‘You don’t look like a Jamaal’. He asked in response: ‘And how exactly does one look like a name?’
Stereotyping, racial profiling and outright racism against people of color seems to be at an all-time high these days, and one white Oregon teacher says he can relate to some of the struggles because of his not-so-white name.
When I first came across this blog post and realized what the topic at hand was, I immediately assumed that I was about to read some woe-is-me sob story riddled with racist undertones from a grown white man whining about his “Black” name.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that my inclination was wrong.
The teacher, whose birth name is Jamaal Allen, says he’s been a victim of racism and stereotyping throughout his life. After reading Allen’s story in full, I found it commendable that in spite of what he says he’s gone through in his life because of his name, he hasn’t let racism or stereotyping become his reality. In fact, he appropriately criticizes those who give stereotypical responses when they meet him and find out that he’s white.
In describing several incidents that have become regular occurrences in his life, he’s honest about how it makes him feel but also doesn’t hold back about the fact that he finds the premature prejudice of others ridiculous and even indirectly forces them to confront their ignorance with his own defensive responses.
For example, he says the reaction of many people when meeting him in person for the first time is “you don’t look like a Jamaal.” His response? “And exactly how does one look like a name?” To people who say, “I would’ve never guessed that your name was Jamaal,” he responds with: “Really? Are you frequently good at guessing people’s names?”
In addition to situations that have become a part of his daily life, he also describes his experiences with several other incidents to which young men of color can surely relate. In 2002, he says he was selected by officials for a “random” security check while traveling to London along with three other travelers named Muhammed, Abdul and Tariq. He also recounts having restaurant waitresses return his credit card to one of his Black friends when they’re dining out instead of giving it back to him.
Jamaal says his father was a huge L.A. Lakers fan and in turn decided to name him after basketball great Jamaal Wilkes. Despite being constantly bombarded with racist comments and discriminatory treatment because of his name, Jamaal says the ignorance of others ultimately worked in his professional favor when he was chosen for the teaching job he’d always wanted simply because the school wanted to “add some diversity.” Imagine their surprise on his first day of work.
Another person sharing this story may have included statements like, “I understand how my name would confuse people about my race,” or “I wish my parents would have considered the consequences when they decided to give me this name,” but there are no such sentiments found here and I find that refreshing. He also could have used this platform to complain about the hardships of living with an ethnic name, but he instead shifted the focus slightly to show people how foolishly racist their remarks sound.
Of course, someone, somewhere will read this story and criticize Jamaal for not being ‘proud enough’ of his ethnic name or express outrage over the fact that he filled a job that was actually meant for a Black person, but I think there’s much, much more to be learned from this young man than there is to be offended by. While I don’t “feel bad” for this man because I think his “struggle” is needed in order to better illustrate the importance of racist people being held accountable by their own more often, there’s no denying that being unapologetic in the face of ignorance and not reaching to justify prejudice just because something is uncommon or unfamiliar are two bold steps in a very right direction.
Image Credits: Daily Mail UK/Facebook