May 23, 2011

The Importance of Being Barack

A minor trend I've noticed is people fiddling around with their names in order to make themselves seem more eligible for diversity brownie points. For example, local talk radio host Raoul Lowery noticed that his Irish surname wasn't getting him anywhere, so he added, in the Mexican style, his Mexican mother's last name to make himself Raoul Lowery-Contreras, and, bingo, he was suddenly Spanish-surnamed and could market himself to radio stations as the Voice of the Emerging Latino Tidal Wave.

Similarly, performance artist Sandra Loh felt contempt for the whole system of diversity brownie points, but a starving performance artist has to eat. So, she realized it would a be a lot easier to get grants in the diversity-crazed SoCal arts scene if she emphasized being Asian. She already had a Chinese last name via her Cal Tech professor dad, but Loh sounds like it could be, say, German. Maybe it's short for Lohmann? And since her mother was German, that was a problem. So she added her middle name Tsing and became Sandra Tsing Loh, which immediately boosted her career.

Similarly, a friend in the Bay Area tells me about an Asian high school girl who got into UCLA despite grades and test scores well below UCLA's usual standards. Why? Well, Proposition 209 in 1996 meant that the UC schools aren't allowed to ask about racial identity on the application. So, the diversicrats struck back by making the admissions process "holistic," including two essays, on which you are encouraged to wax eloquent about your diversityness. 

The consultant who wrote the Chinese girl's UC essay played on her ambiguous sounding last name (could be Chinese, could be WASP, could be black) and the fact that she happened to have been born into the small Chinese community in Ecuador (but grew up in suburban California) to make her sound like she might be black and/or Latino instead of just another pretty smart, pretty hard working Chinese girl from a Bay Area suburb. UCLA automatically enrolled her in the summer-before-freshman-year remedial program that they run to help NAM admittees catch-up with whites and Asians.

In America, unlike in apartheid South Africa, there is very little in the way of background checking into claims to belong to a particular racial/ethnic group. 

The main exceptions are Indian tribes. If you wake up tomorrow and remember that your grandmother told you she was a Pechanga Indian, and therefore you deserve an annual check of your share of the profits from the giant Pechanga casino on the road to Palm Springs, well, you've got your work cut out for you. The Pechanga tribe is allowed only one casino, so distributing profits is a zero sum game: adding a long lost Pechangan to the roles dilutes the size of all the current Pechangans' checks. They they set a "blood quantum" of minimum Pechanganess (typically, 1/4th, so you'd better hope Grannie wasn't merely, say, 3/4th Pechangan). 

So, Indian tribes maintain systems much like the Boer state did in apartheid South Africa to decide who is in and who is out of the favorable line of descent. Much genealogical detail is required to validate claims of Pechanganess. 

On the other hand, diversity bennies for everybody else, such as blacks and Hispanics, are close to infinite sum games. The more people who claim to be diverse, the more the non-diverse must pony up, and more the beneficiaries of affirmative action there are to fight politically for their continuance. Every so often, a few black intellectuals, most notably Henry Louis Gates and Lani Guinier, complain about how Harvard gives away too many affirmative action slots to blacks who don't have a plausible claim to have been victimized by American slavery. For example, they have a white parent or their black parents are foreign. But, Gates and Guinier kind of shut up about this with the rise of Barack Obama, who is the double epitome of exactly the kind of freeloader they are kind of talking about.

Obama, himself, had the problem than "Barry Obama from Honolulu" doesn't sound black at all -- it sounds like an assimilated part-Japanese guy. (Obama is a town in Japan, and thus he almost didn't get hired for his famous community organizer job organizing blacks because the guy he sent the resume to thought he was Japanese.) 

Moreover, by the 1970s, "Barry" was sounding like the kind of tin-eared name that immigrants foist on their kids to make them sound more assimilated and classier. The classic example is Irving, an old, respectable Anglo-American surname -- most notably, Washington Irving, America's first famous fiction writer. In the early 20th Century, Russian Jewish immigrant parents seized upon "Irving" as a  WASPy first name for their sons (e.g., Irving Kristol). Soon, the name was so inextricably linked to socially maladroit hard-chargers from the Outer Boroughs that it became a standard joke name for Mad Magazine.

