“Porsche Jackson.” Every few years or so, Prof. K. performs a Google search of that name. It’s an unusual name, so the search is easy to perform. Google hits, though, dwindle down to nothing after a flurry of articles published when Porsche was a high school student, many years ago.
You may be wondering, who names their kid “Porsche”?
Prof. K. was familiar with difficult names. She was related to a “Mieczyslaw.” He was “Mieczyslaw” to his loved ones. In the wider world, he was “Mitch.” “Malgorzata” was “Malgorzata” at home. She was “Margaret” at work. Ewa Hoffman, author of Lost in Translation, became “Eva.” Hoffman was traumatized by that change of just one letter; she felt that she lost not a letter, but a part of herself. But she did it because she was an immigrant in a new country, no longer a Polish girl in Poland, and she had to change to accommodate her generous hosts, who took her family in when they escaped Communism and persecution. It probably never occurred to her that Americans had to accommodate her.
Prof K. once had a Turkish student named “Ufuk,” meaning “horizon.” He was a recent immigrant and Prof. K had to explain to him that “Ufuk” in English bears no relation to “horizon.” Then there was “Sukhdeep,” a Hindi name, meaning “pleasant light.” The student approached her before class and asked that he be called “John” – and that she not mention to anyone his real first name. At least his last name was not “Dikshit,” a common Indian surname. “Dikshit” has a lovely meaning: “an initiate.” It’s associated with teachers and priests. Which of course is wonderful but anyone keeping the surname “Dikshit” in an English-speaking country is going to face challenges.
Prof. K. also had a strange first name and a strange last name. Her father had changed the family name, removing a letter unique to Polish; he replaced it with a letter familiar to English speakers. That made the last name easier for Americans to pronounce, but dropped the authentic pronunciation and meaning down the memory hole. When Americans asked her how to pronounce her last name, she replied, “Anyway you like.” The spelling was for Americans.
Prof. K. altered the spelling of her first name, again, to make it easier for Americans. She knew she could have done what Mieczyslaw and Malgorzata did. She could have gone all-in with an English analog, “Diane.” She knew that there is a social cost to having a strange name, but she wanted to hold on to that last bit of Polishness. She was willing to pay the price, and she didn’t blame others for thinking that her name sounded like the punchline of a Polish joke. In fact a good friend told her a Polish joke just two weeks ago, in the very Woke year of 2022, and the punchline was indeed a Polish name. So hard to spell! Impossible to pronounce! Just so darn funny and undignified! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
She was disappointed, but not angry. She didn’t jump down her friend’s throat. She didn’t give him a lecture in tolerance, and she didn’t think less of him. But she didn’t laugh, either, or say “What a great joke!” She hoped her silence would carry the message.
At least one potential employer acknowledged that the name atop her resume cost Prof. K. a job. “I assumed you’d have a thick accent,” this potential employer said, when the two met later at a social function. Prof. K. did not lecture or file a complaint. It was her choice to have the weird name, rather than the much easier “Diane.” So she accepted the consequences. But she would meet people halfway. “If it’s difficult for you to say, you can just call me Dee.”
Prof. K. knew several Jews who regularly went by two names. At work or on social media, they were “Shelly” or “Jack;” in their spiritual lives, they were “Shulamith” or “Itzhak.” The WASP name was for the wider world; the Jewish name was for religious purposes, such as being called up for a Torah reading, or on a wedding contract, or a gravestone.” Kveller, a Jewish website, advises, “If your child’s Jewish name will mostly be used in synagogue contexts, you might not be too concerned with how pronounceable it will be for kids on the playground. But if you plan to use your child’s Jewish name more regularly – or make it his only name – you might want to consider whether certain sounds will make his life complicated.”
Yes. A caring parent does that. A caring parent asks, “Will certain sounds make his life complicated?” among “the kids on the playground”? That’s a nice way of putting it. There are people who would hire a “Mark” but not a “Moishe.” Be Moishe, but put “Mark” on the resume, and get the job.
The willingness of some to change their names was informed by the conviction that the job seeker or the person auditioning for a new friendship wanted to please his or her audience. That person did not assume that it was others’ job to accommodate him. That person did not project an attitude of, “You must learn how to pronounce, and memorize, an unusual word you’ve never encountered before, and if you don’t, I get to report you, or lecture you, or assume the worst about you.” That attitude, of “I want to make things easier for other people” has been replaced, by Woke, with “You must please me, with my unusual name, or my unique pronoun preference, or my fragrance allergy, and if you don’t, I report you, dox you, and get you fired.”
