What should you call Quvenzhané Wallis, the nine-year-old star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012) who was up for Best Actress at the Oscars?
That is easy. In America:
- If you do not know her, use her full name, Quvenzhané Wallis, or call her Miss Wallis.
- If you are on a first-name basis or if she says it is all right, you can call her Quvenzhané or a nickname she approves.
- If you do not know how to say her name or are uncertain what to call her, just ask.
- Almost anything else shows disrespect.
Even five-year-olds know this stuff.
Yet not one but at least three people at the Oscars called her something else:
- Ryan Seacrest and others at E! called her “Miss Q”.
- An Associated Press reporter called her “Annie”.
- The Onion on Twitter called her a “cunt”.
The last was meant as a “joke”, as “satire”. The Onion apparently thinks that is just the thing to call a nine-year-old girl for a good laugh. Nor were they alone in viewing her as a sex thing for laughs. The host Seth MacFarlane said:
To give you an idea of how young she is, it’ll be about 16 years before she’s too old for Clooney.
This kind of thinking and level of disrespect does not come out of nowhere.
White America also has a history of misnaming blacks to demean and dehumanize:
- When blacks arrived in America they were robbed of their names and given “easy-to-pronounce” English ones instead. And even then just a first name, rarely a family name.
- If a white person did not know your name he or she would call you boy, gal, uncle, auntie or nigger. No “Sir”, “Ma’am” or “Miss”.
- Under Jim Crow white people called blacks, even the oldest, by their first names.
- Even today many whites think “ghetto names”, like Jamal or Jamela, are something to laugh at, as not being “real” names.
Many whites have hang-ups about people who are “different” and have a hard time seeing them as fully human. It is called racism.
White folks will go out of their way to learn to speak, read and write in elvish, dwarvish, draconic and Klingon, but say that learning how to say ‘Quvenzhane’ Wallis’ is too fucking hard…
Some say “lighten up”, “it was just a joke”, “you are oversensitive”, etc. No. People have a right to be respected. To belittle their feelings about it only adds to the disrespect.