Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:
My 10-year-old daughter is a horse girl. She’s outgrown her first pony, so we just bought her a new horse. This horse was priced right, he’s the perfect size, age, and temperament, and he’s trained in what she wants to do—we seriously could not have found her a better horse. Except for one thing. He’s an almost entirely white Pinto, and his registered name is [Farm Name] White Flight. I don’t want to know what his breeder was thinking. My daughter thinks it’s beautiful. But I would be embarrassed to have my child showing on a horse with this name, and I want to officially change it, or at least call him by another name. I’ve explained the meaning of “white flight” to her, but she still thinks it’s a perfect name for a white showjumping horse and says she wants to use it to mean something good, instead of something bad. How can I convince her to rename her new baby? Would it be too mean to say either the name is changed, or the horse is sold and she can’t have another one?
—Whitest Problem Ever
Dear Whitest Problem Ever,
As I said when I begged readers for help with this question on Twitter, I laughed a little when I read your letter because it all just seemed so absurd and was, as @staceyNYCDC put it, “[the] funniest 1 percent problem in forever.” But then I was like, “I honestly don’t know!” That’s because while the name didn’t sit right with me, and while I’m pretty sure most people are aware that “white flight” describes white people fleeing urban areas as people of color move in—which is absolutely rooted in racism—the phrase itself is not racist! It’s not a bad word! It’s something mostly non-racist people say to describe a thing racist people do. The horse is not named: “Move to the Suburbs to Escape the Scary Blacks.” So, the responses that said “Make her change it because it’s racist” didn’t feel convincing to me. I also wanted a response that felt more satisfying than, “You’re the parent and you decide.” (After all, if you agreed with that approach, you wouldn’t have a dilemma here.) But I was unsure how to justify my thinking.
So, I thought the best responses from readers were the ones that got at the real issue here. You have to consider how people—especially non-white people—will feel when they hear the horse’s name.
I think this is a perfect instance to explain impact over intent—the intent (in her head, using this in a good way versus bad) is outweighed by the impact it may have on her community, and so you need to work with her to recognize the impact plus move toward changing. —@SaraLang
I think it’s fine to acknowledge that it’s not racist AND make her change the name because a HORSE is not calling attention to white flight. It’s fine to say, I bought you a horse, which is an extremely privileged thing, white flight is a problematic issue. Choose a new name. —@LeoraFalk
So I actually think that 10 is old enough to start explaining how racist language works. You’re already halfway there since she has learned what white flight is. Now explain that people will hear and see the name out of context and she won’t be able to explain her positive… intention. We don’t get to decide how the words we use are heard. This is a super important lesson for a white girl to learn! —@AronFord13
I do think you should be firm on changing it. But not because you’re the parent or because it’s racist. Instead, your reasoning needs to be that forcing people to think about something harmful and deeply connected to racism—or worse, giving the impression that your family is making light of something harmful and deeply connected to racism—when they’re just trying to enjoy a little equestrian activity is not something you’re going to condone.
Readers had great ideas for some alternatives:
Bright Flight. Or Sprite Flight or Snow Jump or Bianca or something, anything else. Show the kid this site and help her pick out a new name. Say it has to do with the ownership of the horse. That “White Flight” was the old guy, but the new name will show how much she loves this new member of the family! —@Megan
White horse that flies? That’s a Pegasus. —@brunhaha
No idea, maybe a name modification, like “Big White Flyer” or Smooth White Flyer? —@FJohnIV
White Flyer is a cooler name anyway! —@TheFaithSmith
Can’t they just name it something that has a similar feel? Like Snow Flight? —@MayaRupert
And I can’t help but share the less serious ones, too:
PLEASE rename the horse “Sounds About White.” I will attend your horse shows. I will invest in a horse show hat. —@joyeilene
I have no helpful advice here other than to rename the horse “legacy admission.”—@MalindaFrevert
Rename it “white horses can’t jump.” —@Bat_MaaM
(To be perfectly clear, do not change the horse’s name to Legacy Admission!) Good luck to you, your daughter, and Pegasus.
Over my freshman year I’ve been lucky enough to make friends with a group of five other people. We’ve done everything together, and since I live across the country from my family, these people have been a godsend. Two weeks ago I made a joke that was not well-received. I apologized immediately and thought my friends (all five were there) accepted my apology…