What’s in a name?
What is in a name? it’s a strange question, I know. However, it became the subject of an hour long zoom conversation between a bunch of music therapists when they had a more in-depth conversation about their own names. The subject came up because I had run a privilege walk to raise awareness of their privilege. Our profession has been blighted by stagnation and a general disinclination to make changes which has meant that over time, most of us (them) are white and middle class. There seems to be a need to start at the very beginning and although using a privilege walk seems like a blunt rock with which to bash, this is where we need to start. Ignoring the fact that a privilege walk uses underprivileged people’s experience to highlight the over-privileged, the stark difference in the room between white and people of colour was clear to see.
If you’ve never come across a privilege walk before, the idea is simple. It’s a workshop exercise which requires all members to line up on one side of the room and then a series of questions are asked and answered by either taking a step forward or a step backwards in a straight line. The idea is that it demonstrates the amount of privilege we have without even trying and the advantage some of us possess as we venture out into the world. It’s a great way of physically highlighting the disparities that impact our journeys and perhaps raises awareness for those who have never had to think about this before. However, it also requires the disadvantage to demonstrate their pain in order for these observations to be made effectively. When I ran this exercise, there was me and one other individual who could be classed as people of colour in the (Zoom) room and we were both there because we were talking specifically about race (there may have been more as people have a choice to switch off cameras). It kind of demonstrates why we needed to have that conversation in the first place as it is becoming overwhelmingly apparent that a diverse voice is not being heard. Pain aside, the activity allowed some of the group to openly acknowledge their surprise at being so advantaged. Each question could have been pulled apart and examined in detail as to what aspect of privilege it highlighted and the nuances of it. Some of those were explored which made for interesting conversations (watch out for more blogs about those!) but one question caused a fair amount of discussion. Names. The question asked, “If people in the UK rarely get your name wrong and find it easy to remember, take a step forward”. This is a question designed for those with names not normally associated with British, white commonality to acknowledge that this has had an impact. One of the participants (white, European male) made a comment about his name always being pronounced incorrectly and that he was surprised that this was a question. (I wonder if he was secretly pleased he wouldn’t score full marks). I took on his point but perhaps what I didn’t make very clear is that the discrimination from a name happens before anyone has clapped eyes on the person. I go by the name Davina Wilson and that has been a conscious decision. As soon as I was able to change my name in my mid 20s, I did and even though I divorced almost 4 years ago now, I still haven’t changed it back. You will notice that I use my maiden name to author this; this again is another conscious decision to use the resources I have available to me to be a chameleon, blend in. Having the name Davina Wilson has meant I have at least got to a certain stage without having to encounter difficult conversations, mispronunciations, repeated requests to say my name, weird and inexplicable spellings. It also means, coupled with my very firmly London accent, I can experience what life can be like without having my disadvantage applied to me as long as the exchange is on the phone. I haven’t changed my name back as both my children are also Wilsons and I am loathe to be called something that doesn’t connect me to them so fundamentally. Practical issues of not putting my children through traumatic, invasive stop and searches at airports because the only adult with them does not have the same name as them is also a consideration. Being brown with children at an airport can be a dangerous pastime. There is also the concept that why should he (my ex) have that privilege? But maybe that’s an intersectional issue of being a woman and a person of colour. I guess I am still going through a process of discovery and change and I am going to take all the time I need and who knows where that journey will lead. All I know is, Vencatasamy closes doors where Wilson opens them and that is a sad state of affairs.