What’s in a (ghetto) name? (2015)

“I’m not about to hire you if your name is Watermelondrea…It’s just not going to happen. I’m not going to hire you.” Raven-Symoné

Dear Raven-Symoné,

On 9th October 2015 you stated that you wouldn’t hire someone named Watermelondrea. You’ve since backtracked and apologised for, what can only be described as, your ignorant comments. In a world where stories move quickly, your gaffe can now be considered old news. But, on Friday as I collected my Starbucks order and looked at what should have been my name scrawled across the side of the cup, I was reminded of your comments.

I’d told the barista my name several times. Despite this, he’d written “Sandra”. This isn’t the crime of the century and I wasn’t annoyed or offended in any way. What struck me was that the barista had obviously not recognised my name as the norm, so had decided to pick something he was more familiar with.

On countless occasions I’ve had to repeat myself or suffer with people mispronouncing my name. But, I’ve never been turned down for a job because I’m not called Sarah, Jane or Diane. Most employers have focused on my qualifications and experience, which are not determined by the name chosen by my parents.

We can all agree that your comments were stupid. We only need to look at your name to see that what you said was nonsensical. We only have to look at your co-host Whoopi Goldberg to determine that you obviously weren’t thinking straight. But, I’m not sure that you’re aware of the impact your words could have on people who watch The View or enjoyed That’s So Raven and your recent stint on Empire.

14 years ago faculty research fellows Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan conducted a study called ‘Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination‘. As you can imagine, they found that applicants with African-American names had to submit 15 job applications to get a callback. On the other hand, their white counterparts only had to submit 10 applications. What you said only reinforces this prejudice.

What if there’s a young girl out there called Watermelondrea? She might be a smart, talented and ambitious child who dreams of following in your footsteps. Everyday she may experience taunts from other children because of her unique name. But she keeps on pushing, because she has a goal and she’s determined to achieve it. Then one day she hears your comments. All of her dreams are dashed and she no longer admires you like she once did. Despite your apology, the initial comments are still out there and all she has to do is Google you to remind herself of what you said. Can you apologise for that?

So even in a time when a story captures our attention for a few moments before we move on to the next big thing, generations of Watermelondreas can be reminded that at least one powerful black woman isn’t on their side.

From the proud owner of a ‘ghetto’ name.

By Shaurna Cameron

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One thought on “What’s in a (ghetto) name? (2015)

  1. I completely understand. This was an ignorant comment to make and especially offensive to people such as ourselves who have to continually correct people on our names. Don’t blame the individual for the parent’s decision.

    Liked by 1 person

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