Monday, June 8, 2009

Call Me Ishmael - Thoughts On Names And Racism

Answer to Plinky Prompt - If you could change your name, what would you change it to?

Moby Dick (1956 film)Image via Wikipedia

Call Me Ishmael.

Just kidding. I will stick with my name "Manuel", and my nickname "Moe". I would like to, in a tongue-in-cheek way, have business cards printed up with just the words "Master Manuel Manfred "Moe" Garcia" written in large black letters, and joke (but with a dead serious straight face) that I demand to be addressed with all five names, at all times. I doubt I have the guts to follow through with this joke. I fear it would just make it painfully clear what a colossal jerk I am. I can joke about being a colossal jerk, but, I have to admit, deep down, I am a colossal jerk...

In reality, I don't have any hang-ups about my name. People ask if "Manuel" is pronounced "Man-Well" or "Man-You-Ell" or "Monuelle" or whatever, or if it is OK just to use my nick-name "Moe". I really don't mind, anyway, because my ear really can't "hear" the difference. By the time "Man-Well"/"Man-You-Ell"/"Monuelle"/"Moe" gets through my ear and ear-drum, into my brain, it gets "translated" into "**HEY YOU**" anyway. I just can't hear the difference, and that is a major reason why I suck at foreign languages. All the vowels get turned into mush by the time the words get into my brain. Problems with my name "Manuel" - people assume that I speak Spanish. I tried to learn Spanish in high school, but it went badly, mainly because of my ear and its vowel-mangling superpowers. Someday I would like to learn some Spanish and Vietnamese (my babylove is from Vietnam), but I am not very hopeful. I realize that my lack of hope is one way to let myself off the hook to learning foreign languages, so I should just buck-up and try anyway. I figure if I learn a foreign language in the same way I learn anything (buy book, mark up the book, make flash cards, re-write the chapters in a notebook, carry around a little cheat sheet, stick post-it notes on everything -- on telephone put a post-it with "dien thoai" and the verb to talk "nói", etc.) If I let myself off the hook by thinking "I am not good at foreign languages", I will always put off starting to learn them. In grade school I was self-conscious about having a Hispanic name, because the rest of the class was Anglos (in the little Christian day school I attended). My best friend was named "John", and I thought a simple Anglo name like "John" would be just perfect. Sometimes I wish I could stop being Mexican - standing in line at the hardware store, and some white guy makes a joke about the "wetbacks" - temporary illegal day-laborers standing in from of the Home Depot - that isn't a great time to be Mexican. (I am half Mexican, half German, but I hate people who qualify their ethnic heritage, and throw in all kinds of exotic ethnicities. I look mostly Mexican, and I have a stubborn streak to give myself the racial name that I know will piss off jerks, so I am glad to call myself a Mexican. In the same way I call myself a Liberal Socialist Atheist, even though, technically, I am none of those things, using the definitions in typical United States political discourse.) Should you be offended when you are Mexican and somebody makes a "wetback" joke? Well, remember, being offended is a psychic stress on yourself. All our negative emotions were designed to initiate *action* to fix the situation. Without *action*, the negative emotion is meaningless. 15000 years ago, a hunter-gatherer didn't have any time to "nurse" a negative emotion. The feeling of hunger or pain or extreme cold would have regularly supplanted any negative emotion, such as depression from loss, or a social slight, or a feeling of indignation. It is only in modern society where we have the "luxury" to stay in a blue funk and dwell on a negative emotion, hour after hour, day after day. It takes a psychic stress, and it most definitely injures you. But negative emotions are important, because they have great power to lead to definite *action*. (That is why I would never give up my negative emotions.) So, back to the original question: should I be offended somebody makes a "wetback" joke? I will be honest and admit, I am too much of a chicken to speak up every time I hear such a joke. At 6 foot 1 inch tall, 240 pounds, with a buzz-cut haircut and a strong jaw, I am in a good position to put a racist back in his place, by calmly telling them to re-think their remark - not doing this for myself, but for someone like a 8 year old Mexican boy who will be less likely to hear that kind of crap from that thoughtless person later on. And, now, after reading back what I just wrote, I think I will try to be more of a man and speak up next time. It is a matter of bravery to do the right thing. But, getting back to my main point, if I am too yellow to take action, I haven't earned the negative emotion of indignation at racism. And dwelling on the negative emotion will harm me, and not harm the racist.

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