A Type of Different Part 3: “my name”

In elementary, I decided at school that I would go by the name my family calls me…Becky.  This was the nickname I’m called because of my middle name.  This name assisted in me also being called “white” as well.  If you remember reading A Type of Different Pt.1″acting like a white girl”, I explain how I was told that I spoke and acted like a white girl.  Well, my name didn’t help at all.  It just added more fuel to my white flames.  When my family moved to another state, I decided to go by my birth name, Katherine.  This was to end any name confusion with my school records.  But, oh yeah, Katherine, like Becky, is a “white name” too.  It didn’t matter that I was named after my black grandmother. None of my names would ever be black enough. Not even my last name could alert anyone to my race.  It was “iffy”.  It was racially ambiguous; so I could be black or white or possibly Asian.

I noticed during this time that most of the names my black female classmates had seemed to rhyme… Felicia, Iesha, LaToya, LaTanya, LaTasha, Kendra, Valeria, Shayna, Shawna, LaQuander (with the silent r on the end, and pronounced la-quan-duh), Kenya, Nyeisha, Dametria, DeShaunte’(pronounced de-shawn-tay), Quanasier (pronounced quaw-nay-see-ir) etc.  None of my names could compete with the blackness in those strong African-esque names.  I can just smell the African Jollof being made when I say those names.  I can hear the lions roaring and the antelope running in fear across the African Savannah.  I can see the Meerkats, crying out the alarm that a cheetah is nearby.  I can see the eyes of a giraffe peeking through the tall trees…too much?  Okay, moving on…. I liked my name, but I would sometimes wonder why my mom just couldn’t name me something else.  A name like the many black girls I would encounter, that ended with an -uh or an -ay sound.  Again, I just wanted to blend in.  My name also made me a type of different.

By the time I was a junior year in high school, I didn’t care if I was teased for my name.  I had begun to find a strength in myself, and I was finally proud of wearing the name Katherine.  Sadly, my grandmother’s recent passing also caused me to no longer care if my name wasn’t racially appealing or expected, by the ignorant many.  One guy tried to tell me, that it was too white.  My response to him was, “…and Lewis is considered just a black name? Katherine will be fine.  If it’s too long for you to say, you can call me Kat”.  My grandmother was lovingly called Kat, by family, friends, and associates, and I didn’t mind being reminded of her in this way.  Once some friends heard my mom calling me Becky, and…let’s just say the rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot was brought up a lot.  There’s a lot of irony regarding me and his most popular song. #insidejokes  Most importantly, none of these classmates cared about my name.  They dug me for me.

In college, there were times when I told my name to some people, and I could see the look of surprise on their face.  I’ve only seen this with my vanilla brothers and sisters.  They try to hide it, but it’s always in their eyes….  I remember back in 2005 when I was student teaching. I decided to meet the teacher I would be mentored by early, so we could put face to name before our first day together.  I went to the school and introduced myself to her.  “Hi, I’m Katherine ________. Nice to meet you!”   Her eyes and her face gave it away.  She hesitantly responded back, with a polite hello and name introduction.  Inside I laughed at her shock of finding out that Katherine can be a black girl’s name too.

About a year later, I was working at a credit union.  One of the loan officers was named LaBlenda.  Every time she would assist someone, they would ask her if her parents made her name up.  She would politely say “yep” and proceed with asking the customer what they needed.  She was a white lady whose name wasn’t Sarah or Jennifer or any stereotypical “white name”.  She wasn’t supposed to have such a, let’s just say, “creative” name like LaBlenda.  That was for someone that looked more like me right?  One day, I jokingly told her, “The way society is, we should switch names”.  She laughed and told me how she always received stares when she would reveal her name. She told me how some would be bold enough to say, “Wow, your parents didn’t care about you when they named you did they”.  She would reply back saying, “Actually they did care and wanted to give me a name they knew no one else would ever have and would never be forgotten”.  Her name is one of the few names I remember from working there.

Now that I am married and use my husband’s surname, I still get those surprise looks.  People expect a 90 year old white lady to be smiling and shaking their hand, but nope.  It’s just me!  Bronze skinned with my kinky, curly, coily hair reaching high into the heavens.  My name is no longer racially ambiguous…It really doesn’t “match” the skin I’m in, but apparently it never did.  I will never hear my name in a song about all the pretty girls being invited to a party or in Mambo #5, because Katherine is also not a commonly popular name, but that’s okay.  I just add it to those songs on my own.  Like my name and my namesake, I’m classic and beautiful.  No matter anyone’s ignorant assumptions about what my name should be.  I am wonderfully, a type of different.

Oh yeah, Thank you Na-Na for forcing, I mean, strongly encouraging my mom to name me after you.  Thank you mom and dad for complying with it.  This has made me a type of different.

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Click below to Read Part 1:  A Type of Different “acting like a white girl”


Click below to Read Part 2: A Type of Different “black bitch”


Featured image from CNN.com


A Type of Different: Pt.2 “black bitch”

Catching the bus to and from school, was still new to me.  I can’t remember if the movie Forrest Gump had come out yet, but walking on the bus, I would always have the “You can’t sit here…this seat is taken” experience.  Where no one wants to make eye contact for fear you would try to sit next to them. 

