Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What's in a Name?

When I first started this blog, I had the sense that I wanted to be private. Which is a bit paradoxical because an open blog is one of the least private documents on the internet. But what I mean, is that I wanted not to give a lot of personal information about myself--identifying factors that could lead someone to my faculty webpage.

And if you look at the entry under "The only one (or two)" (Sunday, December 9), you will see that I have tried not to give too many tell tale signs about which Southern state I live in, and I have certainly never tried to name people, unless they were very public figures (but again, telling you the name of the governor or even the state senator would be a dead giveaway as to which state I live in).

Yet this also strikes me in some ways as disingenuous. I know that it's for practical purposes, and even for safety reasons (an August USA Today article talked about female bloggers experiencing higher rates of harassment than male bloggers). But still, it sometimes feels silly to hide behind a moniker like "Southern University" or to hedge about the places I've visited or the town I live in.

But anonymity in the blogosphere can be a dangerous thing. Even pseudonyms--because you do not have to give your real name (and many people, also for privacy issues do not) are a form on anonymity on the web. Which means that we can take on these names, these personaes, or the umbrella one of "anonymous" and we can troll around the blogosphere, leaving comments and being free to say whatever we like however we like, with only our own conscience to guide us about propriety or prudence.

Names, certainly ethnic names, have often led to discrimination and prejudice--as many studies have indicated, when you send in a resume with the name "James" vs. "Jamal" it makes a difference, even if the credentials of both resumes are identical. And surnames often become dead give-aways of your ethnic identity--certainly in the early half of the 20th Century, "Jewish" surnames were one measure of keeping out Jewish students from the hallowed halls of certain ivy league schools. And today, you don't have to show up for an interview for someone to know you are of Asian ancestry if your last name is Wong, Nakamura, or Singh. And thus, how are you to know if what didn't get you that job interview was that your credentials weren't strong or that your name was Jamal Singh and not James Smith?

I'm not exactly sure the connection I'm trying to make about ethnic names, about anonymity, and about privacy on the blogosphere. But I think they are connected...this idea about hiding, passing, covering through pseudonyms or through anonymity--it seems like a potential way to get around or away from discrimination, and yet it also feels like a mask that allows you to say and do things you wouldn't say or do using your own, real name.

8 comments:

Dance said...

I'm eventually going to post on this, but basically I feel that knowing how to run a google search does not entitle any one to discover my life history, hobbies, thoughts, or questions. The internet does not give them that right.

A persona is accountable--there is an address and the person can be reached, and even a reputation to consider. Personas can be punished--dealing with harassment on a blog is no fun. Plus, there are people out there who know how to track a persona down.

Jennifer said...

Dance,
Thanks for the comment--esp. for distinguishing between a "persona" and people who simply leave "anonymous" comments--because you are right, there is at least some accountability with a persona, even if it does require a certain amount of effort to track someone down. Whereas "anonymous" that just fades into the ether.

It does, however, puzzle me--how much people take cover under "anonymous" comments or even "psuedonyms" because, lets face it, the average person (and I count myself among them here) would not go to the trouble (and perhaps financial output) of tracking down a particularly obnoxious poster/commenter.

I guess one of the things that anonymous and psuedonymous commenters have reminded me is that there is a whole lot of incivility out there and a whole lot of racism still. Just looking at You Tube comments attests to this.

By the way, I did just put up your blog address under "blogs I like"--so thanks for letting me link to your blog "Prone to Laughter"--which is a great blog title!

Sang-Shil said...

I'm a fairly new blogger, and I am still struggling with issues of anonymity and privacy as well. I just wrote about a dragon boat race that I participated in earlier this year, but didn't mention the city or the river and didn't post video footage because it showed too many distinctive landmarks. It felt a little silly, but I'm just not comfortable sharing that much right now.

The issue of names is especially interesting to me, since I am Asian but am known in real life by my white/American name that my adoptive parents gave me. My online name (persona?) is made-up (well, kind of) and is ethnic in a way that my "real" name is not. But rather than choosing not to "pass" as white by choosing a Korean-sounding name, I wonder if I'm trying to "pass" as Korean when I really don't feel Korean.

Jennifer said...

Sang-shi,
Although I've been doing this now for almost half a year, I still feel like I'm a newbie. And I do think that your instincts towards privacy are very smart and sane, because there are some pretty weird people out there and women tend to attract more weirdness than men.

I also wanted to respond to what you said about not "feeling" Korean or feeling like you might be "passing" as Korean. This is something I think about a lot since my research is on "passing" and Asian Americans and mixed-race Asian Americans (and my last chapter will be focusing on transracial/transnational adoptees).

The idea of not feeling "authentic" enough in one's ethnic group is actually pretty standard among Asian Americans--it's something that I know I've felt and other friends of mine (who are also Asian American) have felt. Some of us (like me) don't feel authentic because we don't speak the language. Others may speak an Asian natal tongue but were raised in largely non-Asian-ethnic settings (largely white really) and therefore don't feel "authentically" Asian, and of course there are just others who for whatever reason associated more with people who were white, black, Latino and not Asian and therefore don't feel "Asian" enough. And I also think that the ways in which we are told we should fit into Asian/American society exacerbates this.

