Can Names Influence Our Future? from Portland Oregon on Vimeo.
An earlier commenter chimed in about the beauty of "black names." My concern there was that what many consider "black" names are really a function of poverty, social isolation, and marginalization. I understand the meta argument about black naming practices as a function of a particular history of cultural resistance where personhood rites as basic as naming practices were stolen by white supremacy and chattel slavery.
But, does the young sister on the West Side of Chicago or South Central Los Angeles really believe that naming her baby "Uneqqee" or "Deshawn" is an act of cultural resistance? Or is it just an example of trying to be "different" while paradoxically conforming to the norms of their social network?
Freakonomics has some interesting things to say about this matter. My claim is complementary to Dr. Roland Fryer's: cultural norms between communities are diverse and not fixed. In said communities, certain cultural signifiers will be received and understood according to the norms and rules in that locale or subculture. Call me a cultural (and structural) materialist, but social institutions do heavily determine outcomes and culture.
For example, the 1% certainly have their own set of cultural cues that I, as a member of the working class, know nothing about. The ghetto underclass is operating in a similar way. My concern as someone who cares deeply about black folks and our success, is that we have entire communities of people who are equipping their children with names--as well as teaching them certain values and norms--that have no currency outside of a 4 square block area. This type of social capital has a negative rate of return in communities and life worlds outside of the 'hood.
Many of the urban and black poor are ghettoized both geographically and culturally. Their "creative" naming practices have nothing to do with African-American "culture" or "history." Rather, they are ways of finding meaning and value in lives and communities where both are often in short supply. As such, many "black" names are a result of ghettoized minds and a poverty of material circumstances (and failed schools) that have become internalized as part of one's whole self.