Seventh Grade.  I was very insecure and surrounded by newness everywhere I looked. That summer, my family moved to Texas. I was coming to a new state which meant I would be new at school.  I would again learn that just being me, was still sometimes unacceptable.

The bell rang to announce the end of the school day.  I don’t know why, but I would always end up being one of the last people to get on the bus. Catching the bus to and from school, was still new to me.  I can’t remember if the movie Forrest Gump had come out yet, but walking on the bus, I would always have the “You can’t sit here…this seat is taken” experience.  Where no one wants to make eye contact for fear you would try to sit next to them.  Everyone wanted a window seat, and I preferred to not have to sit on the back of the bus.  The “bad kids” sat there.  I wanted as little attention as I could possibly have.

This was in the mid-nineties, so this was when a lot of kids were “goth/emo/grunge”.  You know, the skateboarders that wore all black everything, listening to Green Day and Red Hot Chili Peppers, while trying to prove that they “didn’t care” that no one understood why they wore black eyeliner.  I lived in a Dallas suburb, so  these kids were on the bus too.  They sat in the back with the “bad kids”.  They were unfamiliar to me, so I was uneasy about them.  These were the bullies I saw on Nickelodeon and on Saturday Morning shows.  They too were a type of different!

Anyway, this one particular day, I was stepping on to the bus, late, and no one was eager for me to sit next to them.  There was no eye-contact, just Forrest Gump bus seat disappointment.  I was now in the back and had to do the turn around to see if I missed a seat check.  By now the bus driver was yelling for me to find a seat so we could leave.  This meant frustrated student eyes glaring at me. Noticing all of my visible flaws.  I wasn’t going to go back up to the front, so I had to sit next to one of the skateboarder kids in the back.  He seemed safe enough.  I saw him every day on the bus and we had 7thgrade math together too.  I didn’t know his name, but I was familiar with him.  So I asked him if I could sit next to him.  He rolled his eyes, but as he was scooting over he mumbled to himself.  Now, I don’t know if he wanted me to hear what he said or if he was even aware that he didn’t mumble in a low enough voice, but ya girl heard him loud and clear.

Here’s what happened.  (Actions are included for better understanding)

Me: Can I sit here? (very nervous and embarrassed)

him: (looks toward the front to see if there is somewhere else I can go)

Me: There’s nowhere else for me to sit.

him: (rolls eyes and scoots over and mumbles) Black Bitch.

Me: (sitting down, looking over to him) What did you call me? Boy, don’t you ever call me that again!——–At this point, the little insecure Katherine was gone, and the “I ain’t playin wit’chu” Kat was here. Nahla had appeared.  While I was telling him not to ever call me that again, my right hand had raised up and slammed his face against the window and held it with assurance, force, and ferocity and held it there.

Katherine was no longer desiring invisibility, she would be heard by any means necessary!  When I gave my hand permission to release his face, he was a changed boy…physically and psychologically.  Physically he was changed because he now had a two-toned color face, white and red…peppermint boy! I believe he was changed psychologically because he never even made eye contact with me for the rest of the ride and did NOTHING to defend himself during or after the incident.  He no longer spoke with his friend that he had been talking to on the opposite side of the bus prior to me having to sit next to him.  Even when he got off at his stop.  I thought he would look my way while walking to his home and give some threat, but he didn’t.   We never had any other type of interaction with each other.  I want to believe that the next time he decided to utter distasteful words, to anyone, he would think twice about it.  We both had experienced a shock and awe moment.

He had truly hurt my feelings.  He didn’t just call me a bitch, but a BLACK bitch.  It was meant to be lower than a female dog. He was attempting to degrade me to the lowest low, all because I sat by him.  We had never had any interactions before.  This was the first time, we had even spoke to each other. I’m not so sure I would have reacted the same if he had left the Black part out.  That’s what caused me to snap!  In my mind, it was like he had just called me a nigger.  I had never been called such a thing before, at least not to my knowledge. I was a nice person…I wasn’t mean to people.  As I mentioned before, I was the type that tried to be invisible by staying to myself.  At that time, I spoke only when spoken to.  I was new to this school/state and I already didn’t feel like I was good enough.  I didn’t want to cause problems or be a part of any problems.

My reaction to him, was completely unexpected.  Unfortunately, I was one of those kids that allowed others to step on me. I had taken a lot of things from people growing up.  I would eventually get to the point where I would speak up for myself.  This was my first time doing this.  I was the person that was more concerned with not offending others, even if I was being offended….

This was now my second racial issue and again, someone had a problem with me being me.  This time, it was because of the Bronze skin I was in.  I never said anything to him about how he looked in his eyeliner or the fact he lived in an old dirty trailer park. I never laughed at him when he tripped over his extremely wide legged “JNCO” jeans walking on to the bus, or the dirty clothes that he wore to school.  I had plenty of opportunities to bring light to what was unavoidable.

Most times when people see others that are different than them, they judge, generalize, and make ignorant assumptions. He was different than anything I had been exposed to and I chose not to judge him for any of the things I noticed about him.  That just wasn’t enough to protect me.  My race was inferior to his, so my type of different was worse.  It was less than.  It was worth being judged and insulted.  I just needed a place to sit on the bus.

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Featured Image: (Centre of the pack in 2017 – George Meyer, Singita)

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