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Annals of microaggression: Gal named Keya says it’s racist when people pronounce her name as “Keya”

April 4, 2019

Keya Roy is used to people mispronouncing her name. She usually brushes it off, but should she?

Photo: KUOW (Courtesy of Sutapa Ray)

Seattle’s public radio station KUOW spends your public-radio tax dollars on The Racist Practice of Mispronouncing Names:

In this episode of RadioActive Youth Media, Keya Roy and her co-host Zuheera Ali talk with author Ijeoma Oluo and each other about living in the United States with uncommon names. They also talk to Rita Kohli, a professor at University of California, Riverside, who has researched the effects of mispronouncing names on students of color….

Says co-host Keya Roy: “I always felt like by giving into that pressure to conform and allowing my name to be butchered, I was somehow making life easier for others…

“My name is a way to push me aside, and most of the time, the people who are doing this don’t realize the damage they could be doing to my self-worth and sense of confidence.”

Here’s mispronunciation-microaggression maven Kohli weighing in:

“The changing of peoples names has a racialized history,” said Kohli. “It’s grounded in slavery — the renaming during slavery — renaming Americanization schools for Latinx communities and indigenous communities, and so there is a lot of history that’s tied to this practice that is directly tied to racism.”

Back to Keya Roy:

“Interrupting someone to say, ‘It’s Keya, not Keeya,’ isn’t me being irritating, it’s me putting my foot down against a vehicle of racism, and then in turn, creating an environment in which owning your name is the norm, not the exception,” Keya Roy says.

Mmm, how do you pronounce  “Keya”? Curious, I checked out the name on the Pronounce Names website.

There, speakers from Mumbai and Valsad (so they ought to know) actually suggest a variety of regional pronunciations of the name (which means “monsoon flower” in Sanskrit), ranging from “Keh-yaa” to “Key-yaa.”

So maybe what gets the monsoon of “vehicle of racism” accusations raining down on public radio from Ms. Roy is when someone pronounces “Keya” as “Keya.”

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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