i was chatting to a black grade six girl yesterday afternoon as we struggled through some Afrikaans homework together about Vasco de Gama.
Before we got started with the homework, i asked her what her name is.
She said it for me, followed by the words, “It’s very hard.” She then added her nickname and the english name her sister gave her.
i said her name back to her with a question mark intonation at the end and completely nailed it first time round. It’s really not so hard when you’ve had a bit of a language course and practiced a little bit. She seemed suitably impressed. i said, “It’s really not that hard actually.”
We did some Afrikaans Vasco de Gama.
A while later i looked at her and said, “Do you mind if i tell you something?”
She said, “No!”
i said to her, “You have a beautiful name. Please don’t ever let anyone make you change your name just so that it’s easier for them. People call me ‘Brent’ sometimes and i hate that. In extreme cases i have been called ‘Bread’ or when going as Brett Fish, even ‘Breakfast’. i don’t let them get away with that. And i don’t think you should either.”
She said she thought i was right.
i asked her if someone struggled to say her name, would she prefer that they just used her nickname or would she be okay if they tried it a few times until they got it right. She said she would be okay with someone struggling to get it right.
We did some more Afrikaans Vasco de Gama. She tried to read the word ‘renaissance’ and stumbled over it and gave it a ‘renai-whatever’ vibe. i stopped her and told her how we could break the word down into ren and aye and sans. She klapped it first time.
i felt genuinely educated and inspired and hopeful just by spending an hour with a young lady helping her with her homework and i look forward to our next conversation.
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This is one of the things that makes me the angriest, as small and random as it may seem to some people.
If you as a white person can get your mouth round “short no fun caramel frappuccino”, “colloquial” and “existentialism” then you better start putting in a little bit of effort to learn someone’s name. Even if it makes you feel a little bit embarrassed to have to stumble through one or two tries before you get it right. It is the height of me wanting to vomit on your shoes [and entitlement and rudeness and racism and and and] to expect someone to change their name just so that you can more easily get your tongue around it. [Especially when so many black African names have so much depth and meaning to them and you got your name because it was your grandfather’s middle name or that character on the television that your mom liked so much]
Step Towards. Then repeat.
You may well find a rainbow eventually at the end of that road.
[Someone linked me to this statement by Uzoamaka which i may have been unknowingly inspired by for the frappuccino comment!]