"Barry" peaked in popularity as a first name the year after Obama was born, but it was already starting to sound a little Irvingish, a little trying-too-hard-to-be-assimilated by the late 1970s: e.g., Barry Manilow. So, no more Barry. If Obama had been really confident in his blackness, he would have shortened Barack to Rock Obama, like baseball player Tim "Rock" Raines. Instead, at Occidental, he switched to Barack. Compared to Barry, Barack sounds more Balack.

Are there any strategies where parents could manipulate this kind of thing? Could you name your kid D'Shqwan Jacob Smith, and he grows up being Jake Smith, but when he applies to the University of California, he's suddenly D'Shqwan Smith? 

62 comments:

Eagle Dancing on Buffalo Back & wanting Pechanga Check. said...

"The main exception are Indian tribes. If you wake up tomorrow and remember that your grandmother told you she was a Pechanga Indian, and therefore you deserve an annual check of your share of the profits from the giant Pechanga casino on the road to Palm Springs, well, you've got your work cut out for you."

What if a person is 1/4 Sioux, 1/4 Comanche, 1/4 Iroquois, and 1/4 Pechanga? Does he or she collect a check from each?

Andrea Bongo Suzuki Haseem Gupta Fuentes said...

It used to be immigrants took European names or Anglicized their last names.
Maybe the time has arrived for white folks to 'colorize' their names.

Anonymous said...

We know where this trend leads:

"Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho"

Anonymous said...

Well, I suspect in a few years there is going to start being some checking up, particularly in California.

Anonymous said...

OT, but in my class one year I had a Laquisha, Ladisha, Kenisha, Myesha, and Daniqua.

Needless to say, I had a hard time all year with names.

dearieme said...

Fine distinctions are nowadays made in Britain. I've been wondering about emphasising my gypsy heritage.

Maya said...

How can there be "checking up"? One's true race, by the definition used in the United States, is the race one identifies with. Therefore, if I believe myself to be black, black I am. How can anyone disprove my feelings and emotions? Even if someone finds out that I was a member of, I don't know, the Aryan Nation high school club 2 years ago, it wouldn't prove that I'm lying today. Perhaps, my grandma told me a month ago that she is part black, and I realized that the rhythmic lullabies she sang me and some dishes she cooked that are such an important part of who I am are actually of African origin. Even if I took a DNA test and turned out to be 0% sub-saharan african, wouldn't I still be black in the depth of my soul, and thus black by the American definition?

Flavia Marie said...

My name screams "Not from here!!!!" and I did the exact opposite from those trying to make themselves diverse .

I added Marie. Then I married a WASP. Now two of my three names are Anglo :)

I'm white. But from those swarthy southern parts.

Anonymous said...

In less diverse Australia, the masses are unaware of the proprietory status of names.

It is not uncommon for little blonde girls to be called Ebony. I haven't seen any freckled Lebrons or Laquandas... yet, but I fully expect to, because the image of Afro-Americans is wholly positive: NBA, Beyonce, Obama, what's not to like?

Gilbert Pinfold.

Anonymous said...

In a similar vein, Chinese Americans / Chinese immigrants whose families are from, or who have lived in, South East Asia (eg Amy Chua), can actually get affirmative action in college admissions since they qualify as Filipino, Thai, or other not yet over-represented Asian ethnicities. And while the primary motive for the successful and continuing push to disaggregate Asian ethnicities at the census, in college admissions, and soon in state and other government statistics, was to provide AA for non-overrepresented ethnicities (ie everything but Chinese, Indian, Korean), it was heavily supported by the Chinese advocacy groups because it will both provide AA for SE Asian Chinese, and will also reduce the official over-representation of Chinese.

Anonymous said...

Make sympathetic noises to feminists and homosexuals to advance in women-majority industries? You bet it works.

Maya said...

