Race Discrimination Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission, Dr Tim Soutphommasane …, who is a first-generation Australian born to Chinese and Lao parents, says when he hands his boarding pass over to the flight attendant, he’ll get one of three responses. Some will say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t know how to pronounce that. How do you pronounce that?” Others will have a go – and will often succeed or get very close.
It’s the third response that grieves him. “Some of the flight attendants will say, ‘Oh, I’m not even going to try to pronounce that’.
“If someone says to me they’re not even going to try to pronounce my name, that doesn’t necessarily send a good signal. It says that they’re not even bothered to treat me with respect. How would they feel if they were told that every day – that people weren’t going to even try to pronounce their name?”
Soutphommasane, whose name is pronounced Soot-pom-ma-sarn, says that seemingly trivial exchange explains a great deal about how people react to cultural diversity.
They are treating you with respect. They are trying, you precious idiot, to not insult you by mangling your name. They are trying, on wages that fund your obscene $339,460 salary, not to cause offence. And you smear them, because that is the AHRC’s disgusting default tactic every single time. …
They’re not reacting to cultural diversity. The flight attendants are merely reacting to a word they’ve never seen before that is difficult to pronounce. Were they familiar with your name they’d get it right, the same way most Australians of all backgrounds learned how to pronounce Jesaulenko, Berejiklian, Fui Fui Moi Moi, Benaud, Yunupingu, Tsingtao, Palaszczuk and Nguyen.
Here’s the thing, Dr Tim. Until they became familiar with your surname, not even the enlightened beings at the AHRC knew how to pronounce it. In fact, probably the one common factor among all Australians is that absolutely none of them — aside from those few who are fluent in Anglicised Laotian — know how to say “Soutphommasane” without guidance. Hand a card with your name on it to an Italian in Melbourne or an Aborigine in Queensland and see how they go. …
Let’s give Dr Souscheffromparis a multicultural sensitivity test. I’ve known a friend from Werribee for 47 years. I was able to pronounce his surname before I knew how to spell it, as was everyone else in our 1970 first grade class. The race discrimination commissioner is invited to correctly pronounce, at first glance and without advice, “Stoios”. Go for it, Doc.