February 28, 2013
Today, while running on the treadmill and flicking through the morning news stations, one made me stop and take pause. The group of commentators were discussing the validity and credibility of the Manti Te’o story. While discussing whether the football player had been duped or knew what was going on and was duping all of us..one commentator (in my opinion) overstepped.
He laughingly pointed out, “Why is it that everyone in this story has such weird names?” And, on that treadmill, my stomach fell. The omission was followed by another commentator reminding the first that Te’o is Samoan and was raised in Hawaii. The names will be different from what we on the ‘Mainland’ think is ‘normal’.
What I want to stress is that what you think of his name – if you’ve heard it before or not – has nothing to do with this story. Nor, might I add did it seem to come up just a few weeks ago when he was seen as a star college football player.
I too grew up with a ‘weird’ name. Think about it. My name rhymes with just about everything that a young immigrant kid growing up outside of Philadelphia in the 1970′s wouldn’t want it to rhyme with. I get it. And I got it all growing up. Even though I’ve moved onto a public career in journalism and writing cookbooks, it’s still hard to shake those feelings. Don’t think that when I introduce myself your pause or your looks go unnoticed. Don’t think that when you say, “I love your name,” that I’ll ever truly believe you. It’s hard going from a kid that was harassed seemingly every day about her differences on the playground to a public persona who is indifferent to these qualities.
It’s true, though. It didn’t kill me. And, it did indeed make me that much stronger. And I don’t really care what anyone has to say about what makes me different. But I still do take note.
Ironically, the first place I ever truly felt I belonged was my time living in Hawaii. There, being brown-skinned and having a name with a ton of vowel sounds in it is the norm. And, for once in my life, I truly felt comfortable in my own skin. Not ‘weird’. And…just as importantly, not ‘exotic’. Both actually hurt in their own ways.
It was there I also met and lived with many folks from all over the islands. They had names that were different from mine. Their culture was different than my Indian-American point of view. But, we all managed to find a way to work together and appreciate one another’s differences. And not once, did we ever find a reason to call each other ‘weird’.
So, discuss the nuances of the Te’o story. Say whether you believe him or not. Write about it. Commentate on it. But, don’t judge the story just based on your own cultural point of view, especially when you are reporting on it.
And, certainly leave the pejorative terms out of the discussion. All of us who were once considered ‘weird’ will certainly appreciate it!
Note: If you want a fascinating read on Te’o and how his culture may have a role to play in the recent story, take a look at this piece from the Atlantic.
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November 28, 2023