Ufuk, horizon. Sukhdeep, pleasant light. Itzhak, laughter. Mieczyslaw, the glory of the sword. These names might be challenging for English-speakers, but they have a history and a meaning. What can you learn about someone with the name Porsche Jackson, except that his parents never owned one, and he will never drive one unless he carjacks it?
Oh My God you can’t say that it’s racist!
No, you can’t say it. But you can think it. And you did think it. Woke isn’t about not thinking things. It’s about not saying things that everyone is thinking. And it’s about not solving problems, because to solve problems, you have to speak about them.
Prof. K. remembered once traveling in a car with one of her most Woke colleagues. Anyone to the left of this guy would fall off the edge of the earth. And yet this very, very Woke higher-up referred to the lower performing students, primarily poor students from inner cities, as “human waste.” Prof. K. was gobsmacked, and had no idea what to do with what she heard. It was just one of many moments as a low-status adjunct that she filed away because no one, really, could hear it, and nothing would be accomplished by speaking it. But she never forgot it, because that comment spoke one of those truths around which the world turns: the secret contempt of the leftist in power for the people he imagines himself as “saving.” This professor was the kind who would encourage others, “Just pass them,” about poorly performing students. But he was also the kind of person who would dismiss those poorly performing students, in private, as “human waste.” And he was also the kind of person who was immensely proud of his own Princeton PhD, that he had to work and sacrifice to earn. He denied the “human waste” the same life-enriching journey that he took to accomplishment and pride, because he was a beneficent leftist. The hypocrisy created a maze of contradictions.
One thing is certain. When his mother named him Porsche Jackson, she saddled her son with an unnecessary burden. Had Porsche’s mother never heard the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue”? There were so many articles. “Job Applicants With ‘Black Names’ Still Less Likely to Get Interviews,” Bloomberg news reported in July, 2021. “Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback,” according to a 2003 study. A June 6, 2022 study from the Social Psychology Quarterly argued that pit bulls with black-sounding names are less likely to be adopted from animal shelters than other breeds with white-sounding names. Kevin the whippet found a loving home before Tupac the pit bull.
Prof. K. remembered her own professors from forty years ago. Those professors, who had Ivy League degrees, recognized that their students were blue collar and first generation. It was that kind of college. Those professors didn’t mince words. “Your hair is not to touch your collar. Wear it up or get a haircut. Your nails will be manicured and checked before each job interview. You will wear pantyhose or stockings. No bare legs. No slacks. Heels, not flats, but no higher than three inches. You will wear a navy blue suit. You will wear a white blouse. No cleavage. If you don’t need glasses, consider buying glasses with clear glass in them. You will look older. Shake hands. Make eye contact. Control your laughter. You may be offered a snack. Do not accept.” The concern was that food etiquette was just too complicated to drum into these blue collar students. One hungry student, going from interview to interview, ate a banana in a waiting room and tossed the peel into the office trash. That candidate reflected badly on the institution. She would never be hired, or forgiven. Prof. K. remembered that story forty years later.
In those long gone days, it wasn’t just okay for more successful white professors to tell less successful, largely white but also some Hispanic and black, students how to behave, or even what name to use on a resume. No, it wasn’t just okay; it was expected. It was required. It was benevolent. The students took notes and followed them. Successful people were telling poor people how to be successful. They were throwing a ladder down and encouraging upward mobility.
The job candidate worked to please the potential employer. The job candidate did this because she and her family had just sunk a vast amount of resources, time and money, into a BA and now it was harvest. The student needed to get a job and start earning, paying back loans, making her parents proud, and preparing the next generation for the same cycle of success.
That mindset, of working to please a potential employer, rather than expecting that employer to accommodate the applicant, informed Prof. K.’s opinion. If “Porsche” as a first name causes problems, than don’t name the kid “Porsche.” If naming a pit bull “Tupac” means that that pit bull gets euthanized while Kevin gets to go home with a loving family, then don’t name the dog “Tupac.” Although it would be entirely in keeping with Woke for some crusading animal shelter employee to name pit bull after pit bull “Tupac” and Tupac Jr and Tupac III, ad infinitum, never, ever, switching to “Kevin” or “Scott” or “Chip,” secretly hoping that these pit bulls never know the joy of adoption, and are all euthanized, just to prove a point about how racist Amerikkka is.
