Texas Lawmaker Says Asians Should All Have Names Like Betty

| Thu Apr. 9, 2009 6:32 PM EDT

First, there were all of those "slanty eye" photos that circulated during the Beijing Olympics. Not okay. Then teen uber-sensation Miley Cyrus thought it would be funny to pose thusly, and it still wasn't (she apologized, twice). A regrettable trend, but maybe one that we could chalk up to athletes caught up in the moment and Hannah Montana-ness?

Well, today Texas state Rep. Betty Brown suggested (out loud, during House testimony) that Asians should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.” (There's no accompanying photo of her making slanty eyes, that I have seen.) Brown was responding to testimony from Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans, who was explaining to legislators the challenges Asian Americans face in voting and in obtaining identification because their legal transliterated names are often different from a common name they use on official forms. Brown thought she would help out:

“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?...Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”

Wow. So helpful. You must have suggested that because you have helpfully shortened your own name from Elizabeth (long and full of syllables, I know) to the much more accessible, Betty. And Brown is a color, and one syllable, and so easy to say, like Bush! But Betty, if your name weren't Brown, but instead you (or your husband) descended from a long line of, say, Bartholomews, what a pain in the ass that would be if you ever wanted to become a poll worker, huh?

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And back to Rep. Brown's suggestion. She doesn't even get it. Ms. Ko was saying that Asian Americans already do simplify their names for Americans who can't pronounce or try to pronounce their names. So it's less outrageous to me that she suggest it, though it predictably shows what many Americans feel, that an "American" name is an easy to spell Anglo one, and more her suggestion that somehow new immigrants lives would be greatly improved if their names weren't so foreign-sounding. I mean, she is probably right. Maybe more of her constituents who are new immigrants would get jobs sooner if they had Anglo names, not to mention housing, child care slots. But it's a problem a legislator can and should address, that people's lives are made harder, that they could be rejected from opportunities based on the sound of their identity.

Brown is outraged that "they" (Dems) "want this to just be about race." She says at issue is whether or not the state should require IDs for voting and her comments shouldn't distract from that decision. Still, she is suggesting that "Americans" = those with easy-to-say white-people names, and anyone who doesn't have a name like that a) should get one, and b) if they don't they shouldn't be surprised when they are have a bitch of a time trying to get anything done in this country.

Oh Betty, we all can't have it easy like you, and Bobby, and George.