Monday, May 10, 2010

See if you can tell which one is different/Adivina cual no es igual

Guest Post by Pedro Malavet, University of Florida, Levin College of Law

Imagine the following scene: You are being addressed by a student, a secretary or someone who works in the mailroom at the law school at which you work as a professor while you are in the company of colleagues. The students walk by and say, “hello professor Smith,” “hello professor Johnson,” “hello Mr. Malavet.” The secretaries and other staff will address the same group of faculty by saying, “hello professor Smith,” “hello professor Johnson,” “hello Pedro.” At the doctor’s office in the university’s home town, the receptionist calls out the names of the next patient that the doctor will see: “Ms. Johnson,” “Mrs. Smith,” “Mr. Jones,” “Mr. Brown,” “Pedro.” Even at Sam’s Club, where cashiers are clearly trained to address people by their last name, the same thing happens. “Malavet” becomes unpronounceable when preceded by “Pedro.”

It happened again today! I got a call from a pharmacy that wished to confirm an order. The receptionist asked “What is you last name sir.” I responded “Malavet”. “Can you spell that for me please,” she said. “M-A-L-A-V-E-T.” “First name?” “Pedro.” “Yes. Hello Pedro, we are calling about your prescription…”

These daily micro-aggressions are merely an illustration of the racialization —the process of becoming the “other”— faced by a Latino law professor in a small southern college town, and by Latinas and Latinos more generally. In general, as used herein, “Other” and “othering,” i.e., to be “othered,” mean to be socially constructed as “not normative.” (See, e.g., Cathy J. Cohen, Straight Gay Politics: The Limits of an Ethnic Model of Inclusion, in Ethnicity And Group Rights 580 (Will Kymlicka & Ian Shapiro eds., 1997) “Much of the material exclusion experienced by marginal groups is based on, or justified by, ideological processes that define these groups as ‘other.’ Thus, marginalization occurs, in part, when some observable characteristic or distinguishing behavior shared by a group of individuals is systematically used within the larger society to signal the inferior and subordinate status of the group.” (Id., citing Erving Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (1963)).

We must fight this marginalization and we cannot do it unless we correct these acts of racialized impertinence. It is a simple thing. Just because our names are Pedro, Juan or Maria does not mean that we should expect service providers or persons speaking to us in professional settings to address us by our last names and proper titles any less than Peter, John or Mary.

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