Okay, you talked me into it. I'm going back to school. Surely, I can't be punished for lying about my race if I maintain that I truly believe myself to be the biologically wrong race. So if accepted, I can't be kicked out. Off to research a few obscure musical/culinary traditions that would make my new race believable, yet not too obviously flaunted in my writing sample. Will I get bonus points for a cool story? I'm an immigrant. Anything could've happened to my ancestors on the great outside. I think my great great grandma was a prostitute... She overcame great adversity raising her biracial son whom she conceived during an especially moonless working shift with what turned out to be an Ethiopian refugee/merchant/circus performer. My great grandfather grew feeling strong invisible ties to his absent heritage and became somewhat of an unofficial scholar on the subject of his other culture. Now, it's an important part of our family tradition.
Right. Now, I need to go find which country in Eastern Europe was most likely to have such a circus pass by. After, it should be relatively easy to explain how the family line ended up in my country of birth. Also, I need an Ethiopian myth/fable/legend/wise teaching that would enable my great grandfather to see past my great grandmother's superficial flaws (she was blind or gimp or something) and fall in love with her inner beauty. That way African wisdom and spirituality will be the glue that made my family and my own birth possible. Any suggestions? I'm getting into this.

as said...

"Could you name your kid D'Shqwan Jacob Smith, and he grows up being Jake Smith, but when he applies to the University of California, he's suddenly D'Shqwan Smith?"

Hilarious.

Senora Not-so-Mexican said...

I've considered changing my son's last name to a popular Mexican surname right before he takes the SAT. I've been assured that high SAT scores attached to Mexican names attract mucho interest from colleges...

If I'm careful that his high school transcripts are updated with his new name, will anyone catch us? He has dark hair, and I don't think anyone in America has the balls to call out "fakers" based on facial features. [And yes, I know there are white hispanics, etc]

Garland said...

Could you just officially change your name around junior year of high school? Then change it back if you want a year or ten later.

Garland said...

What's in it for the universities to start checking? I can see some parts of the Diversityverse wanting to make sure they were getting actual diversity, but isn't it in the university's interest to be able to count Jake Smith as diversity? He may have fooled them but as long as they get to boost their school's percentage of diversity will they care?

Anonymous said...

having a name that links you to the founding stock of this country is a negative.
Sad reflection, but left has won now the only thing to do is sit back and watch it fail.

coldequation said...

An aside about the Indian tribal spoils system: one of the big perks is free healthcare. The federal government pays for it, not the tribes, so the tribes have no particular reason to want to exclude people from this perk, so some tribes will allow people with quantums as low as 1/512th to receive membership. I haven't looked into this, but I'll bet they get some sort of application fee or dues from the blonde/blue "Indians" who want free healthcare. That would be a good way for tribes which don't have profitable casinos to make money.

"Neil" in NorCal said...

There's a lawyer up here running radio ads whose first name is Barak. Of course, just from hearing I wouldn't know how it's spelled, but when put together with his last name it would not seem to imply any recent Kenyan or Kansan extraction (in fact it's an easy-to-recognize Israeli surname, and I gather he's related to a certain left-Likud screenwriter, and therefore to another guy who used to draw the cover cartoons for National Review).

It was amusing after reading your post to ponder whether this fellow would have opted for "Barry" in a different time & place. Actually, he probably would not. A mutually reinforcing combination of stubbornness and indifference about majority-culture trappings is I believe common (Amiri Baraka and John C. Fremont types being the multitudinous exceptions to the rule). I still think "Bobby Jindal" sounds odd but after last week I've finally been cured of mixing up Ehud Barak and BHO2

Anonymous said...

I thought the left would welcome us 'socially constructing' our races, and making them non-white?

Anonymous said...

Sandra Tsing-Loh's father was not a professor at Caltech.

Anonymous said...

I'm not remotely Asian but I've got an Asian-sounding name. When Asians see my name, they're intrigued and stare curiously at me for months before working up the courage to ask me my ancestry. When they find out my ancestry isn't Asian they get almost angry, as if I had "tricked" them, even though it ought to be obvious from looking at me what my ancestry is. Unfortunately, I don't get any nice affirmative-action bennies for "tricking" people into thinking I'm Asian.

Barb Stanwyck said...

Of course donning a catchy-but-exotic nomme de media didn't start with Geraldo or Jennifer 8. Lee. The trick is to come up with something that's durably voguish but doesn't infringe on any trademarks, like "Walter Isaacson."