One must not ask what is “authentic” or “black” about “Tupac.” The historical Tupac Amaru (1545-1572) was the last Inca emperor in what is now Peru. Inca emperors exercised absolute, unquestioned, divine power. They were so holy that, like Egyptian emperors, they had to marry their own sisters. No contamination from commoners for them. They were carried about on golden litters and their subjects dared not look them in the eye. They forced labor and commandeered the crops of poweless peasants. They hoarded gold and gems. Francisco Pizzaro was able to conquer the Inca empire with fewer than 200 Spanish soldiers and tens of thousands of indigenous allies. Those indigenous tribes allied with the invading conquistadors because they hated being oppressed by the rich, noble Incas. What’s authentically black about “Jamal”? It’s an Arabic name. No need to expand here on Arab crimes against black Africans. What’s authentically black about “Porsche”? It’s an expensive car with a Nazi pedigree. Name the dog “Kevin.”
Prof. K. wondered. Are the same Woke who are willing to sacrifice a dog’s life just to prove how racist Amerikkka is, also willing to sacrifice a young black man’s fate to achieve the same hateful, spiteful end? Do they refuse to say to Porsche, “Put ‘Patrick’ on your resume and see if that results in more offers” because they want Porsche to fail just to prove how racist Amerikkka is? And, having proved their point, do they not care about the damage they are doing to the rest of Porsche’s life? Such thoughts are the thoughts Woke demands that one must never speak aloud. Such solutions, the solution of just making a small change that might generate rich rewards, are the solutions that one must never consider. “Gee, I’ve just proved that Amerikkka is racist” may give the one making the announcement a thrill and lots of attention. But that misery will not, for most people, anyway, pay rent, or earn love, or create a family, or provide the meaning and self-respect that one requires to feel good about getting out of bed every morning.
Considering other factors, Porsche’s first name was the least of his challenges. The Woke approach to all of these challenges, big and small, was the same. Porsche could not make his life better, Woke would insist, by adjusting his own behavior, to meet the demands of the real world. Porsche would just go from encounter to encounter, claiming that he was a victim, and gaining what he wanted thereby. Porsche was a college student. He was not doing well in class, and he wanted to get an A. He felt he needed that A or his life would be ruined.
Marie Gryphon (now Marie Newhouse), a former Cato Institute policy analyst and a Harvard PhD in public policy, published an article in 2005 entitled “The Affirmative Action Myth.” In that article, Gryphon describes something she calls the ratchet effect. Top schools compete for top black high school students. Harvard, which gets first pick of applicants, monopolizes the top black high school graduates in the country. At the time of the writing of the article, there was only an average of a 95-point SAT score gap between black and white students at Harvard. As a result, Gryphon writes, Harvard’s graduation rates for black students are high. Princeton, a great school but not Harvard, admits black students with an average gap of 150 points. Columbia accepts a 182-point gap. And so on down the line with the gap growing wider and wider.
The high-achieving black students gobbled up by elite schools are thereby lost to less prestigious schools. Top schools reject a disproportionate number of highly competitive white and Asian students. Those highly qualified white and Asian students end up at less prestigious schools. Inevitably, less well performing black students are in the same class with white and Asian students who have the qualifications, but not the desired identity, to get into an elite school. In short, one of the consequences of identity-informed admissions at top schools is that in most of the rest of the schools, better-prepared whites and Asians are in the same class with less well-prepared blacks.
Clearly, black high school seniors are not to blame for the ratchet effect. They are not on the admissions board at Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. They are not steering the culture. They are teenagers. A handful of years before they filled out a college application, they were mere children. They probably had no idea that their public grade school and high school, thanks to decades of social engineering that was supposed to help, had surrendered the job of adequately educating and socializing them. These schools didn’t just “surrender” the job of education and socialization. They demonized education and socialization as racist. These students had no idea that white and Asian students from more academically supportive families, communities, and schools, had mastered entire volumes of history, pages of mathematics equations, concepts of music and culture, of which they were utterly unaware. And those students knew more than academics. They knew how to solve a problem of, say, receiving an order of cold French fries at McDonalds, not by shooting the McDonald’s worker dead, but by talking things out. These students had no idea that they wouldn’t even be able to understand some of the fundamental vocabulary necessary to discuss the topics they signed up to study their first semester at college. The black teens in this social engineering maw were something like human sacrifices. The social engineers manipulating their fates cared less for them as flesh-and-blood people, and more for leftist ideology. It is more important to exploit the suffering of job seekers with unusual names, to use that suffering and frustration as a cudgel to beat America with, than to solve the problem. It is more important to use the failure of the black boy who has trouble with self-regulation in a conventional classroom, to use his failure as a cudgel to beat America with, than to address the problems with impulse control that are pandemic, especially among children in father-absent households.
