Politics What it reveals when senators repeatedly mispronounce the names of Kamala Harris and Sundar Pichai
The Department of Justice sues Google over antitrust concerns
We all knew it was coming. Today, the US government’s Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google. The company, which is a part of Alphabet, is accused of having an unfair monopoly over search and search-related advertising. In addition, the department disagrees with the terms around Android, the most widely-used mobile operating system, that forces phone manufacturers to pre-load Google applications and set Google as the default search engine. That decision stops rival search providers from gaining traction and, as a consequence, ensures that Google continues to make enormous amounts of cash via seach-related advertising.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you live in the US and have a non-English name, someone at some point is bound to butcher the pronunciation.
People across virtually every ethnic group have had to deal with others struggling to get their names right. And the problem seems to persist no matter how powerful or visible a person becomes.
Takewith top tech executives, among them Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
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Kamala Harris' path on the campaign trail has been filled with discrimination, as she is the first Black and Indian Democratic vice presidential nominee, and a woman. © Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris, speaks in Washington on Aug. 27, 2020.
Despite the fact that Pichai runs one of the world's most powerful companies and that he had testified on Capitol Hill before, senators still couldn't seem to pronounce his name correctly -- instead calling him variations of "Mr. Pick Eye" and Mr. Pish Eye." (It's pronounced "pih-CHAI," like the spiced beverage.)
Then there wasof the Democratic vice presidential nominee's name earlier this month during a rally for President Donald Trump. The Georgia Republican referred to his colleague, Sen. Kamala Harris, as "Ka-ma-la or Ka-ma-la, Kamala-mala-mala," punctuating that with "I don't know, whatever."
(Harris has served in the US Senate for almost four years and pronounces her name "COMMA-la," like the punctuation mark.)
The Justice Department Should Pursue a Breakup of Google's Monopoly | Opinion
The Justice Department should vigorously pursue what the House report on monopolization in Big Tech recommended: structural breakups. Google should be structurally separated from its Android operating system and from significant aspects of its vertically integrated advertising platform. From Standard Oil and American Tobacco in 1911 to AT&T in 1984, structural breakups have reinvigorated competition, led to waves of innovation and inhibited the ability of monopolists to extend their dominance to adjacent industries.
Continually mispronouncing someone's name is lazyand malicious , as many people have been quick to point out. And too often, the names that are regarded as to learn belong to people of color.
To paraphraseher mother told her growing up, "If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky," people can learn to say Sundar Pichai and Kamala Harris.
Ultimately, expert say, the issue boils down to power and respect.
Botched names are often tied to race
Encountering unfamiliar-sounding names is inevitable in a country as multicultural as the US, and stumbling a few times at first is normal.
You might recall how many Americans tripped up over the name of former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg (it's pronounced "BOOT-edge-edge"), prompting his husband.
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Sen. Kamala Harris sits down for a talk on "The View" on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. "It's so predictable coming from him. I mean it's childish, it's name-calling on behalf of the president of the United States, and, again, the American people deserve so much more from their president," said Harris. "You know, look, the name-calling is not new to me -- it's not new to anybody who played on the playground as a child. But this is not the playground.
Non-English names, naturally, employ stress patterns or sounds that aren't used in English, and remembering those sequences can be challenging, says Megha Sundara, a linguistics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The issue, though, isn't unintentional mistakes, but rather how people recover from them.
"You can double down out of embarrassment, or apologize and fix it," Sundara wrote in an email to CNN. "Because 'say my name' is perhaps the most basic way in which we ask others to acknowledge our existence."
So when someone doesn't take the time to learn the proper way to pronounce another person's name -- or worse, intentionally mocks it for being "too hard" to pronounce -- it can come across as malicious.
It also evokes the nation's history of dominant groups forcing new names on people of oppressed groups, such as enslaved Africans and indigenous children in government schools, says Rita Kohli, an associate professor of education at the University of California, Riverside.
"There is a longstanding history of forcible assimilation in this country as a way to maintain the power structure," she wrote in an email to CNN. "To ensure that White Anglo Saxon, English, Protestantism stayed dominant, those who did not fit were made to change things such as their language, their names. It has created a culture where those who are dominant have not had to engage in reciprocal relationships of learning."
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That dominant groups dismiss certain names as too hard to get right is tied to racism and other forms of oppression, Kohli added.
Perdue's derisive mocking of his fellow senator's name amounted to "disrespecting and deprofessionalizing a Black and woman of color vice presidential candidate," Kohli said. (A spokesperson for Perdue's campaign has said that he simply mispronounced the name and didn't mean anything by it.)
"One thing is for sure, if you have known somebody for a long time, and are still saying their name wrong, guess who has power in that relationship?" Sundara added. "It's not the person who can neither correct you nor make it stick."
Some children of immigrants adapted their names to make them 'easier'
Having others constantly mess up your name can be so exhausting that some people with non-English names decide to adapt or change them.
One way is by adopting an Anglicized pronunciation.
For example, many South Asians pronounce Kamala, a common Indian name, as "come-luh" or "come-uh-luh."
"People ask me how to pronounce it. There are many ways," Harris said in awith David Axelrod. "If you were asking my grandmother, she'd say 'come-luh.' I usually help people pronounce it by saying, 'Well, just think of a comma and add a "-la" at the end.'"
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The Biden campaign’s greatest asset is unknown to much of the country. That means there is much work to do.With such a vacuum, Republicans (and bad foreign actors) have seized a grand opportunity to shape her narrative and national political perception. Their digital advertising fills the Harris-void with misinformation and negative attack ads aimed at black voters, particularly young and male voters. With around 50 percent of young voters of color hearing about Harris on Facebook or YouTube over the past couple of weeks, the attacks' damaging content have left an impression.
Others, like Mindy Kaling, shorten their given names.
The actress, whose birth name is Vera Mindy Chokalingam,that when was performing standup comedy early in her career, emcees had trouble pronouncing her South Indian last name -- so she shortened it, even though she had mixed feelings about the decision.
"It's bittersweet, but I have to say, it was such a help to my career to have a name that people could pronounce," she said in the interview.
And then there are some who choose to go by a different name altogether, like former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal.
Jindal, whose parents immigrated from India and who was born with the name Piyush, began goingas a boy because he identified with a character in "The Brady Bunch."
But some people are pushing back
But many people of color are no longer willing to accommodate the dominant, White culture at the expense of their own heritage.
Last year, comedian Hasan Minhaj appeared on Ellen DeGeneres' show and refused to move on during a segment until the TV host pronounced his name correctly.
"When I first started doing comedy, people were like, 'You should change your name,'" he said on the show. "I'm like, 'I'm not going to change my name. If you can pronounce Ansel Elgort, you can pronounce Hasan Minhaj.'"
Harris, too, has insisted that people get her name right, tying her experiences to what so many others go through.
"That the highest elected leaders should conduct themselves like they did when they were children on the playground, it speaks poorly of their appreciation for the responsibility of the role that they have," she said on. "And I think it's a reflection of their values and their maturity."
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It’s one of many talks passed down from generation to generation of Black and brown kids, an instruction that they may have to settle for less than their white colleagues, classmates and friends, despite exerting the same — or more — effort. Despite shattering what was thought by some to be a near impenetrable glass ceiling — a Black man, with a non-Western sounding name, winning over the most powerful political office in the world — President Barack Obama repeated the message during a commencement address at Morehouse College, a historically Black school, in 2013. And in her popular memoir, “Becoming,” former first lady Michelle Obama offered near identical advice.