I’m glad that Chloe rightly commended Ed on his inspiring and courageous decision. The compliment aside, however, Chloe is an interesting case and we do ourselves a disservice by not delving into its complications - though they may be uncomfortable for us – a little more. Chloe can visually pass as white. She changed her surname from “Wang” to “Bennet” and went out as a “white” actress, which she has publicly credited with leading to her series regular role on AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., thereby encouraging, whether intentionally or not, other mixed race actors who can pass for white to similarly hide and deny their heritage in order to achieve similar commercial success. So, I must ask the uncomfortable question: is that a disservice to our community? Does that kind of name change and passing for white just accommodate, normalize and legitimize racism in Hollywood? Because Chloe can pass as white, she has the privilege of hopping on and off the “Asian train” as it suits her. Many other people of color do not have that option. Still others have the option but choose not to take it. I understand the desire to fit in and to “do what it takes” to get that series regular role to later impact the power structure so now she has it – would she change her name back now? Think what a powerful statement it would be if she returned to her original surname of Wang. The point isn’t so much that she has Chinese blood; but whether or not she consistently publicly acknowledges it and takes pride in it, even when a racist society makes such acknowledgment and pride inconvenient and difficult.
I have blogged on this issue before (back in 2014, reprinted below). For me, I wear my name and heritage loudly and proudly. It may very well have prevented me from getting roles and auditions and that’s a shame, however, I choose not to let that force me to try to mask who I am. We are all complicated people and who we are is a complicated question. Chloe made a decision that was, I hope, right for her. I made a decision that was, I hope, right for me. The name change game is, at the end of the day, both a political game and an individual choice. It does, though, have very real and potentially far-reaching implications, whatever you may choose.
At the end of the day, if anyone wants to make me (or anyone else!) feel inferior because of their race, they can kiss my mixed-race a**.
What's in a Name?
Oh, the actor name change. Even more fraught with charge? The actor name change with racial connotations.
A friend posted on FB about an actress of Asian descent with an Asian surname who is a series regular on a major network show. The article explained that the actress changed her surname to sound Anglo and immediately changed her luck for the better.
It reminded me of the recent stories about the Asian American news personality who underwent eyelid surgery which, let's face it, is only there to make a face look more European. But is it really fooling anyone? If a person changes their name and undergoes surgery to try to look and sound like another race, that just suggests to me that they're feeling-consciously and/or subconsciously-a lot of self hatred and alienation which I am going to guess is a result of consistent treatment as the "other" based on a lot of ingrained racism in our society. I feel bad for them.
I think the "changing the luck" for the better by re-naming yourself or getting plastic surgery may just be because you've changed your attitude. YOU think it matters and so you exude more confidence afterwards and perhaps the world is responding to that confidence, not the fact your surname is suddenly "Smith" or your eyes suddenly have a big fold over the top. People have often suggested to me I change my name and I haven't because it's my name. That being said, I understand the feelings of alienation and insecurity that would make you want to do anything from changing your name to your face to "belong" and that's a bigger problem that we all have to work to fix as a society.
My name is my name. I'm proud of who I am and what I have made of my name. That's my choice. Make your own.
For this one I actually have recommended reading from one of my favorite authors: The House on Mango Street By Sandra Cisneros
The House on Mango Street is a collection of vignettes , one of which is entitled MY NAME. I highly recommend. Check it out here: http://esl-bits.net/ESL.English.Learning.Audiobooks/Mango_Street/