I remember about six years ago when my level of couth was about half what it is now, a white co-worker – I have to believe she was on her cowardly lion shit and visited the Wizard for some heart – asked me, “Where do you all come up with these names for your kids?” I figure she saw me, all outspoken, black and womanly and shit, and just knew I was the official elected spokesperson for black people everywhere.
So in my official capacity of President of Black People and resisting the burning urge to reach into my arsenal of filthy reads and give her an expletive-laden read that would have her clutching those pearls for years to come, I replied, “Well, y’all steal everything else from us, so we give them something y’all can’t take.” She was appalled. And I was appalled that she had the nerve to be appalled when she had just put all her ignorance on display in the workplace in such an appalling way.
See I wasn’t just disgusted with her because my son has one of those made-up names she was talking about. Nor did I want to slap the fuck out her only because she felt it not only okay but her right to question me on an element, real or perceived, of black culture as if I was the entire embodiment of blackness.
My real issue with her was that her question was asking, “Why can’t y’all stop making me uncomfortable?” It’s a question that we’re asked everyday in roundabout covert ways. It’s what white eyes when they get caught staring at a black woman’s natural hairstyle. Or when a white woman gets scared because a black man has a loud deep voice. Or when a black woman wears a form-fitting dress displaying her curves. Her goal was not to understand me, but to make me take responsibility for her feelings.
Let me tell y’all how supreme white supremacy really is. It’s so supreme that it has black people willingly bowing to it. I mean we’ve all heard the jokes about naming your child something that won’t get his resume thrown in the trash. It’s a favorite for many black comedians. Laquantasiana won’t make it to a first-round phone screen, but Lillian may actually make it to the interview before they realize she’s black.
And so what if she does? When she gets there and that bigoted employer notices she’s black, will her qualifications overcome racism? And if she’s offered the job, what victory is it to work for someone who wouldn’t have taken a second look at your resume had you your mother put together some more undesirable syllables? How wonderful to know you’re set apart from the other black folks based on something as superficial as your name?
This assimilation tactic of giving your child a “resume friendly” name is the most accepted form of white supremacy. How powerful is white supremacy when one of the most precious and intimate times in a parent’s life would be permeated with the thoughts of conforming? It’s the surrender of choice, the handing over of freedom and the voluntary dimming of your light. This is not to say that black parents who name their children common English names are automatically conforming, but that the relinquishing of choice is.
I can admit that Daquantrell doesn’t roll off my tongue, but neither does Talulah. Kwame and Binta are as valuable as Kate and Christoper. I may not care much for Kaytiandala, but I’m also not too thrilled about names like John and George which adorned those who dealt in the flesh of my ancestors. I accept them all, though, because a cactus would prick even if we called it a rose.
And if your name speaks to who you are more than who you are, then why don’t we run when we hear Charles is coming? Or why doesn’t Aileen send chills up your spine? And why can we see Timothy on paper and not wonder if there’s a bomb in his basement waiting to blow a 200 people to bits?
I know the idea of marching to your own drum seems so romanticized. Reality is that that discrimination in the workplace is real. I’m not living in a fantasy world where I believe that there aren’t people of all ethnicities who will not call an applicant or even give his resume consideration because of his name. I know the reality is that most of our children will have to work for somebody at some point in their lives.
But I also know that assimilation has gotten us nothing. I know that we suffer little indignities everyday. I know that when Zimmerman saw a black child walking at night, he didn’t know if he was Trayvon or Trevor, but that he stalked and murdered him just the same. I know that if we groomed our children to build instead of beg that we wouldn’t have to concern ourselves with what ending their names with a long ‘a’ or a ‘q’ would mean. I know that we’ve straightened our hair, lightened our voices and smiled when we were dying inside and we’re still passed over for jobs and slaughtered like cattle.
Assimilation is the ally of oppression. It concedes to the ideals of the dominant group. It mutesindividuality and watches the sheep fall in line. It pats white supremacy on the back for a job well done as it marches onward and upward.
I wish I could have a do over on answering my coworker’s question. I’d tell her with a straight face and satisfied heart, “It’s a fuck you to respectability and assimilation. It’s about time, don’t you think?”