The class Porsche signed up for with Prof. K. was a grueling example of the ratchet effect. There were, for example, three white male students in the class. They were from backgrounds far more advantaged than Prof. K.’s. When she passed them in the parking lot, she saw that they were driving cars she couldn’t even dream of owning. They were physically fit, tall, handsome, and arrogant. As she would learn throughout the semester, in one-on-one conversations with each, they had all been rejected at more prestigious schools. They had found each other on this campus and they formed an informal, three-man, mutual support fraternity.
They didn’t like Prof. K. They wrote her off as just another “liberal” college professor. They didn’t like the class. It was required, they took it, and they would celebrate on the final day. But they showed up on time. They didn’t miss class. They handed in perfect work and they handed it in on time. They got A grades. And they sneered at Porsche.
Porsche rarely attended class, and when he did, he always arrived at least thirty minutes late, and often later than that, to a seventy-five minute class. He took a seat in the far right back corner of the room. He brought no books and no writing implements of any kind. He slept. His eyes were closed; he snored. The “fraternity” brothers, in the upper left corner of the room, noticed. They weren’t obvious about it. They sat close to the front and Prof. K. could see their faces, but other students could not. But yes, they noticed. They noticed that a black, male student rarely came to class, and, when he did come, he snored loudly enough to disrupt communication of those there doing work. Prof. K. may have imagined it, but she thought she could transcribe those looks, and those looks would say, “See? This is what they are like. And no one is stopping him. He’ll probably get an A.”
Prof. K. wanted to throttle Porsche. “Whether you like it or not, you represent young black men to the other students in this class. They look at you and they form conclusions about millions of people based on your behavior. Do you not feel any responsibility?” She didn’t say that because she knew she couldn’t. Rather, she told Porsche that he was failing the class.
“Why?” he was clearly outraged. He might not have been acting. It’s possible he had passed classes in high school by doing exactly what he was doing here.
“Because you rarely attend class, and, when you are here, you sleep. You’ve handed in none of the assignments, and you fail quizzes and tests. But there’s still time for you to pass. That’s why I’m talking to you now. Start arriving on time, doing the assigned work, and you could still pass.”
Prof. K. made sure to send Porsche an email outlining this conversation. She had a feeling she’d want documentation for everything that was said. She was correct. Her boss contacted her. Her boss had a sign in his office, “Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich.” He was not from the US. He said many negative things about the US, including in email messages sent to every faculty member. America was racist, sexist, Zionist, oppressive, yadda, yadda, yadda. He told Prof. K. to be sure to give Porsche a passing grade.
“You understand that he rarely attends class, arrives at least a half an hour late, brings no school supplies, and sleeps so soundly he snores? He disrupts the class?”
“There must be something you can do.”
Prof. K. straddled a divide. In her youth, it was the student who had to “do something.” Cut her hair, trim her nails, not throw a banana peel in the office trash. Jump through hoops and emerge a proud graduate who was shown a standard and who worked and sweat and sacrificed to meet that standard and came out the other end feeling proud of herself. The job of the professor or the boss was just to stand there waiting to be pleased by the student. Now it was the teacher’s job to “do something.” Prof. K. wasn’t deaf. She could hear what her boss was saying, even though he wasn’t saying it.
“We need this student’s tuition dollars, whether those dollars are coming from the federal government, which is more likely, or from the student himself, which is less likely. Without tuition dollars, the school will shutter. So you have to pass him.
“And, no, if the white boys in that class decided to hand in no work and sleep in class, I would not be telling you to pass them. If this were a black female, I would probably not be telling you to pass her.
“Black male students are gold. We need those numbers. If we lose any more black male students, we will be pilloried. Black males are dramatically underrepresented in college enrollment, and are drastically underrepresented among graduates. We must change that number if we hope to survive as an institution. In another era, we might change that number by demanding a better academic performance from black males. We would do everything we could to bring those black males up to the performance level that we demand of other students.
“But we aren’t in another era. We are in this era, and in this era if a black male student fails, his performance, his written work, his behavior, his study habits, his mastery, are not to be assessed or even mentioned. Rather, if he fails, it is because the professor and the institution and the wider society are racist, racist, racist, and we will pay, not he.
“And, yes, we, like other colleges, do enroll and we do graduate more black females than black males. We do graduate and enroll more students of African ancestry whom we categorize as ‘Hispanic,’ their obvious African ancestry not withstanding. And our black students who are recent immigrants from Africa are indeed a model minority. They are doing spectacularly well. In fact, on average, they are doing better than white students born in the US. To mention any of these facts, facts that suggest that culture, not genes, not racism, is the culprit and the one thing we could change to improve the success rate of black American males, is of course racist.”
And there was one more thing that Prof. K.’s boss was not saying, but that he was saying very loudly.
