Monday, October 13, 2008

What's In A Name

This subject has been on my mind for the past week especially watching some folks John McCain's camp using Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein as if it was a four-letter word as seen here by Lee County's Sheriff:

I have a unique name and as previously mentioned, I've been thinking about writing about the stereotypes even before the name-calling in the political scene. Two Saturdays ago, I went to get my car serviced and while waiting in the lobby a couple of the car maintenance attendants (one white, another black) struck up a conversation with me - I seem to have that effect on people :-)

Anyway, the topics range from politics and race relations, which in today's world seem not to be mutually exclusive. The white guy told me (by first saying "no disrespect") if he hasn't seen me but just my first name on the computer, he would have assumed I was "Middle-Eastern." I smiled and told him I'm not surprised by his assumption since I've been "randomly" selected at the airports for extra security precautions when I travel out of the country in a post 9-11 world.

But I'm not Middle-Eastern (not that there's anything wrong with that). And the black guy (of Caribbean descent) doesn't get away scotfree either by making a generalization about the women from where my parents are from - I called him out of course. I'm the anti-thesis of whatever his presumptions are.

This is one of the things I love about living in South Florida - it is not straight up black or white and yes I have friends of various ethnicities to a point that my mother asked me years ago with a voice of concern "don't you have any African friends?" That gave me a pause at first while I thought about the question. My answer: "I didn't know that's a criteria for picking friends." All she said was "ha M-" As a way of saying my unusual way of seeing the world since my birth in the U.S with respect to (but inspite of) my parent's culture. The good thing was that subject was NEVER broached again. So I must have made an impression. But I digress.

One of the great things of living in South Florida is that it is a microcasm of America or how America will look in 2050. You got the New York/New Jersey folks all around, the Jewish Folks, the Haitians (Little Haiti), Latinos to a great extent (most in the Little Havana area), Caribbeans (if I'm not Middle-Eastern by my name, a lot think I'm Caribbean by my face) and a whole hodge-podge of Africans, Asians and Europeans and can't forget about the Snow-birds (people in cold climates who migrate here during those frigid temparatures).

As MSNBC's Chuck Todd and Chris Matthews said recently about Florida: You got the New York/New Jersey folks and most people up north in South Florida, the Mid-West folks in Central Florida and the South in Northern Florida as a way of saying of how they can't predict what will happen this election season in Florida. Gotta love it!

But most times, the downside of living here (South Florida) is when you have an ambiguous feature like mine you get to be asked "where are you from?" on almost a weekly basis to see if you identify with a respective person's culture (I don't 99 and half percent of the time). Forget that, they just start speaking to you in Creole, French, Patua (the Jamaicans) or Spanish from the gitgo. All I do is give a blank look (though I do understand some French but its very rusty).

I may even have a hat on (a penchant of mine during the weekends) and someone would stop me in a store to figure out what box to put me in. Then there's that name - my name. As previously mentioned of that Saturday afternoon at the car maintenance place to late Friday (past weekend) night at a networking event. So after the program was over Friday night, it was time for mingling.

One woman old enough to be my mom has been staring at me for a while talking to a couple individuals. When I turned to her and said hello with a business card in hand. This woman (black) first words were: "what kind of name is that?" Did I mention this was supposed to be a place for professionals? Do people understand etiquette? When I told her the origin, she said "well you look Jamaican!" as she kept staring at my face as if I was a piece of specimen. I counted to 10 in my head while maintaning a smile suggesting sorry to disappoint her.

I wish people would not make such a fuss about people's names especially those who look like me - black folks. The same people who would name their kids Alize, Corvossier, Lexus and other names synonymous with alcohol, cars (and other materialistic things) have a problem with my name. GIVE ME A FREAKING BREAK!!!

But my (or really, other people's) problem with my name pales in comparison with what Barack Obama is going through in the nationational spotlight. Take for example this video (I saw when I got into my house Friday night) of a woman scared that Obama is an Arab (He is NOT by the way):

Boy was I having a great time with folks and their presumptions! This was after a week of name-calling from McCain's camp to see this calling Obama an Arab. Why do folks from his camp call the name "Hussein" as if it is so SCARY!!! Now I give McCain credit for stopping the foolishness but this was after a week of incessant intolerance from his camp and an outcry from even the conservative base of his campaign threading a dangerous ground.

That was a given name to Barack by his father who shared the same name. And should I remind folks that Hussein is quite popular around the world as names for decent human beings regardless if many knew of one late dictator(Saddam Hussein) who shared the same name. Having a unique name doesn't make you risky or less American; why don't you judge a person by the content of his character first and not some preconceived notions of a name? Seriously!!!

Tags: Mike Scott, Lee County, Arab, Hussein, Intolerance, What's in a name