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What Was That About A Post-Racial Society, Again?

April 2, 2010

image via ecohomeresource.com

IRL, I work in a card and gift store in a major mall in my city.  In our store, we sell brightly colored sippie cups emblazoned with kids’ names.  We order the cups pre-made from another company, so there’s no way for us to do special orders.  If we don’t have a name, there isn’t a way for us to get it.  People don’t know this, though, so I get asked for specific names a lot.  Generally, the requests are for extremely unusual names – ones that I’d never expect a company to carry ready-made (Paisley, for example.  Or Jolene.)  Normally, when someone asks for an unusual name, I explain that the company chooses the names based on records of the most popular monikers for a given set of years and that a quick google search might turn up a company who will do special orders.

Over the course of this week, though, I’ve had second thoughts about my claim that the company is applying only the most popular names to its cups.

On Monday, a woman requested a cup with the name Omar, for her grandson, and Javon, for her nephew.

On Tuesday, a mother wanted a cup for her son Juan.

Yesterday, another mother needed a Juan.

I ought to amend my statement to say that the company carries the most popular names in middle-class white America.  All three of the names that were requested this week are popular.   They just aren’t popular with white people, generally.  (There’s a class element here too, of course.  I live in the South, and I get a lot of requests for names that are popular with rural working-class whites but not with middle-class metropolitan whites.)

And it goes without saying, of course, that the majority of the pictures on our cards feature white faces.  Anything else is part of a “special” line of cards (“special” here meaning “limited availability”).

So what was that about a post-racial society, again?  We have one?  Somehow, I don’t think so.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. marybullstonecraft permalink*
    April 2, 2010 5:39 pm

    Good point. You see a similar phenomenon if you look at the difference between “popular baby names” websites (like http://www.babynames.com/Names/Popular/index.php?y=2008) versus the actual Social Security Administration’s records of the most popular names: http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/popularnames.cgi

  2. ImTheMarigold permalink
    April 6, 2010 1:27 pm

    Prior to my current job IRL I worked at a children’s toy company in the greater DC area. They also carried these mugs and sippy cups. Always had at least 2 different spellings of Brian, Taylor, Tyler, MyKayla, etc. But never anything else. We had a ton of requests for special orders but the company that shall remain nameless did not do them. They either left empty-handed or bought a generic “drama queen” “princess” “happy birthday” “sports star” cup instead. It always pissed me off.

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