Meanwhile, On TumblR: The Quvenzhané Wallis Edition

By Andrea Plaid

Quvenzhané Wallis. Photo: Koury Angelo for
Quvenzhané Wallis. Photo: Koury Angelo for

After Hollywood and the press unapologetically–and The Onion apologetically–showed their asses to actor Quvenzhané Wallis on her big night at the Oscars, even more people showed their love and support for the young one. PostBourgie’s Brokey McPoverty says this about Hollywood’s refusal to even pronounce Wallis’ name:

Refusing to learn how to pronounce Quvenzhané’s name says, pointedly, you are not worth the effort. The problem is not that she has an unpronounceable name, because she doesn’t. The problem is that white Hollywood, from Ryan Seacrest and his homies to the AP reporter who decided to call her “Annie” rather than her real name, doesn’t deem her as important as, say, Renee Zellwegger, or Zach Galifinakis, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, all of whom have names that are difficult to pronounce–but they manage. The message sent is this: you, young, black, female child, are not worth the time and energy it will take me to learn to spell and pronounce your name. You will be who and what I want you to be; you be be who and what makes me more comfortable. I will allow you to exist and acknowledge that existence, but only on my terms.


Racializen Jeremy Helton from StoryCorps sent this animated piece offering this historical perspective on how teachers Anglicized the names of Mexican American students in elementary schools back in the 1950s because the instructors wouldn’t make the effort to pronounce the pupils’ given names–until one student forced them to do so:

And this gorgeous piece from Black Girl Dangerous’ Mia McKenzie post, “The Thing About Being A Little Black Girl In the World: For Quvenzhané Wallis,” deeply resonated with the R’s Tumblizens:

The thing about being a little black girl in the world is that even when you are the youngest person ever to be nominated for an Academy Award, many people will use the occasion not to hold you up for all of the amazing things you obviously are, but to tear you down for the ways you don’t look like them, the ways your name isn’t their kind of right, the ways you don’t remind them of themselves, the ways you are not blonde or blue-eyed, as if those things could possibly matter when set against the otherwordly talent and beauty and brilliance you possess.​

The thing about being a little black girl in the world is that you come into it already expected to be less than you almost certainly are, the genius and radiant darkness you possess already set up to be overlooked, dismissed or erased by almost everyone you will ever meet.

The thing about being a little black girl in the world is that even when you are everything, some people will want you to be nothing. They will look at you through the nothing-colored glasses they will put on every time you enter a room. And the bigness of you, the outstandingness, the giftedness, will be invisible to them.

The thing about being a little black girl in the world who is already, at nine years old, confident enough to demand that lazy, disrespectful reporters call you by your name, is that most people will not understand the amount of comfort in one’s own skin it takes to do that, will not be able to grasp the sheer fierceness of it, the boldness, the certainty, the love for yourself, and will not be blown away at seeing you do it, though they should be.​

The thing about being a little black girl in the world is that your right to be a child, to be small and innocent and protected, will be ignored and you will be seen as a tiny adult, a tiny black adult, and as such will be susceptible to all the offenses that people two and three and four times your age are expected to endure.

But take heart.​

See who and what else Racializens are taking to heart on the R’s Tumblr!

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

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  • Jay

    It strikes me that in online games, many people choose character names that are unusual or difficult to pronounce. Yet other players take the trouble to ask how they are pronounced and learn them, and have absolutely no difficulty rattling them off in voice chat in the heat of battle. The only problem anyone has with Quvenzhané lies in their prejudice against POC with “weird” names.

  • Susan Donovan

    I really wish there were a database of name pronunciations. I struggle with this at the start of every semester. My students come from some 80 different countries. I try my best but always mangle some of them. I let them know they really should correct me, but some are kind of shy about this. Also I really need to hear a new name about 8 times to get it right and it seems rude to ask them to repeat over and over.

    I’d be quite happy to study names on my own time, but with many names I can’t find any resources.

    I know this is something of a tangent, but I still thought I’d ask. Are there any databases?

    • Keith

      Why don’t you just ask them how to pronounce their names? Stop acting like you are powerless to do something about it. By talking and getting to know them they will get over their shyness. Hell my name is a monosyllabic Anglo name and most people still pronounce it incorrectly. No database is needed.

    • Nosnhoj Nibor

      @futurebird:disqus, here’s one method that might work for you. I once had a class at a large, public university in Southern California. As our first assignment, the professor required us to go to a photobooth, take a picture, write our names and/or nicknames and pronunciations on the back as well as the class information, then turn them in to him. He’d make little flip books for each class and carry them around with him. When he had a few minutes, he’d thumb through the books to get to know our names and faces. That was before the age of the Internet and Smart Phones. I bet you could do something similar with a photo app or even an Excel file. Keep it in your phone, and when you have a moment, thumb through it. When you encounter someone with a similar name, you at least have a reference based on the names and faces you’ve collected.

  • Osvaldo Oyola

    I was so happy for Quvenzhané standing up for herself regarding the Annie thing. As someone who acquiesced to Ozzy in my predominantly white high school, it took until I got to college to be like “F- no, My name is Osvaldo Oyola. Long Os. Say it right or get out of my face.” I am glad she has the confidence I didn’t have at such an early age.

    I am still amazed at the number of people who reply to my (not really all that difficult of a name) with “Oh, I could never say that. . .” WTF!? In what universe is that not rude and self-centered?

  • Anne

    I have also seen many people in my white community refuse to learn my brown children’s names. I blogged here in response to the video on Racialicious tumblr

  • McLicious (Sarah Hannah Gómez)

    I didn’t actually see this when I was watching the Oscars, but hearing about it made me so sad. I had the same problem my entire college career in my music classes, because everyone who sings makes a huge effort to pronounce different languages properly except Spanish – with Spanish, they tell themselves it’s difficult and so modify it to suit their needs and desires rather than do their jobs, which, as musicians, is to hear a sound and replicate it. And when I studied abroad, my classmates, who were there to learn Spanish (I was under the impression that you travel abroad to practice a language, not begin learning it), would ask me how to say a random word, like carrot, and then shout it repeatedly on the bus because it was hilarious to them and they thought it was totally appropriate to sound like they had Tourette’s and shout a word over and over again, because nothing is real but American English.