As I go into the start of the new school semester at a predominantly white institution, I dread what has become an epidemic for Black students — roll call.
While roll call is a part of what should be the easiest day for a college student, it is not for Black students. Instead of receiving the syllabus and being able to leave, like other students, we have to engage in what seems like a never ending battle of the syllables. That, or we’re being looked at when the most stereotypical “Black name” is called, even if our names are Ian or Gabby.
I have heard the most simple two syllable names be made into chemical compounds. I have heard Desirae turned into Desire, Rasheed to Rashad and Antoine into Antonio. These names, nor the letters that form the sounds of the word, are hard to pronounce. So, of course, the first day of class serves as the framework for the micro-aggressive things that will happen later in the courses.
But what becomes more of the problem here is that four weeks down the road, we are still having the same conversation. We have moved from 1613 to 1832 in the textbook, but somehow we are still on my birthdate for the fourth consecutive week because you cannot seem to get my name right? But somehow, you've gotten Siobhan’s name right, the first time.
By a certain point, you have to call bulls**t. Professors are blatantly disrespecting you, but in the most passive way. The more you correct them, the more they get it wrong.
This is violence. It is a direct reflection in how much they do not care about your being. Your name is your first line of communication with others, and if a person cannot at least try to get that right, then they are denying you all human decency. This speaks beyond character. This speaks to ideals and character.
Looking at a historical context, white people have always denied Black people the pleasure of having their name spoken. They have used household favorites like the N word or “boy.” Saying their name would somehow transcend power onto Black folks and make them feel equal.
What is done in classrooms is no difference. It is a reminder of where they believe you do and don’t belong. To them, Black people have no business in academia. Your thoughts and voice hold no real weight in these settings. The “minor” screw-up of your name is just their passive reminder of that. With every screw-up, the distance between the Black student and the classroom grows wider and wider.
As we enter the new semester, remember: it’s very easy to give courtesy and respect. As an educator, your ideals should already align with transformative justice for minority students. If not, the position is not for you.
Black students, if professors aren’t getting your names right, then we’re not getting theirs right either. That’s the energy we’re bringing in 2019.
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