Hedreich Nichols

Say My Name

Small Bites Friday Five 12-11-20:

20-30m – Visit the website Peoples of the Historical Slave Trade to get a deeper feel for the faces and places of the slave trade.

15-20m – Read this HuffPost article on the “depressing truth about names and racial bias” then head down the rabbit hole with the hyperlinks.

10-15m – Read the story of enslaved rape victim Celia who was hanged for killing her master and rapist because according to the courts “a slave woman had no virtue that the law would protect against a master’s lust” .

5-10m – Keep challenging your thinking and biases. Here are a few more examples of biases from Practical Psychology to guard against.

0-5m – Use this form to let me know what issues of racism and bias you are struggling with as you work to become a more inclusive educator and let’s start a dialogue. I will be opening up a cohort in January so that we can talk more in depth about HOW to make small changes with big impact.

Sometimes, the smallest, most insignificant thing can be filled with such great humanity. Mr. C., this is for you:

As with many employee groups, my grade level team has a group chat. We trade important information throughout the day, send each other reminders and engage in witticism that only an educator would find funny. Two weeks ago, one text came through, unremarkable, yet significant. A teacher, White, male, needed to communicate about a student. He wrote her first name only, also not remarkable. What was remarkable, for me anyway, was that her name was spelled perfectly. I will call her Sha’ Niqua. As I write this, my computer underlines it in red, denoting an error. But there is no error. The apostrophe, spacing and capitalization all meant something to parents who were excited about the birth of their child. They mean something to the creative, smart 7th grader whose name I see displayed on my screen each class because her camera doesn’t work.

This teacher didn’t write “Shaniqua” or “ShaNiqua”. He didn’t write “S.P.”, convincing himself that it was better for FERPA, but really writing it because he couldn’t be bothered to remember where all the spaces and apostrophes go.

Her name is Sha’Niqua and this teacher, in the midst of all the 2020 craziness, took time to write it correctly. He doesn’t know that it moved me to tears. He just did his job. But I have been in rooms in which teachers roll their eyes or say some not-even-close moniker because they forget that addressing a student correctly by name is basic to connection, which influences learning outcomes.

I have been in rooms in which the refusal to learn a name sprang from glaring biases that associate “Black sounding” names with low socio-economic status and other negative stereotypes. Did you know that students with Black sounding names are more likely to be labeled troublemakers? Did you know that Black jobseekers and Asians who “whiten” their resumes get more interviews? Names play a big part in who we are and who we become. It’s time to examine some of the unconscious biases we carry when encountering names that are unfamiliar, “non-traditional” or “foreign-sounding”. This article on name bias might be a good starting point.

Bias often plays a part in our reluctance to embrace the unfamiliar. But sometimes, we may be unsure of how to be less than the all-knowing authority. If that’s the case, here are some words you can use, especially when encountering a name unfamiliar to you for the first (or second or third) time:

  • “I have never come across that name. Can you help me pronounce it please?”
  • “I am not very good with languages, you may need to help me say your name correctly more than once.
  • “Hey class, if I mispronounce your name, make sure you correct me. Your name is an important part of who you are and I want to get it right.”

A name is an important part of someone’s identity and children deserve to feel seen and valued. Mr. C. will probably read this, and I hope he knows how a little thing he doesn’t know he did made a big difference. And I hope you’ll make that same difference in your classrooms, on your school boards, when hiring babysitters or employees for your side businesses or when running into someone new in your community.

True, a rose by any other name may be just as sweet, but roll over and call your partner by any other name, see how far it’ll get ya.