Flat White

It’s 2020, so everything is racist. Especially at the ABC

29 June 2020

11:31 AM

29 June 2020

11:31 AM

It’s 2020, so everything is racist, including misspelling non-Anglo names. Over to Samoan-Australian ABC journalist, Tahlea (or Tali) Aualiitia (and I cut and pasted it because I’m very likely to have misspelt it too had I tried to write it out):

The ABC’s diversity action plan already seeks to better reflect the diversity of the Australian community — it includes setting goals around the make-up of the ABC workforce, and increasing content that includes more diverse voices (this includes gender, disability and socio-economic diversity too).

And finally, to all the people with “different” names — names that have been laughed at, names people have refused to learn, names people rename for their own ease — correct the people who misspell them.

The correct spelling of our names is not just a media issue, it’s an issue across all organisations.

Perhaps take inspiration from Maori-Australian artist Kira Puru who wrote a clause in her contract stating that her appearance fee doubles if they misspell her name, after two Australian music festivals spelled her name wrong in promotion material in 2018.

We need to speak our names with the same pride we speak of them when we are among our own community.

As actress Uzoamaka Aduba’s mum said: “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky then they can learn to say your name too.”

To be fair, it took about a century and a half for us to learn to say Tchaikovsky – a pretty prominent chap in classical music circles – and I would bet many of us still don’t do it well. Stravinsky is easier. As for asking us to spell the name, if 1 out of 10 Australians can do it correctly, I think we’re doing pretty good.

Let’s face it, about half of the population is barely literate and routinely misspells some pretty basic words. What saves them from misspelling more complex words is the fact they generally don’t use them and therefore don’t write them. If you think this is a terribly elitist and snobby sentiment, you clearly haven’t been exposed to everyday communications by people who don’t read The Australian, The Age or, for that matter, The SpecOz. Check your privilege.

That this half also misspells names shouldn’t come as a surprise. Actually most of us are guilty at times, and it doesn’t have to be an exotic ethnic name. Most of us also have our names misspelt by others. Sometimes it’s mishearing, sometimes it’s carelessness, sometimes it’s dyslexia. Most often it’s just life.

The fact that “foreign-sounding” names – i.e. non-Anglo-Celtic ones – get particularly butchered is hardly unexpected. It’s not racism, it’s familiarity. Names and sounds that are more common have a better chance to be written down correctly. Those less common not so much. If you have an Anglo surname, just go travelling through Asia, Africa, Latin America or the Middle East and see how many times it gets mangled by people for whom it’s not as familiar as their own.

Myself, I’m a white European male, and both my first name and my surname have been misspelt in so many different ways it’s not funny. Or actually it is, at least to me. Even when I spell by surname letter by letter (which is most times), about one out of every two times the person writing it down will still misspell it. Very commonly, despite saying C-H-R, people still tend to instinctively write S-H-R. I don’t blame anyone; I would misspell my surname too if it wasn’t mine. Serves me right for having Polish ancestors with a Ukrainian spelling of their surname, which to make things worse, got anglicised by the US Immigration Service some time around 1908 when by great-grandfather landed on Ellis Island. This is why my surname was routinely misspelt even back in Poland. I certainly didn’t come to Australia expecting everyone to write it correctly. If I wanted less trouble I would have changed my surname to Smith. And someone would still misspell it.

My advice to people affected: if you stop trying to find things to get offended about and stop assuming the worst of others’ motives, your stress levels are likely to decrease significantly.

My advice to the government: you clearly didn’t cut the ABC budget enough.

Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk, where a version of this piece also appears.

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