Say My Name, Say My Name

Renaming entities has gotten a flurry of attention over the past few years since the increase in publicized police brutality, and there are so many facilities named after Confederate entities that people have enough fodder for well over a century. On the other side is the quest to name buildings after BIPOCQ individuals, whether authors, servicemembers, or other prominent figures, and plenty of controversy has been shored up in the name of why certain names should be used over others. Moreover, controversy is one issue, but cost is another, since all regalia has to be changed with the name, and uniforms, website redesign, and stationary cost money for public entities with shrinking budgets. What is missing from the conversation is how unfortunate it is that so many structures have to be named after people in the first place, since there are so many other words in multiple languages as to remove controversy altogether.

In the middle of a climate crisis, one needs to remember that the planet is being stripped of its resources because too many people believe that people should be at the top of the hierarchy, despite our destructive tendencies. Therefore, we have been conditioned to be egocentric instead of ecocentric, and sustaining the socioecosystem keeping all of us alive. Imagine if, instead of Robert E. Lee Elementary, we went to Chrysanthemum Elementary. Instead of Booker T. Washington Public Library, we could go to Oakwood Library? There is so much flora and fauna that we can do that for years, and no one would run out of largely neutral names to give without malice, and get the focus back on how people cannot ignore the climate crisis anymore. The costs would still be there, but egoists might have to tone down their rhetoric since an easy answer exists.

Furthermore, naming public infrastructure after people puts the focus on the people, rather than the public infrastructure, and has become a cheap performance of “racial justice.” There are multiple parks named after BIPOCQ activists in Austin, and they have suffered neglect, been targeted for development expansion, or praised as fixes for displacement and oppression. Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet School in Tennessee dealt with a bomb threat, even though “magnet” generally implies “gifted and talented education,” so mostly white students. People cannot wait to rename something for BIPOCQ activists, but offer little support for the causes they championed–again, hoping to appeal to egos rather than make social progress. Understanding the role that race has played in the built environment takes more than a publicity stunt, and naming public structures after BIPOCQ while banning racial history means nothing.

Another problem is that naming generally implies money, and promotes unhealthy propaganda of the wealthy. Yes, Rockerfeller Center, Stanford University, and Carnegie Hall are memorable, but billionaires cannot become so without exploitation, setting an example of exploitation in an increasingly unequal world. Mostly people with money can afford to built infrastructure, but we need to consider what that says about us as a nation when, instead of everyone participating, we keep glorifying those who participate at their whims. A solution for the wealthy who demand to build their egos is for cities to only accept site plans without names; if someone want to build a school/park/museum, it should be about the subject matter, or not exist.

Montopolis Negro School
City Minutes, October 31, 1935

At the top of the page and here is the Montopolis Negro School in Austin, Texas, which is facing preservation issues, as most Black historical sites do. The name is not a typo; it was simply called the Montopolis Negro School because of where it was and who it served. Next to it is a historic Sanborn map showing the location of the Olive Street School, according to city records. Many of these were community schools during segregation, and while they could have been named after people, they were not. Renaming is only as important as the progress behind it, and people have the responsibility to prove the action behind the name.

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