If he'd stuck with the bland tones of 1960s Hawaii there's no way 44 could have captured the public imagination to ascend to the upper echelon of organizing. But poster #3 is correct: if we're to trust the latest Political Science Research about the contestant with the fewest letters in his or her names more likely winning an election, we're in for an onomastic train-wreck when the GOP field of 2024 sports such luminaries as J Pow, Rush Winn, and Mac N-zyme.

Will Jordan said...

"Are there any strategies where parents could manipulate this kind of thing? Could you name your kid D'Shqwan Jacob Smith, and he grows up being Jake Smith, but when he applies to the University of California, he's suddenly D'Shqwan Smith? "

- A white kid with the handle D'Shqwan anywhere in his name is gonna catch some flak growing up. Do him a favor, change his name after the third year of high school, transfer him to a different school for the senior year, and voila, he graduates as D'Shqwan, and can not only pick up the free ride, but also, all the brainwashed coeds pretending to be part black (and by the 1 drop rule, therefore 100% black).

Anonymous said...

Barack is an islamic name

In the islamic texts, Barack is a winged horse with the face of a woman who on one night came to the prophets house in Medina and flew him to Jerusalem and from the Dome of the Rock, took the prophet on a space flight to the 7 layers of heaven where he meets Jesus, Moses, Adam and Abraham

Anonymous said...

Seinfeld

Donna Chang

That is all.

agnostic said...

You could use a Germanic / Celtic name that became Latinized when these groups invaded Italy and Iberia. While they're growing up, refer to the kid only by the Anglo-sounding nickname. Then on the application, use the Latinate version.

E.g., Rodrigo and Rod, Frederico and Fred, Alarico and Al, etc.

Of course you'll have to wait for those Anglo nicknames to come back in style so your 5 year-old kid won't sound like he's already got one foot in the grave.

Anonymous said...

Seinfeld. Donna Chang. That is all.

Yeah, I laughed in recognition at that episode. Seinfeld had a knack for coming up with absurd situations that have actually happened to me or my friends and family.

Max said...

There's an easier way. Check the gay box on your college application. It's confidential so you won't have to explain it to anyone in the future and the administration can't call you out on it for obvious reasons.

I neglected to check the box when I applied to law school--and I *am* gay--for ideological reasons. Hands down it was the biggest mistake of my life. I'm going to be over $100k in debt when I graduate (damn my love of law!) and a "bisexual" girl in my class who checked "gay" because she was with a woman at the time, and who had my exact LSAT score and comparable grades, is getting a free ride.

Don't let your natural, gut aversion to homosexual behavior keep you from checking that box cause it's a freaking gold mine.

Dahlia said...

"Are there any strategies where parents could manipulate this kind of thing? Could you name your kid D'Shqwan Jacob Smith, and he grows up being Jake Smith, but when he applies to the University of California, he's suddenly D'Shqwan Smith?"

I don't want my sons at any college where they are not wanted, period. No cute games or playing into the hands of people who don't like them. The values of self-respect and boldness in honesty are greater than attending the most so-called prestigious college through dishonest means. Even if the worst-case scenario played out and my children were less powerful and wealthy than they otherwise would have been playing games, I'm confident that their children and so on will be better off than the children of those who contorted themselves for this elite.

Anonymous said...

My maternal grandmother has a French last name that sounds vaguely as if it could also be Spanish. I wonder if I could start putting that surname in front of my real (Scandinavian) last name to bolster chances of law or grad school acceptance. I don't need to attempt it but my family has joked about it from time to time. Unlike my blond cousins who actually have the surname in question, I think I could pass as a hispanic person if it came down to a personal interview...

And to Mark...what schools have a "gay" box on the applications? I've never seen this.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if they'd "check" on me if I started telling them I'm an Alaska Native. Yeah, I've got a German surname, blond hair and blue eyes, and my parents moved to Anchorage from Pennsylvania, but at least it won't take me three years to produce my birth certificate.

Black Sea said...

Tsing-Loh, sweet chariot,
comin' for to carry me home . . .

