Tag Archives stereotypes

Growing Up “Keisha” in a World of Ashleys and Joshes

In 7th grade, I pleaded with my mother to let me change my name to one less “black.” I didn’t use those words exactly, but I’d gleaned by then that, just like my dark skin, my name was considered inferior somehow. We’d just moved to Texas from Georgia where I’d experienced for the first time the anguish and confusion of being the only black girl in my “gifted and talented” classes full of white kids. I was in the midst of my racial identity crisis.

My mom took me and my sister to an enrollment assessment a few weeks before the school year began. As she checked boxes on forms and took notes, the counselor asked me, “Do you have a nickname you’d like to go by?”

Seeing this as an opportunity to create a new identity from the start, my eyes danced as I answered: “Yes! My nickname is Amy.”

She gave me a curious look, no doubt wondering how you get “Amy” from “Keisha,” then glanced at my mom, who pursed her lips and said firmly, “She doesn’t have a nickname. It’s just Keisha.”

I folded my arms across my chest, slid down in my chair and pouted. There went my chance to have a wonderful life as a black Amy. Keisha it would be. Me and my “black” name. Why had my parents saddled me with this glaringly “ethnic” moniker? My three sisters all have French names!

Recently on the talk show that I hope is in its ninth life aka The View, co-host Raven- “I am from every continent in Africa, except for one” Symoné spouted:

Just to bring it back, can we take back “racist” and say “discriminatory,” because I think that’s a better word. And I am very discriminatory against words like the ones that they were saying in the video. I’m not about to hire you if your name is Watermelondrea. It’s just not going to happen. I’m not going to hire you.

There's nothing wrong with having a "black" name Raven-Symone | The Girl Next Door is Black
source

Raven, dear badly needing to have your mind decolonized Raven, have you ever wondered why we live in a world where words like “white” and “light” connote purity, but “black” and “dark” signify evil? A world where the “black” people have been continually subjugated merely for existing with “dark” skin? The same world in which names popular among “black” people, like Sheniqua, LaShonda, Terrell or DeAndre are derided, but names popular with the “white” people such as Susan, Becky, Josh and Tanner are respected?

As mentioned in this excellent piece from Gadfly on the Wall, black American names are often influenced by several factors including religious, historical, political, cultural and just plain old creative (and last I checked, creativity is laudable).

My own name is believed to derive from the biblical name “Keziah.” I’m eternally grateful to my parents for refusing to let me discard my name. A name which I’ve grown to love and wouldn’t change for anything.

There's nothing wrong with having a "black" name like Keisha| The Girl Next Door is Black
“Keisha” reached its height of popularity in the mid-1970s | source

I’ve seen the statistics, I’ve read Freakonomics and I know some people discriminate against those of us with so-called “black” (or pejoratively: “ghetto”) names because of their prejudices. What else is new? If it’s not my skin color that’s too dark, it’s my hair that’s too nappy or unprofessional, my nose is too wide, or my name that’s too black.

I learned a while ago to stop trying to change myself to fit European standards in search of acceptance. I like “Keisha.” What Keisha is, is what I make of it. My name doesn’t hold me back. You know what holds people back? Trying to be someone they’re not, to please and gain approval from others.

I am not interested in befriending, spending time around,  nor working with people who would dismiss me without knowing me solely due to my name – which I didn’t even have any involvement in selecting. You become who you surround yourself with and I’ll pass on ignorance.

When I did the Jesse Lee Peterson show earlier this year, toward the end of the show, a white man who called in asked me to repeat my name. When I did, he replied with a snide chuckle, “Keisha? Oh that’s a good one” and then proceeded to try to put me in my place. I don’t need approval from the likes of him. He can keep his nose in the air. The molecules he’s breathing must smell foul with the stench of ignorance.

Again: there is nothing inherently wrong with being “black.” It’s a skin color. The meaning is human-infused. Likewise, there’s nothing inherently wrong about black culture. Our view of blackness is influenced by white supremacy which needs anti-blackness to survive.

For Raven’s sake, I hope she learns from this. There are people who will judge her for being a black lesbian with a shocking-pink birdhawk, dating a woman named AzMarie, but I will only be judging her for the ridiculous words that continue to spew from her mouth.

There's nothing wrong with having a "black" name Raven-Symone | The Girl Next Door is Black

To the Keishas, Jamals, LaKeishas, Marquis’, Sheniquas, Tyrells, Ebonys, Darius’, Beyonces, Maliks and yes, Watermelondreas, embrace your name. Never let anyone make you feel you’re less than for being given the name you have.