“You have no tenure. Zero job security. I am well aware of how badly you need this job. You know how many desperate, unemployed PhDs are floating around. ‘PhDs on Food Stamps!’ – isn’t that the perennial headline? Shocking but not shocking? We can fire you this second and replace you in a couple of hours.
“So just record a passing grade for him, and we need never discuss these difficult topics again.”
Prof. K. said, “Unless Porsche begins to do the assigned work, I cannot record a passing grade for him. If he fails, I will have to record an F grade.” Prof. K. walked out of that office with the sense that she had just painted a target on her back.
The fraternity boys were changing. They were beginning to understand the importance of the assigned material. Their performance, already good, was improving. Other students in the class, from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, were slowly but surely working their way to A’s and B’s. In spite of grading piles of papers that seemed infinite, and classes that seemed to stop time, the end of the semester always felt like a surprise.
Porsche, who had not spoken to the professor except for that one time, approached the professor again.
He astounded her. He was in top physical condition. He was an athlete. He had a great body. He wore new clothes that flattered his physique. He was shy, but when he finally spoke to her, he spoke Standard English. This was a young man who had all the cards in his hand: health, good looks, nice clothes, an ability to charm. And he was throwing it all away.
“You gotta gimme an A. You gotta.”
“I can’t do that. The semester is almost over. You’ve done no work. You will receive a failing grade.”
“You don’t understand. I’m from the ghetto. It’s bad there, real bad. People get shot.”
“I live in Paterson. Do you think you are telling me something about ‘the ghetto’? Have you ever looked at any of the other students in this class? You are surrounded by students dealing with every kind of life crisis. And yet they do the work. You do not. There are counselors on this campus. I talked to one about you. I begged you to talk to him. Did you?”
Porsche may as well not even have heard that. He simply continued with the canned speech. “You’ve got my whole life in your hands. Please don’t do this to me.”
The speech was so polished, so routine, so full of the predictable dramatic beats. The only missing item was Elvis Presley singing “In the Ghetto” as background. She wondered how many times he had delivered it. She cursed every teacher, every administrator, every cop or judge, who fell for that speech, and refused to insist that Porsche measure up to any real standard, and let him glide through life, to this point, believing that he could BS his way to whatever he wanted.
“Porsche, you and I talked a while back. As you know, I talked to my boss about you. I talked to a campus counselor who assured me that he had influence with you. I offered to tutor you in my humorously dubbed ‘free time.’ I sat and waited for you. You never showed up.”
“My high school friend was shot in the ghetto. Don’t send me back there.”
“There’s nothing more to be said.”
Prof. K. did record a failing grade for Porsche Jackson.
She searches his name on the internet every now and then. His name is so unusual that it’s an easy search. He was once a high school athlete so gifted that he made the local news. Those are the articles that pop up first. His name, the head shots, the action video, the bright lights, the awed commentary. Time doesn’t stop for high school sports stars. Having been a high school sports star doesn’t feed the soul of a 30-year-old if nothing much has happened since then. Those articles are still on the web, but they grow older and older, and nothing replaces them. Prof. K. tried several different searches, and, nothing. She can’t find Porsche the employee, Porsche the homeowner, Porsche the groom, Porsche the donor to a good cause. Even his former Facebook page has since disappeared. Her curiosity about whatever happened to Porsche might never be satisfied. The lone tear will once again fall.
Was Porsche’s accusation correct? Did the big, bad, “conservative” professor’s refusal to assign an A grade to an F student ruin his life and send him back to the ghetto?
No. In fact it was the frat boys who were correct. Prof. K. was, in one sense of the word, a “liberal.” She wanted to do work that would help people, and make the world a better place.
Years before, she had read a book, City of Joy, by Dominique Lapierre. The City of Joy is a slum in Calcutta. In the course of a conversation with his father, on how best to help poor people, American doctor Max Loeb says something that shook Prof. K. so much that, decades later, she remembered exactly where she was when she read the sentences. “I’ve even come to learn the validity of a strange reality here,” he said. “In a slum an exploiter is better than a Santa Claus … An exploiter forces you to react, whereas a Santa Claus demobilizes you.”
The superiors who helped Prof. K. become the person she wanted to be were people who made specific demands on her, and did everything they could to help her to meet those demands. People who made no demands on her did nothing to advance her life. She believes that she would have hurt Porsche had she recorded an A grade for him. She’d be just one more person who said, “You are a black male, and I expect less from you.” Rather, she was someone who said, “I expected this from you, it was something you could do, and you didn’t do it, so you don’t get the grade you wanted.” She thought that that bitter lesson would do him more good in the long term. She didn’t want to be just another Santa Claus who would demobilize him.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.