Anonymous said...

I shouda changed my name to Julio!

Anonymous said...

The silliness of Dr. Seuss
The strangeness of The Twilight Zone.

America, 2011

Anonymous said...

All of you plotting ways to "diversify" yourself or your kids in order to get into college are forgetting what kind of "education" will be offered once you're in there.

I'm having a hard time seeing why it's worth the bother.

Jack Aubrey said...

AT what point do parents wanting to give their their kids a better shot at Harvard admission and a Goldman Sachs position start naming their kids Bernard and Mordechai, and debate changing their last name to Cohen?

Some minorities have no problem adopting Anglo names, but I wonder how they'd react if we started adopting theirs.

Anonymous said...

Obama probably settled on 'Barack' because it has a regal and authoritative ring to it. 'Barry' just sounds like a buddy whereas 'Barack' sounds like the name worthy of a Pharaoh or Sultan. It sounds both lofty and hardy. It sounds like the name meant for a natural leader.

On the other hand, if his father had named him Balangowongokabunga, he probably would have settled for Barry or Bill.

Anonymous said...

Similarly, Sandra Loh probably went with Tsing because it sounds pretty nice. Like Sing sing. But if her middle name had been Ching-chong-a-ling-long, she probably wouldn't have bothered.

Anonymous said...

God, I'm out of the loop. I had no idea they had a box for "gay" on college apps.

Truth said...

"I shouda changed my name to Julio!"

Nah, Jose is good enough.

Leonard said...

I once read about a sadistic Australian mother, circa 1980, who called her newborn son Beowulf. She wasn't trying to channel Old English literature or anything like that, she seems to have been plain stupid.

Incidentally the second most common surname (after Smith) in the telephone directories of Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city, is now ... a Vietnamese one, namely Nguyen. Which is also the seventh most common surname in Australia at large:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nguy%E1%BB%85n

Simon in London said...

My son is around 2% black, so I guess I can have him put down "mixed race" on his non-Californian college application?

Simon in London said...

Aubrey:
"AT what point do parents wanting to give their their kids a better shot at Harvard admission and a Goldman Sachs position start naming their kids Bernard and Mordechai, and debate changing their last name to Cohen?

Some minorities have no problem adopting Anglo names, but I wonder how they'd react if we started adopting theirs."

I have a name that is English, but sounds could-well-be-Jewish to Jewish-Americans. IME Jews have no hesitation in asking me if I am actually Jewish. So you'd have to be prepared to lie, and could easily get into trouble when asked about stuff from Jewish culture.

Anonymous said...

What's going on down there in Australia? Is Julia Gillard going to cut immigraation. Oh - and what the heck is happening with those Indian students?

Anonymous said...

"AT what point do parents wanting to give their their kids a better shot at Harvard admission and a Goldman Sachs position start naming their kids Bernard and Mordechai, and debate changing their last name to Cohen?"

----

I don't know about G-Sachs, but do you actually think there is Jew affirmative action at Ivies?

I'm Ashkenazi (1560 SATs, 3.9 GPA) and I could rejected by every single ivy league school (I even applied to Cornell and Dartmouth).

I played no sports and went to public school, but if there was really affirmative action, 1560/3.9 would make me a lock for Harvard or Yale (let alone Dartmouth).

Drawbacks said...

@Simon in London:
Just out of curiosity, why did you stop using your real name: worried about your association with unPC thinkers being outed to your employers?

Dahinda said...

Gerald Michael Riviera became Geraldo Rivera. "Geraldo?" WTF?? BTW. Black Sea beat me with the Tsing-Loh sweet chariot!

Anonymous said...

Not to be nit-picky, but the apartheid authorities didn't in fact do extensive background checks to determine race. Hence the (in)famous pencil test, whereby a person of mixed race could be reclassified as white as long as his skin colour wasn't too dark and his hair wouldn't hold a pencil. I went to school with quite a few kids who had jet-black curly hair and skin tone easily as dark as Obama's. Of course sometimes there were throwbacks when these people had children of their own. A cousin of my mother's emigrated to Europe in the sixties. I've heard it whispered it was because he simply wasn't accepted as a white person by the community.

