We’re big fans of Naga Munchetty here at Stylist HQ, primarily because she’s a brilliant and incisive journalist who refuses to let anyone belittle or demean her.
Frustratingly, though, some people find these admirable qualities to be anything but. Which goes some way towards explaining why they work so hard to present the BBC Breakfast presenter as “rude” and “unprofessional”.
Take, for instance, the tabloid headlines that cropped up after today’s broadcast. Rather than focus on the important topics being discussed on the show – the significance of 2020’s Black History Month, the impact a second Covid-19 wave would have on the NHS, the possible ramifications of a second lockdown – they instead honed in on a joke between Munchetty and her colleague, Carol Kirkwood.
The minuscule exchange took place shortly after Munchetty introduced Kirkwood for the show’s weather segment.
“Now, Carol, I thought it was gonna be really rainy and horrible today but I’m feeling optimistic. Good morning,” she said pleasantly.
“And well you should too, Nana,” replied Kirkwood. Then, immediately spotting her mistake, she corrected herself.
“Nana? Naga, sorry, good morning everybody.”
Munchetty, amused by her colleague’s mistake, joked back: “Get it right, Carol, come on!”
Six little words. Six little words which were, we hasten to add, said with both grace and good humour. Despite this, though, the moment has been described as “awkward” on Twitter. Indeed, at least two tabloid outlets have insisted that Munchetty “snapped” at Kirkwood, and that she “ordered” her colleague to get her name right.
This, in turn, has prompted some on social media to latch onto the moment as yet another example of Munchetty’s rudeness. Because banging that same tired old drum never gets old, apparently.
Obviously, it should go without saying that Munchetty wasn’t rude. At all.
However, it’s worth pointing out that, if there was even the slightest bit of annoyance on Munchetty’s behalf (which, as we’ve made abundantly clear, there wasn’t), it wouldn’t be rude of her to ask a colleague of over a decade to pronounce her name correctly. Especially on live TV. And especially as a woman of colour.
Because, as Dr Pragya Agarwal, behavioural scientist and author of SWAY: The Science Of Unconscious Bias, previously told Stylist contributor Poorna Bell, “names are an integral part of our identity and self.”
“When names are mispronounced, it negates a person’s sense of self, betraying their culture and eradicating an important part of their ethnic identity,” Agarwal explained.
“Or if names are shortened and anglicised, it is done so for social convenience.
“People of colour generally – and rightly – resent the mispronunciation of their name because it amounts to a distortion of their identity… [and] signifies a dismissal of their associated culture and social values.”
Of course, people make mistakes sometimes. And that’s absolutely fine, so long as they – like Kirkwood – respectfully take the time to correct their error.
What isn’t fine, though, is to ever try and make out that someone, like Munchetty, is “rude” for noticing and flagging the mistake. Because respecting someone’s decision to correct an incorrect pronunciation of their name is not just a common courtesy: it’s an important effort in creating an inclusive environment, one that emphasises psychological safety and belonging.
And the tabloids should absolutely take this into consideration the next time they try to spin yet another woman vs woman story up out of absolutely nothing.