Call Me By My Name

Let’s talk about name calling and why people do it. We’ll start with something that happened this weekend.

A boy came to our Minecraft server and broke apart something my daughter built. (These kids are 11 & 12 years old.) He said he thought what my daughter built wasn’t very good and he could do it better. My daughter then banned him from our server. A few minutes later she logged onto a Skype call with this boy and some mutual friends. They were all playing Minecraft on this boy’s server. When he saw my daughter’s name pop up as being available on Skype, he said, “Oh, great! Here comes the Drama Queen.”

My daughter spent the next hour, and parts of the next few days, defending herself. She repeatedly told me all the ways she is not a Drama Queen.

But that is not the point, at all. Truth be told, the boy was already generating more drama by taking what was a personal interaction and broadcasting his accusations to a group of kids not previously involved.

I said to her, “In your lifetime, boys are going to call you much worse. Girls will do it, too. Why do you think they do it?”

She didn’t have an answer. But I do. This is basically what I told her:

Think of a photograph of a girl you don’t know very well. If, above the photo there is the word “Jane”, you will see her as just a girl like you. You might be curious to know more about her. But if instead of “Jane” there is the word “Drama Queen”, you will already judge her before knowing her.

Name calling is not about saying a word that hurts to hear. Name calling is about erasing the person and replacing her individuality with a stereotype. It’s easier to convince people not to like Drama Queens, Cheaters, or Sluts. If someone can manage to take away your name and replace it with a slur, whatever negative thing they say about you after that is more likely to be believed. Essentially, they are weakening your influence and limiting your power.

Is that 12 year old boy aware of this or is he mimicking society? I guess the answer could go either way. But the end results of the behavior are the same.

Without critical thinking skills, people believe the negative things they hear. Even if they don’t believe it, they may still laugh and go along with it. No one wants to say my daughter isn’t a Drama Queen because to argue about it might make them a Drama Queen, too. Even my own daughter is reluctant to object because objecting is exactly what Drama Queens do.

To relate to this as an adult woman, consider the last time someone called you a bitch just because something upset you, and then acted like the fact you didn’t like being called a bitch was proof the label fit.

A further example is the stereotype of “Angry Black Woman”. This label has been used to effectively discredit valid arguments from Black Women for years. It tries to erase power which in turn will erase passion and ultimately results in silence.

Name calling is NOT just a word hard to hear. We know this. That’s why name calling mostly occurs when talking to other people than the person being labeled. It is an extremely powerful and effective way of erasing individuality, erasing personhood, erasing the legitimacy of words yet spoken. By simply introducing someone as a label instead of their name, I can create a bias with which you will filter their words. You may refuse to listen to them at all. But then how will you know if I lied?

Only critical thinking will set us free.

I told my daughter that I have no friends with whom I have never disagreed with at some point, even after 42 years. Disagreements are not the problem and will not ruin friendships. I’ve even had many friends use the same tactics on me that this boy used on my daughter. Long ago, I probably did the same to them.

“That doesn’t make it’s right to do it. I’m just saying you probably can’t stop people from doing it to you. It’s going to happen again. Keep being you and realize WHY they are doing it and don’t be so quick to give up your power. Don’t name call in return.  If someone doesn’t care about you or how you feel, just let them go.”

I know it’s easier said than done. I look at social media and I’m well aware of how many people continue to name call strangers they’ve never met in exactly the same way a 12 year old would. Even worse, they often jump on the bandwagon to judge someone they’ve never met simply because of a label someone else gave.

I am not great at remembering names. Sometimes I have to ask for a reminder again and again. But I promise I’ll always see a person as an individual, even if I have nothing in common other than our humanness. I promise to let my kids see this about me and hope it spreads. I don’t know what else I can do.

What about you? Have you found any other ways of dealing with problems like this?

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