Anonymous said...

What if a person is 1/4 Sioux, 1/4 Comanche, 1/4 Iroquois, and 1/4 Pechanga? Does he or she collect a check from each?

No, you can only be enrolled in one tribe.

There are even situations where children who are racially fully Amerindian, but don't have the blood quantum for membership in either of their tribes, cannot be enrolled as Native American at all.

Of course, there are also the scammers, ie. tribes that extend membership by lineal descent, the most infamous being Oklahoma's Cherokee Nation, only a couple of thousand of whom have a blood quantum above 1/8, out of a total of 300,000 members.

Chicago said...

If one wanted to get admitted on the transgender quota how would they go about making it known on their application? Is there a box that can be checked? Would they demand verification?

Truth said...

"I'm Ashkenazi (1560 SATs, 3.9 GPA) and I could rejected by every single ivy league school (I even applied to Cornell and Dartmouth)."

Is 1560/2400 really Ivy league?

James Kabala said...

Let me join those who have asked: Mark, what the heck law school did you go to, and in what year?

Simon in London said...

Drawbacks:
"@Simon in London:
Just out of curiosity, why did you stop using your real name: worried about your association with unPC thinkers being outed to your employers?"

My real name is Simon Newman; there are several of us but you can probably find out which one fairly easily. I try never to post an opinion I wouldn't be prepared to justify in real life - if necessary. But I guess I didn't want hundreds of 'Simon Newman's all over Steve's blog!

Anonymous said...

Barack is an islamic name

In the islamic texts, Barack is a winged horse with the face of a woman who on one night came to the prophets house in Medina and flew him to Jerusalem and from the Dome of the Rock, took the prophet on a space flight to the 7 layers of heaven where he meets Jesus, Moses, Adam and Abraham


In the Book of Judges, Barak was Deborah's military commander. It's about as Jewish as they come.

SFG said...

"AT what point do parents wanting to give their their kids a better shot at Harvard admission and a Goldman Sachs position start naming their kids Bernard and Mordechai, and debate changing their last name to Cohen?"

Wouldn't help you, and might even hurt. There's no affirmative action for Jews qua Jews. There are Jewish social networks that are advantageous to be in (going to shul with the head of the law school), and there are a lot of Jewish alumni, but unlike being black, simply checking Jewish on the form won't help.

Being Jewish isn't an advantage if you don't know any Jews, is what I'm trying to say. It's rather like if your family came over on the Mayflower but are all New England rednecks; sure you 'came over on the Mayflower', but if your second cousin isn't on the Harvard Corporation, it wont help.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally the second most common surname (after Smith) in the telephone directories of Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city, is now ... a Vietnamese one, namely Nguyen. Which is also the seventh most common surname in Australia at large:

Not real surprise. Nguyens are 40% of Vietnam's population, whereas Smiths are just over 1% of the UK's population.

Drawbacks said...

@Simon
Yeah, I was pretty sure, seeing as you used to use your full name. (One of the few, obv.)
Was just mildly curious, as I said.

Mike in Boston said...

As I wrote last year, my daughter has my Italian last name but an Asian mom. Maybe she can check some "mixed race" box, and work a mention of Africa into her essay. Easier than adding 300-plus points to an SAT score!

Anonymous said...

Re Irving: Note that the Jewish naming pattern a century ago was heavy on select English/American authors: Irving, Spenser, Milton. As far as I can tell, later generations simply kept it up to honor relatives. Compare with a previous Anglo-American naming predilection for Latin and Greek authors--Homer, Horace, Virgil--with the greatest endurance, I believe, in the American South; and a curious afterlife on The Simpsons.

Anonymous said...

There's no affirmative action for Jews qua Jews. There are Jewish social networks that are advantageous to be in (going to shul with the head of the law school), and there are a lot of Jewish alumni, but unlike being black, simply checking Jewish on the form won't help.

There's no formal affirmative action for Jews qua Jews. Not officially at any rate.

Sideways said...

UCLA automatically enrolled her in the summer-before-freshman-year remedial program that they run to help NAM admittees catch-up with whites and Asians.

lol.