Unfortunately and ironically, that was the first and last time a white person made a comment about my name. Black people from all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds continue to remind me of the blunder [my mother] made 27 years ago.Shenequa Golding has all kinds of first world problems. White people ordering fettuccine in Italian restaurants ask her how many kids she has. Cute black guys in malls say she's too pretty to be a Shenequa. Though she has been one all her life, she doesn't know what a Shenequa looks like.* She probably doesn't even know that Ellen Cleghorne, who played the character Queen Shenequa on SNL, is from Brooklyn, too. In spite of all that, she wants you to know that, fuck you very much, she's not ghetto,** even if her mom was and bequeathed her a name from the Ghetto Name Generator.
About three years back, I met this cutie in the mall. We started talking and just before Thanksgiving, he invited me over to meet his parents. When I walked in, comments such as “You don’t look like a Shenequa.” or “You’re too pretty to be named Shenequa” were all I kept hearing.
I swallowed my anger and laughed it off. But I was pissed! What exactly does a Shenequa look like? I bet they were thinking I was a bubble gum poppin’, neck rollin’, weave pattin’ ghetto girl, but I’m not.
Now I realize that [stereotype alert!] when women share their problems in public, they are generally not looking for solutions to those problems, but for attention and sympathy. They want someone to say, "It's ok, Shenequa, the whole world is wrong on this, and you're a strong, independent woman and not at all a future cat collector." Unfortunately, I don't have that kind of sympathy, so I'd rather propose a solution to all the unfairness Shenequa finds in the world. Here it is: change your name.
I'm quite serious. In addition to developing a thicker skin,*** the best thing Shenequa can do to solve this problem is to go by her middle name, Adrien. You see, when the whole world is against something about you, when black and white and red and yellow disdain some attribute that you desperately cling to, you really have only two potential solutions: you can change yourself or you can change the world. Changing yourself is much easier.
Of course, telling a Shenequa that she ought to change her name to something less black means I'm the guy holding the whip and yelling "Toby" at Kunte Kinte. I even changed my daughters' names from the same kinds of made-up words to Tabitha and Molly for some of the same reasons: no one is going to throw their resumes in the trash because their names scream, "My mother refused to allow me to integrate into mainstream American society."**** So maybe it's racist to suggest that one change her name if that name could potentially if unfairly cause problems, because only black people would have to do so.
Except that it's not only black people, much less only black women. Exhibit #1: the whitest guy in America. Willard Romney realized early that his parents had dubbed him with an absolute turd of a name. Sure, no one ever ran for president calling himself "Mitt," but it's probably fair to say that had Willard stubbornly held onto his given name under the theory that the world should accept his idiotic moniker without question, he'd probably still be drawing flowcharts for the Boston Consulting Group. Names have consequences.
Shenequa, you're an adult. If your mother made a blunder 27 years ago, it is fully within your power to rectify it. You're smart, you write well, and you're a college grad, though I pray to God you worked all those hours for a diploma in science or technology and not anything with "studies" in the title. You can put the problem behind you, or you can cling to that fleeting sense of moral superiority that comes from being the perpetually offended party.***** Because you have the power, you have the freedom to make a choice and the responsibility to live with its consequences. So what's it going to be, Shenequa? Or should I say, Adrien?
* There's an easy way to find out.
** I believe her exact words were, "And to those who take issue with our names, please take your concerns up with my two well-manicured middle fingers."
*** Because if she's telling the story correctly, Mr. Whitebread didn't make a comment about her name; he merely had trouble pronouncing what was probably to him a previously-unencountered trio of syllables. Then he asked her a question about her kids. Take a census of women who work restaurant day shifts and you'll find many of them have kids and like to talk about them. He was making small talk, and Shenequa slew the newborn conversation with an icicle.
**** It's kind of funny. In the main hallway that leads to my new office in the business college sits a display of the members of the MBA association. Not only are 90% of them foreign students, but most of them sport names like Rex and Sandy. Now Yu-Shan Huang is a friend of mine, and I know for a fact that her real name is not Sandy; she's making an effort to fit in. And succeeding by the looks of it.
***** Itself a drug, the emotional rush of the offense taken is harder to kick than heroin. Anger is addictive as hell, which is not really all that much of a coincidence.