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Woman Named Keisha Becomes Kylie, Tells Bullies to Go Away

Woman Named Keisha Becomes Kylie, Tells Bullies to Go Away

Cristy Austin of Shawnee Mission, Kansas, chose the name Keisha for her biracial daughter because “to her, it represented a strong, feminine, beautiful black woman.” Austin, who is white, knew she’d be raising her daughter on her own and “wanted to instill that confidence and connectivity to the culture,” says the Kansas City Star. As of the end of October, her now-19-year-old daughter has legally changed her name to Kylie not as some act of teenage rebellion but to put an end to being bullied.

Was Kylie giving in to the bullies by changing her name — or was she taking a pro-active step?

The name that Austin saw as a “source of pride” was†not seen as such by her daughter’s classmates at North Shawnee Mission High School. They associated the name Keisha with “video vixens, neck-rolling and Maury Povich tabloid fodder.” Strangers gave Keisha “looks… rooted in racial stereotypes” and asked her if “there were a ‘La’ or ‘Sha’ in front of her name.” Even a teacher “once asked if there was a dollar sign in her name, like the singer Ke$ha.”

With a teacher acting that ignorantly (and getting away with it), you get the sense that the Austin community wasn’t the most diverse, to understate the matter.

Keisha considered changing her name. It’s†a decision that, says†the†Kansas City Star,†is “not different from the way some Jewish people change their last names to avoid anti-Semitism and Asians sometimes take traditionally American names in addition to their given names” or†why someone with the last name Brown might have had ancestors from Italy surnamed Bruno.

Keisha decided that, for her, a different name was necessary. As an early Christmas present, her mother paid the $175 fee for her to legally change her name to Kylie. She reiterates that she hadn’t changed her name on some sort of whim:

“I didnít want to change my name because I didnít like it. I wanted to change my name because it didnít feel comfortable. I donít connect to it. I didnít feel like myself, but I never want any girls named Keisha, or any name like that, to feel hurt or sad by it.Ē

Prior to changing her name, she had also worried that her name would affect her job prospects.†A close friend sought to dissuade her on the grounds that “there is more to Keisha than ugly generalizations” and that someone who wouldn’t want to hire a person named Keisha might also not want to hire a person of color.

These worries aren’t borne out by research.†One study has shown that†having a “black-sounding name” can lessen your chances of getting a call back as a job candidate.†But as the Huffington Post†notes, another study†that†looked at 16 million births in California between 1960 and 2000†done by the Cambridge-based National Bureau of Economic Research found that a “black-sounding name” had “no significant effect on how someone’s life turns out.”

While Austin would have preferred that her daughter remain Keisha — ďIt felt like a gift I gave to her, and she was returning it,” she says — she knows her daughter is “still the same person, regardless of her name” and emphasizes that “whatever she has to do to feel good on the inside, I have to be OK with that.Ē

Austin’s attempt to provide her biracial daughter with a sense of her identity by naming her Keisha is commendable. The response from her daughter’s school community and from others was simply ugly. In other, more diverse parts of the country — on either coast or in a major metropolitan area, whether Chicago or New York City — Keisha’s name would probably not have become such fodder for racist bullies. Becoming Kylie is how one young woman decided to take control of a tough situation and show up the bullies by taking away the reason they were taunting her and moving on.

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77 comments

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1:51PM PST on Nov 13, 2013

SHE GAVE THE BULLIES WHAT THEY WANTED: A REACTION. The bullies won, period.

1:13PM PST on Nov 10, 2013

It's wonderful that Diana S. got to choose a name she liked. She might consider getting a court order for the name change and keeping it with her birth certificate, in case voter suppression laws come to California.

6:01AM PST on Nov 10, 2013

It's always been noted that children make the best torturers - there are times when a bit of common sense and accepting life as it is is a more reasonable course of action than looking at the world through rose-tinted spectacles and having an agenda.

In the report, the girl is quoted as giving perfectly valid reasons for her name change and that deserves a lot of respect. Parents do need to be careful to avoid trying to live their own ambitions through there children.

10:49PM PST on Nov 9, 2013

I'm for whatever she needed to do to stop the bullying. Certainly schools don't do anything.

11:22AM PST on Nov 9, 2013

The mom meant well by giving her a "Black name", but why did it have to be a Black name? She IS biracial. Seems like a one-drop rule example, to me, but whatever. As long as the girl is happy now.

10:08AM PST on Nov 9, 2013

Never let them steal your smile or your name.....I respect this poor woman's decision, as even some imams supported women choosing not to wear their headscarves after 911 due to safety issues but I rather myself wear my scarf, keep my name and my smile as a sign that I do not believe in giving into tyranny. She had the right to sue the pants off the school district for allowing this to happen.

I remember a teacher singing the song "Roxanne" to me by the police....he did not mean it as an insult but as a lighthearted gesture and a play on my name but truly it is not appropriate to associate a song about a hooker to a jr. high female. I've also had a roommate sing to me "I want to live in America" and ask me to make her tacos as a teasing gesture about my Puerto Rican heritage. People are on different places in the developmental spectrum...our responsibility to one another is to support and maintain higher thoughts and actions not lowering ourselves to other people's level.

8:15PM PST on Nov 8, 2013

ty

2:39PM PST on Nov 8, 2013

I was a recent immigrant when I chose my daughters' names, knowing that they were uncommon for their generation. What I didn't realize is how uncomfortable it would make them feel for about ten years, the years that classmates tease. They were free to go by a nickname or choose an alternative. That they didn't might have been out of sensitivity to "Mom's feelings" (as they were aware I had emotional problems while they were growing up.)
In time, we and they came to realize that at worst, it marks them as coming from an immigrant family and having poorly integrated parents. We like the saying by Dr. Seuss: "People who mind don't matter / and people who matter don't mind."

10:53AM PST on Nov 8, 2013

If the girl is happier and her mom wasn't offended by the name change, then really, who cares why she did it.

3:11AM PST on Nov 8, 2013

ty

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