It wasn’t until law school that someone told me to my face that my name, Takeia, was considered “ghetto.” Until that point, all I knew was my name and that I required people to pronounce it correctly if they were going to talk to me. Five-year-old Takeia held lessons in classrooms and on playgrounds on how to pronounce my name: Ta-kee-uh. When I was younger, I don’t think I knew why I demanded that recognition, but now I know: your name is often the first glimpse into your identity that people have.
As the poet says in the video, I demanded that people pronounce my name correctly or not say it at all.
In law school, when professors would call on me, they would say my first name. They almost always got it wrong the first time. I corrected them, and would not allow them to move on to whatever question they had until they got my name right.
Yes, I had the audacity to require recognition before I proceeded in any relationship with you, even if that relationship was for three fleeting minutes in which I presented the facts, issue(s), holding and reasoning of a case. For those that persisted in incorrectly pronouncing my name, I let them know they have the option of calling me Ms. Johnson instead.
Although I have a decidedly Black-sounding name, I have still achieved numerous goals. I can’t say, however, what levels of success I might have reached or what opportunities were foreclosed to me, simply because of my name. Even though I can’t identify where I have been denied access and opportunity because of racism, research shows that people with ethnic-, and in particular, Black-sounding names are treated differently and ultimately less favorably, because of the race and ethnicity attributed to their names. See, e.g., “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.”
We live in a world in which the politics of identity means that there are social forces always working to ignore, deny, and denigrate individuals and groups based solely on their identities – whether it is based on race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any number of other identifiers.
Marlo Stanfield said it so succinctly on The Wire: my name is my name. It is the world’s first entry into my identity and I demand recognition.