• Does having an ethnic name mean you are always going to be at a disadvantage if you live in a white-dominated country? (Flickr/http://bit.ly/2lm7cpr)Source: Flickr/http://bit.ly/2lm7cpr
Farah Beaini is finally fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a writer, but she has to make a decision. Is her name good enough for success in a white dominated society or should she change it to something a little less threatening?
Farah Beaini

17 Feb 2017 - 9:57 AM  UPDATED 17 Feb 2017 - 12:51 PM

I’ve always loved storytelling. My childhood imagination found home in every school notebook I owned, tucking itself most comfortably into the bedtime stories of dragon slayers that I would eagerly narrate to my captive audience of one – my sister.  

Somewhere between then and now, my imagination lost its way, and it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve revisited that young girl’s dream of becoming a writer. I am ready to use my pen to slay, not the mythical dragons of old, but the real-life ones that make our world unsafe and unequal.

But before I can do that, I need to decide on something that most Australians would not even consider; I need to decide whether to keep my real name, or invent a new one. It may seem like a no-brainer to some, but it’s a decision I am struggling with, knowing full well that what I decide could determine what happens next.

As an Australian with Lebanese Druze heritage, I know there are many unconscious biases at play that may stand in the way of my success.

You see, my name ‘Farah’ often stands out for the wrong reasons, instantly recognisable for its ‘otherness’. As an Australian with Lebanese Druze heritage, I know there are many unconscious biases at play that may stand in the way of my success.

I’m not a ‘George' who, as a white male, can expect eight times more responses to a manuscript than a ‘Catherine’. But I’m not a ‘Catherine’ either. To get as many interviews as George or Catherine, a Middle Eastern person like me would need to submit 64 per cent more applications, a little less than a Chinese person (68 per cent) but far more than an Indigenous person (35 per cent) and an Italian person (12 per cent).

If even successful ethnic writers are pressured into adopting Anglo-sounding names, how can I – having just started my career – hope to compete under my own?

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I’ve already seen glimpses of these biases in my day job. As part of a workplace clearance check, I was the only dual citizen questioned about my loyalty to Australia, despite having called it home for over 20 years. At Australian parliament house, I was taken aback by a well-known journalist who was shocked that a Lebanese person was working there. Like others in the media, his opinions about Lebanese people seemed solely based on Punchbowl stereotypes; stereotypes that make no allowances for the positive contributions Lebanese people have made to Australia.

Correcting these cultural stereotypes and attitudes can be a depressing reminder of how far we still have to go to accept differences, let alone names. It also makes me question whether readers will succumb to these same stereotypes when they come across my writing, skipping my articles because they think they will be ‘ethnic’ in representation or point of view, irrelevant to their own lives.

Like others in the media, his opinions about Lebanese people seemed solely based on Punchbowl stereotypes; stereotypes that make no allowances for the positive contributions Lebanese people have made to Australia.

Ironically, not being published may be the least of my problems; being a Druze woman offers its own complications. As a heavily persecuted minority, Druze – an esoteric offshoot of Shiite Islam – are reluctant to discuss their faith or culture with outsiders.

They also have traditional notions of family and female honour. From community reactions to speaking out about sexual harassment, I know my writing will likely challenge culturally sensitive issues and taboos. Like other women from ethnic backgrounds, they may even  cause a backlash and affect my family’s standing within the community both here and overseas.  

These issues are extremely hard to deal with. As much as I love my name, hiding behind a ‘FB Rowling’ would certainly liberate me from these social and professional rejections.

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But, the child in me is not convinced. She thinks this freedom will come at a cost; the hero has forgotten her purpose, and instead of slaying the dragon, I am now fanning its flames.

And so, I argue with my past about my future.

She taunts: If people don’t get an opportunity to see diversity represented, how can their views of the value of diversity ever be challenged?

I reply: How will they see me if no one gives my name a chance?

She says: True, you may never know if a rejection is due to your inexperience or their bias. But the world has changed a lot in the last 10 years, there are more places that cater to diverse audiences.

I change tacks: Okay, but what about family?

She pauses. And then finally: That is always going to be hard. But that’s part of being a writer; the hardest leg of the journey is often the one closest to home.

And on we go.

I don’t know if I’m making the right decision but I do know I don’t want to disappoint that hopeful child. And so for now, I’ve decided to stick to my name. I am still Farah Beaini. My hope is that, over time, more people like me are afforded equal opportunity to flourish, that my name will one day stand out for all the right reasons.

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @farahbeaini, Facebook @farahbeaini. 

Face Up To Racism #FU2Racism with a season of stories and programs challenging preconceptions around race and prejudice. Tune in to watch Is Australia Racist? (airs on Sunday 26 February at 8.30pm), Date My Race (airs Monday 27 February at 8.30pm) and The Truth About Racism (airs Wednesday 1 March at 8.30pm).

Watch all the documentaries online after they air on SBS On Demand.


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