What do you think? Do you agree with Raven or think she’s wrong? Have you been discriminated against because of your name?

 

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As seen on For Harriet.

Don’t Be That Insensitive Jackhole

On Sunday, after the Academy Awards, Giuliana Rancic, co-host of E!’s Fashion Police, made a few contentious comments in reference to the locs worn at the ceremony by 18-year old actress/singer Zendaya.

In a previous post, I touched on the complicated relationship many black women have with their hair. I shared that in the present day black women have faced reprimands and job dismissals for daring to wear their hair in natural styles. Giuliana’s language touched a sensitive nerve in many, including Zendaya who responded in an eloquently worded message posted on Instagram.

Many on Twitter objected to Giuliana’s comments with Vine clips of the episode retweeted like crazy. There were also the expected oppositional replies that disregarded Zendaya’s feelings. 

These are the fiery retorts that almost inevitably materialize when someone objects to language steeped in ignorance, bigotry, prejudice, racism, sexism or many other -isms.

A quick scan of user photos when I searched Twitter for “Zendaya, sensitive” showed that many of the people instructing Zendaya to “stop crying” aren’t the ones likely to be impacted by negative hair stereotypes. Yet, they think they’re qualified to tell Zendaya how to feel and respond. They haven’t lived her life, but they have all kinds of opinions about it.

Who is anyone else to decide how another person should feel and react to their environment? Who are any of us to tell someone else they are being too sensitive? Why is it often that the folks not directly affected have the most to say about others’ sensitivities?

Giuliana issued a sincere and adult public apology to Zendaya, the type of which we rarely see when a celebrity atones for a public snafu. She accepted responsibility for her words. She referenced listening and learning why her comment offended instead of focusing on her intent and defending herself.

Thinking Allowed Written on Brick Wall from Don't Be That Insensitive JackholeInstead of deriding other people for being too sensitive, we should ask ourselves whether we’re being sensitive enough.

As someone who’s had a lifetime of people telling me that my own feelings and experiences are invalid because they don’t match the narrative of the dominant culture or viewpoint, my skin is pretty damn thick. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t last very long in this America where I am at a disadvantage from the jump just by being in the body of a black woman. A society that tells me that my gender is weaker, too emotional; my hair too nappy, my skin too dark, nose too wide, intelligence limited. To withstand years upon years of ignorance directed my way or anyone else who shares the designation “female” or “black.” A society that tells me I have to act, speak or dress a certain manner just to be respected. If I’m offended by someone coming at me with ignorant nonsense, it’s not because I’m weak. The “strong black woman” stereotype didn’t come from nowhere.

We have to get better at practicing empathy. We have to become comfortable with the idea that we may not always be qualified to speak intelligently on a subject. It’s okay sometimes to stop talking and typing and just listen. To dig deeper and THINK about why someone might be offended. We shouldn’t dismiss other people’s emotions and thoughts as less valid than our own. None of us is better than the other, even those born into royalty, wealth or the dominant ethnic group or gender.

Just because you’re not offended, doesn’t mean another person isn’t and doesn’t have the right to be. Not a one of us is the center of the universe.

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?

 

Henry David Thoreau

The Dangers of Dancing While Black

Multi-Colored Disco Dance Floor
Source

“Go Keisha! Go Keisha!”

It’s a college party. I’m in a Soul Train line, surrounded mostly by white people, and it’s my turn to dance. A popular rap song is blasting from a giant stereo and people are losing their collective shit, arms flailing, bouncing up, down and around, shout-rapping (“shrapping?”) along but skipping the word “nigga”, some glancing at me out of the corner of their eyes. An expression that says, “See? I didn’t say it! Aren’t you proud?”  “

God. I have to dance. I can feel the weight of their expectations. They are here for the entertainment. I hate these damn lines. How many people here even watched Soul Train? Where are the other two black people at this party? Why the fuck am I out here alone? Those fools are probably hiding. They knew

I plaster a big smile on my face, take a deep breath, and begin swaying, hands in the hair, trying to look simultaneously sexy – there are cute boys here after all – and hip-hoppy. As I near the end of the line I take in everyone’s gaze, their chants slowing with each step I take. The other two black people have reappeared. I can sense their second-hand embarrassment. I bet they can even dance too! Why me?! A sloppy-drunk guy licks his lips at me.  Disappointment hangs in the air. Black girl can’t dance? I have failed.

Screw you guys. My dancing is fine, you all need to lower your expectations! 

