When I was young, I was a constant victim of bullying. Being picked on just because of who you are is painful to endure. It sends a message that you are not fit for human respect and decency let alone be considered “cool” with other kids. It can be damaging to a young person – so damaging to want to take some action to escape that hardship.
For example, a young biracial girl in Kansas was recently reported to receive a Christmas gift from her mother, who is white. Her gift was that she got her name changed from Keisha Austin to Kylie Austin. Why? Because the little girl wanted her name to change after being bullied for it.
Colorlines’ Jamilah King reports:
The woman, formerly known as Keisha Austin, said that she faced bigoted bullying from classmates and teachers because of her name, which people associated with “video vixens, neck-rolling and Maury Povich tabloid fodder.” In short, having a recognizably “black” girl’s name would up being an emotional and social hazard. ”In our society, names like Abdul and Muhammad get flagged for security checks,” noted the writer, Jenee Osterheldt. “Tran and Jesus get labeled illegal immigrants. Deonte and Laquita? People see baby mamas, criminals and affirmative action hires. Billy Bob and Sue? Hillbillies and trailer parks.”
For years, Keisha begged her mother to change her name.
“It’s not something I take lightly,” she told the paper, crying. “I put a lot of thought into it. I don’t believe you should just change your name or your face or anything like that on a whim. I didn’t want to change my name because I didn’t like it. I wanted to change my name because it didn’t feel comfortable. I don’t connect to it. I didn’t feel like myself, but I never want any girls named Keisha, or any name like that, to feel hurt or sad by it.”
As you can see, having certain names conjures a judgmental society to look at that person with suspicion or disdain. For young people, this can lead to bullying and intimidation, because the world we live in tolerates intolerance and disrespects differences.
I can relate to what Kylie has gone though. As a young black male growing up, it was expected that I was “cool”, cool for us meant that I should’ve been bad and good at sports. Since I was the goody-two-shoes, a klutz when it came to dribbling the basketball or couldn’t strike a baseball to save my life, I was also quiet, introverted and a little nerdy. So, I was picked on for it by my peers because I didn’t fit into the image of how a young black male is supposed to act. That might’ve been great for the teachers who saw us as future criminals, but not so much for my schoolmates.
Kylie made the decision to change her name, because after being treated badly for it, she hated it. When you are bullied for the most mundane reasons, you want to do something about it to stop it. In racialized bullying, people of color dealt with being picked on for their physical and natural appearance, mannerisms and – as you’ve just read – their names.
Racialized bullying is not limited to just white people being the bullies. In a white racist society, people of color can engage in hate with their own people or other people of color. It is part of a larger problem of society’s negative attitudes regarding differences that don’t sit well with the most ig’nant among us.
The story of
Keisha Kylie may be unique, but it’s part of something bigger and uglier. No one should have to suffer because of who they are, what they are or what name they were given at birth.