Dear white people, mispronouncing our names is not funny

Fox News panel has a laugh after mispronouncing Pakistani cricketer Fakhar Zaman's name, and it's not okay. Here's why


By Alice Peter-Bhagtaney

KARACHI: While analysing an ongoing test series between Pakistan and Australia in Abu Dhabi, former Australian opener Mark Waugh found it difficult to pronounce Pakistani cricketer Fakhar Zaman’s name, causing his panel colleagues to crack up. Pacer Brett Lee offered to help out but then proceeded to laugh at the error on-air. Instead of apologising, Waugh, Lee and Neroli Meadows, the host of the show on Fox Sports, continued to have a good laugh.

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“I was close, come on,” Waugh said in his defence.

It’s completely okay to mispronounce words; it’s human error. But what’s problematic is the hypocrisy, and the obvious power dynamics at play when we speak of names – the identity of a person.

We reached out to anthropologist Areesha Banglani, who specialises in race and gender, to break it down for us.

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Speaking to Cutacut, Banglani pointed out how mispronouncing names, specifically mispronouncing People Of Colour (POC) names constitutes as “racial microaggressions”.

“Basically what it says is that since the name is not European enough or Anglo-Saxon enough for me (the person mispronouncing) to understand, I don’t need to,” she explained. “And you should in fact try to fit into what I can pronounce,” she went on to say.

Providing insight into the problem, Banglani also emphasised how it’s not just that the name is difficult to pronounce but also that the “effort” isn’t being made to pronounce it right.

When asked about Waugh’s response, Banglani felt it wasn’t adequate.

“‘Close enough’ is not acceptable … get it right. It’s not that hard,” she said, critcising Waugh’s defense. “People who can pronounce Dostoevsky, can easily pronounce Fakhar (Zaman),” she added. Again it comes down to the fact that “you tried, but you didn’t try hard enough”.

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Banglani’s words also echo in an article published in Cult of Pedagogy. “Name mispronunciation – especially the kind committed by the arrogant manglers — actually falls into a larger category of behaviors called microaggressions, defined by researchers at Columbia University’s Teachers College as ‘brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color’,” it reads. What this means is that mutilating someone’s name is actually a “tiny act of bigotry” whether that’s what you intended it to be or not.

Secondly, it reeks of hypocrisy.

Pakistani cricketers are made fun of their accents and their ability to speak English. Their mispronunciations or errors in pronouncing names are mocked all the time. But when the tables turn , somehow we become the ‘butt’ of all jokes again, another fascinating name for white people.

Not only that, the elephant in the room was of course the name’s close proximity to a common slur in the English language, which is probably what caused the hosts to chuckle.

A) They’re all supposed to be adults; b) If you laughed along, or shared and retweeted it, you’re enabling a colonial mindset – i.e. a sense of ethnic or cultural inferiority felt by a people as a result of colonisation.

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So, white people, stop. POCs, we’re perhaps better off not encouraging this behaviour and reclaiming our names.

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