Variations of this scenario are peppered throughout my personal black history. Black people have a reputation for being great dancers. The bar is raised for us. I have never been one of those fab dancing black folk, though I love to dance. I’ve danced for as long as I can remember. I took my first dance class when I was 6, in Brooklyn, with Ms. Francine. It didn’t last very long. I later asked why I stopped taking ballet classes and “someone” told me that I “wasn’t very good” and so it made me unhappy.

Text goes here
I am really trying!

I should have learned then and just given up public dancing. But, as I have little recollection of this sentiment – being unhappy in ballet class – I can only assume that I found my lack of talent for ballet so traumatizing that I had to suppress the painful memories, leaving only the shiny happy moments in the quick recall bin of my memory bank. Instead, for years, I’ve suffered through the scrutiny of dancing while black in hip hop dance classes, a jazz dance class in college where I’m pretty sure my teacher wanted to cry in disbelief – it takes me forever to learn choreography; I couldn’t even get an ‘A’ in that freaking class – as well as parties and anytime a new dance craze mesmerizes the country and people assume I can teach them how do it. I can’t teach you how to Dougie either! Go ask YouTube!

Last year, at a friend’s wedding, drunk on free-flowing champagne – the videographer paid me extra attention and kept bringing me drinks; I’m not gonna lie, I enjoyed the attention and he was cute – I could not stay off the dance floor. My partying nights are few and far between these days, so I hadn’t danced in what felt like a decade but was probably closer to six months. I feel alive when I’m dancing to a fun song with a high energy beat. It’s the closest I get to a meditative state since I can never seem to quiet my mind long enough to actually meditate meditate. If I’m having a bad day, dancing it out at home alone to Beyoncé, like I have no shame, like I think I could ever come close to approximating the sexiness she oozes as her body moves like a sultry snake, it reinvigorates me.

My friend’s boyfriend was also a fixture on the dance floor. As I danced near him during one song, he yelled over the music to me, “C’MON, GIRL. SHAKE THAT GHETTO BOOTY!”

I'm "Harlem Shaking" (new version, not old)
At my friend’s wedding last year. I was a bridesmaid. I’m “Harlem Shaking” (new version, not old) Photo cr: Nathan Nowack Photography

Swerve.

Oh life. The situations you throw at me, you jokester you!

Let’s see here. It’s my friend’s boyfriend, whom I like and know as a decent, kind human being. I also know that he is South American and their views of race and their cultural history greatly differ from the US’. So, what I’m not going to do is act a fool. It’s my friend’s wedding. I don’t need to get stank. I am a lady.

I raised an eyebrow, half-smiled and yelled back, “I AM FROM THE SUBURBS!” Let’s laugh about it, shall we? 

“WHAT THAT MEANS?”

I AM NOT FROM THE GHETTO. YOU CAN’T SAY THINGS LIKE THAT!”

“OH! C’MON. I KNOW YOU CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT!”

^*)%@^%@)%$!

I wasn’t angry with him. I knew he meant it innocently, but it’s like hearing the same dumbass joke for the 1000th time. It gets old and tired. I just want dance floor liberation! To dance however the hell I want without feeling the pressure of the gaze of dozens of eyes anticipating a live performance straight out of America’s Best Dance Crew. If you’re familiar with that show, you may have noticed that many of the dance crews are Asian. As a matter of fact, many of my Asian friends are better dancers than I am. When I dance too close to them, in comparison it’s that much more obvious that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.

English: The Jabbawockeez: a hip-hop dance crew
The Jabbawockeez: a largely Asian-American, male hip-hop dance crew from Southern California and winners of the first season of America’s Best Dance Crew | Source

Lately, party Keisha has emerged from hibernation and she’s been itching to shake a tail feather. I know I’m for serious when I’m out and starting popping 5-hour energy drinks. There is a direct correlation between the amount of stress I feel at work and the intensity of my need to pop, lock and drop it. These days I wanna dance! I wanna be a Dancing Queen.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a bar with a dance floor, hip hop music playing and me the only black person in the room. I was minding my business, doing my little dance, enjoying the song, getting Into the Grooveand one of the guys with my group chanted to me, “Go, Keisha! Go, Keisha!”

Oh hell no, there’ll be no starting of a dance circle with me in the center. I inched away from him and kept on dancing.

Sometimes I want to dance like a straight fool. Like I’m not worried about steps, rhythm, being sexy, pushing some pelvis gyrating dude off me or twerking for tips, but rather just feeling the music and going with it. I want to get all Duckie to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.” I don’t think that is too much to ask. Freedom from the pressures of dancing while black.

How I Dance Alone