During a recent breakfast meeting, an apparently well-meaning supporter of my husband's campaign for State Representative told him that he really should've changed his name "like the Jews used to do" if he's serious about politics. It's a racist world, the man said, and people just won't want to vote for a Rafael Rivadeneira. Too Latin.
My husband laughed at the offense and ridiculousness ("Maybe he doesn't realize a guy named Barack Obama sits in the Oval Office," Raf said) as he told me this, but the blood drained from my face. My hands burned as I clutched them together.
In the years of being married to a Latino—who certainly has run into racist jabs and slurs—I don't think I'd ever been so angry at something someone said, at least regarding race. Because this tapped into the deepest roots of hatred, racism and ignorance. Into the part that said if he wanted to succeed, he had to make others more comfortable with who he was—by becoming someone else. That to succeed on a particular path, he had to change something central to who he was—and more importantly, who God made him to be. And that gets me. Big time.
My anger abated as my husband ran through names that might work better for him (perhaps something punchy and Irish: Swifty McSweeney? Or classic American politician, maybe: Adam Kennedy Roosevelt?). However, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I've held on to some bitterness over this man's statement.
Particularly since it echoed something I've heard so often in my life—starting when I was a girl, continuing through my current life as a wife, mom, and leader. No matter how much others might support our callings to any of our roles, it seems that so often women are being asked to give up, to change, to alter something integral to who we are to make others more comfortable with us in our roles.
Sometimes these things are smallish. This blog has covered stories of women being told they're too pretty to preach. Of women needing to look less stylish. We've heard of women being told to use words like "think" instead of "feel" because men "think" and therefore is more respected than feeling. We're told to be less aggressive. To be more complimentary. To get right to the point to help men understand us.
Sometimes these things are huge. That we need to change a calling entirely. Or minimize it or shift its audience. Because we must have misunderstood God and what he intended from us. That we need to put off marriage or motherhood or put off pursuing a calling. Because God apparently can't work with both, we're told (in not so many words).