“I don’t understand these made up names, like LaWanda or D’Quisha. You’re not helping yourself out. When they send a resume or apply for a job, people aren’t going to take them seriously.”
Racism is at its most dangerous when it is couched in everyday actions, familiar statements and sentiments, and seemingly sensible statements. This is how it is passed along, how it becomes normalized. The above quote – paraphrased, as it was a while ago and I don’t recall the exact wording – comes from my mother-in-law. If pressed, I’m sure she would rationalize it with a perfectly valid explanation in her mind as to how it’s not racist, possibly twisting it into being helpful advice. (Aside: she can rationalize anything. An. Y. Thing.)
It struck a chord with me because it is pure victim blaming. She’s putting the burden of avoiding being a victim of racism squarely on the victims. “Don’t use those names if you don’t want to be judged by them.” It’s not far off from saying that women shouldn’t dress a certain way if they don’t want to be harassed or worse. But there’s no way she’d see it that way, sadly. The whole “made up names” idea is another thing. As opposed to what – those naturally forming names? All names are made up. What she really means is names we don’t use in white American culture (if that’s even a thing).
The difficult thing is that my wife and I just had a baby girl. My wife technically had her, all credit due, but I did hold a leg and offer words of encouragement. They both did great, but that’s another story. And of course my mother-in-law, or Babcia as grandma’s are called in Polish, has a right to get to know her granddaughter. So she’ll be around, but at the first sign of her spewing latent racist garbage there’s going to have to be a serious reassessment of the state of affairs.
She goes to church at least once a week, loves her family, and sees herself as a genuinely good and caring person. And in some ways she is right. And that’s one of the hard truths of life, that there are no pure heroes or villains. There are, however, subtle undercurrents that we must be aware of, lest we be doomed to repeat ourselves. I want better, not just for my baby daughter, but for her the entire generation. The status quo is unsustainable.