Thu, Mar 21, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Name stereotypes are a real issue

By James Baron

In the summer of 1992, Sir Mixalot was in heavy rotation at parties in London. Baby Got Back, the Seattle rapper’s paean to the fulsome derriere, was a huge hit.

However, his takedown of racial profiling, One Time’s Got No Case, proved a subculture favorite, thanks in part to the satirical dialogue with which the jam opened. Any golden-age hip-hop fan will remember verbatim the fictional conversation between Mix and a representative of Washington state’s police force.

“What you pulling me over for Mr Officer?”

“I’ll be asking the questions Leroy.”

“Yo, my name ain’t Leroy, man”

“Heh, all right, Jerome, out of the car.”

“Yo, why I gotta be Jerome, man? Why can’t I be Tommy or Philbert or something?”

“Just put your hands on the hood, Muhammed.”

While comical, the exchange was believable, even to listeners in London. Growing up in one the most diverse boroughs in the UK, where — at the time of the last census in 2001 — just more than 36 percent of the population identified as white and more than half that figure as black (with a further 2.3 percent mixed black and Caucasian), many of us had personally encountered discrimination (and worse) against black friends.

The use of generic given names to convey racism or xenophobia has a long history. The English have led the way, with names such as Gerry and Fritz used for the Germans during World War I. Closer to home, Irishmen are Paddy or (the more offensive) Mick, while the Scots are Jocks.

So ingrained in joke-telling culture are these nicknames that many English barely register that they are offensive. Conversely, the English gave themselves names embodying quintessential, admirable qualities: John Bull, the ruddy-cheeked, no-nonsense country squire and Tommy — the plucky serviceman.

With the mass immigration from the Commonwealth that followed World War II, various names became associated with particular ethnic groups.

The name Winston, for example, was used disparagingly to refer to men of Caribbean descent. Likewise, Patel — the most common surname of people of Indian descent — also became a pejorative catchall for anyone of South Asian heritage.

The discriminatory use of given names came into the spotlight in Taiwan last week when Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) was castigated for referring to Filipinas as “Marias.”

Speaking at a news conference to address the fallout over his remarks, Han claimed that he had been speaking “figuratively” in the role of the average Taiwanese parent who would not be comfortable with a “Maria” as their child’s English-language teacher.

It was a pathetic excuse, and his subsequent gushing praise for the English-language capabilities of Filipinas was suitably oleaginous.

Yet, Han’s initial comment, his observations about the general perceptions of Taiwanese (as spuriously employed to deflect as they were) and some of the reaction across social media pointed to a deeper issue with Taiwanese society, namely a tendency to lump outsiders into monolithic categories.

Thus are, not just individual nations, but entire regions, incorporating diverse cultures and ethnolinguistic groups, categorized under a single designation.

Southeast Asians, for example, are often referred to as wailao (外勞), meaning “foreign laborers” or, even more ignorantly, sometimes tailao (泰勞), “Thai laborers,” regardless of nationality or occupation (neither of which the average Taiwanese has much interest in ascertaining.)

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