All of which isn't to take away from your own particular feelings of "passing" or the feelings of not quite belonging but to say that while your experiences are unique they also echo/mirror others experiences, just in different ways.

Which means that I think there's a larger more intereseting point about authenticity and ethnic identity to be explored--and since I'm an academic egg-head my default is to say that I wish someone would do a study about this (actually, someone sort've has--Vincent Cheng has an good book called INAUTHENTIC although I found some faults with his last chapter in Asian American identity).

Good luck to you and if you come visit again or even off-line drop me the link to your blog, I'd like to check it out if you don't mind! Or feel free to post it in the comments section somewhere so others can check it out too.

Sang-Shil said...

I definitely agree with the feelings of being inauthentic applying to Asian-Americans, and agree that for me, language has a lot to do with it. One of the times that I felt the most un-Korean was sitting in a Korean language class, trying to pronounce sounds that native speakers could say correctly in their sleep.

But I also think that transracial adoptees are missing something that Asian-Americans with Asian parents often have -- parents/family that can potentially serve as a kind of bridge between two cultures. I'm not saying that *all* Asian parents can or do teach their children about roots and culture, model ways of handling racism, or demonstrate ways of being a minority in a predominantly white society. Just that it's a lot harder for white adoptive parents to do so.

Sang-Shil Kim
Land of the Not-So-Calm
http://notsocalm.wordpress.com

baby221 said...

I admittedly don't have anything constructive to add about anonymity and identity -- but hell, how am I supposed to take one of your classes without knowing where you teach? :p Not that I could get all the way to wherever you are from California, but ... yanno.

The idea of not feeling "authentic" enough in one's ethnic group is actually pretty standard among Asian Americans--it's something that I know I've felt and other friends of mine (who are also Asian American) have felt. Some of us (like me) don't feel authentic because we don't speak the language. Others may speak an Asian natal tongue but were raised in largely non-Asian-ethnic settings (largely white really) and therefore don't feel "authentically" Asian, and of course there are just others who for whatever reason associated more with people who were white, black, Latino and not Asian and therefore don't feel "Asian" enough. And I also think that the ways in which we are told we should fit into Asian/American society exacerbates this.

...I feel silly for admitting this, but I actually didn't know that. I've been struggling for some time now with my hapa identity and feelings of being not Pinay enough, etc., so it's nice (or, well, not "nice," because what does it say that so many of us find our own ethnic selves so fraught?) to hear that it's relatively common.

Hmm. Now you've got me thinking about names all over again. New year, new name, maybe? Hmm.

Jennifer said...

Sang-shil--thanks for the link to your blog--I just checked it out and am glad that you are writing about your observations/thoughts on adoption, esp. transracial issues (and I agree that what went on with the NYTimes was atrocious/unethical and there are many people, like you, who have opinions about adoption who should be heard and respected. So keep up the good blogging and I'll be checking in (and maybe even chiming in occassionally).

And your observation about parents who can rolemodel, directly from their own experiences, is a key one, and a key difference, for Asian adoptees who have white parents. And I don't think it's a small thing to have an adult in the home who "looks" like you--that there is something about seeing yourself reflected, if imperfectly, in the faces of your family. Which isn't to say that if you aren't reflected racially you can't have a connection or find role models, but it does make it a bit less lonely sometimes, at least I feel this way now when I encounter fellow Asian Americans in the South--that the feeling of not just being the only face is refreshing. Although I haven't had any friends/acquaintances who are transracial adoptees put it this way, I would imagine that this is partially what you are getting at when you observe that there is a difference having parents of the same race in the home.

Baby221, wish you could come down South to take a class but my guess is that if you are in CA then you have fantastic teachers there already. And I know what you mean by feeling a bit better about knowing that identity issues are more common among all of us.

When I was in college I used to feel really awkward going to ASU (Asian Student Union) events--because I didn't feel "Asian" enough. But then when I started mentioning this to others, I realized that people I felt were much more Asian than me also felt the same way.

I guess what it means is that we're all sort've alike even in our differences--weird huh?

saiyan said...

I have definitely had those feelings of not being "Asian enough." Pretty much my whole life. I don't speak the language. Well I do, but not fluently. I have a Japanese name and the first time I learned Japanese was in a college class when I was 16. It felt kind of embarrassing. And in high school you know they have cliques. And I was never considered "Asian enough" for the Asian cliques. I was even told from some who I was friends with that I wouldn't understand something because it was an "Asian thing." Another random tidbit, I married a man also of the same mixed races of myself. And I'm "Asian enough" for him. We are both on the same level with this and can be proud of our ethnicity together and accept each other for who we are and neither of us condones the other as not "Asian enough." Now another interesting fact is my Dad is the one that is Asian and my mom is Caucasian. I know in a lot of cases it's the reverse. My Mom is not Asian at all, very Caucasian looking, blonde hair and all, and has a Japanese last name. My Dad's name naturally that she took when they married. There was one time that she was having a hard time getting a job and my Dad was convinced she was being discriminated against because when people saw her resume they were expecting an "Asian looking" woman to walk in for the interview. He tried to convince my Mom to change back to her maiden name but she refused and has since found steady employment. Is is an interesting idea though. There's no way of knowing if she was in fact discriminated against or not.