget both names and pronounciations for a lot of students. But seriously, does it really “negate a student’s identity” to have their name pronounced incorrectly in a large class?
If that’s the case, then I was negated many, many times—and still am. My name is rarely pronounced correctly (like a “coin”), but more often as Cone-ee, Coin-ee, Cone, and all possible permutations. But of course I am a white male, and so there’s no chance of identity negation. (Nor did it ever both me, but of course I have Privilege: It’s okay to mispronounce my name.) The campaign is most likely aimed at minority students—not blacks, but perhaps Hispanics, Africans, or those from the Middle East, and, of course, Poland, where there are no vowels.
What is the evidence for psychological damage? The National Education Association cites a study showing that mispronounciation of names does this:
The effects can be long-lasting. In 2012, Kohli and Daniel Solorzano examined the issue in a study called “Teachers, Please Learn Our Names!: Racial Microagressions and the K-12 Classrooms.” They found that the failure to pronounce a name correctly impacts the world view and social emotional well-being of students, which, of course, is linked to learning.
What appears to be missing is evidence that, as Furr’s piece suggests, mispronounciation hinders academic progress itself.
Nevertheless, it’s a matter of simple civility to try to pronounce everybody’s name correctly, for it shows you are paying attention to them as a person, whether they be white, black, Asian, or Hispanic. Sometimes it’s harder to pronounce foreign names, so some slack should be allowed, and of course when I lived in France, working in academics, nobody pronounced my name properly.
But “microaggression”? No way—not unless you’re bigoted and boorish enough to call all Hispanic males “José”. To turn this into a political issue conflates incivility or difficulty with language with being a bigot or racist, inflating the ever-expanding sphere of the Offense Culture. As the reason.com piece, written by Lenore Skenazy, notes:
So far, 528 school districts have taken the pledge to try to get names right—which you’d think most teachers would do without a pledge.
But if they never quite get the accent right? Is that really a diss or simply the fact that with a melting pot like America, some names are going to be (am I microaggressing?) harder to pronounce? My family and I hosted an exchange student here for a year and I don’t think we ever pronounced “Giovanni” like an Italian. We said it with our American accents. This did not seem to stymie him in any way.
It’s interesting that the reader who sent me this link has a name I’d have trouble with, too, but it’s not a name associated with “oppressed people.” He also felt bad being allied with the Right on this issue:
Now, with my genetic and cultural heritage as a Scots-Irish-Anglo-German-Welsh-Cherokee-Jew and with my very Irish, very long last name, I have always had my name mispronounced, as has my son with his traditional, but quite common, Welsh-origin name that gets mispronounced and misspelled, I had no idea I was supposed to be offended and to have felt abused, but then I’m sure this counts for us; we’re not “ethnic” enough to count as aggressed against, I suppose.I’m sure getting sick of this Looney-Left regressive stupidity. I’m also getting sick of finding myself siding with the Right.