Que lleva un nombre (What’s in a name)


She couldn’t get over the “u” and couldn’t get her tongue in gear to roll over the “r”. Moreeseeoh. That’s how my name came out of her mouth and it sounded like murder, and every time she tried to say it again it was like she killed a little more of me off. She then took to butchering it, excising and slashing letters out until she was left with just the “M” and the “o.” Mo. It would be weeks before I would find out her name, but within moments of meeting me at my high school orientation she had pulled from me my name like a tumor too ethnic for my own survival. I had to be transmuted, changed, recast, and re-read for my historically White and wealthy southeastern Pennsylvania prep school to make sense of me, to welcome me.

I was an Albert G. Oliver scholar; one of about thirty Black and/or Latino students from New York City trained and groomed to be competitive applicants for the country’s most elite, storied, and prestigious private schools. Fearing the spiral of divestment, tracking, and policing that has characterized the New York City public school system, I jumped at the opportunity of securing a future I knew I could never have in Harlem. I lied to my mother about the two-year program, fearing what she would think of me if I told her I wanted to-needed to-leave. When the time came to visit schools I, then twelve maybe thirteen years old, had to tell my mother what I had been up to. After a round of tears and hugs we went forward, together, excited by how life-changing getting into one of these schools would be…

It took us almost four hours to get to Westtown. We stuffed what little I had into two duffle bags and slung them across our backs and made our way to Penn Station. It took us three trains and a car ride to get to school. I showed up on the sprawling verdant campus, and as I pulled my belongings from the trunk was immediately taken aback by the sea of white faces. Never before had I been around so many White folks and I was blown away by all they carried; suits, fancy sports equipment, dorm room decorations, furniture…Later that day I had my name taken from me.

I became Mo, an avatar, the person who didn’t ax anyone questions, never failed to hinge ing’s onto the end of words and traded in his Jordans for boat shoes. This was a survival strategy, a tenuous one at best. My four years at Westtown, which were undoubtedly life altering, constituted a brutal education in the violence of White supremacy. I knew there were reasons I often felt like a bystander in my own school, paradoxically invisible and hypervisible all at the same time. What I lacked was the language to make sense of my experiences, a language I started to find in the thinking of Du Bois, Carmichael, X, Kincaid, and hooks.

***

Moreeseeoh!

It’s just Reece man

I had become well practiced at taking up new names and crafting personalities, temperaments, and predispositions that came along with them. College was an endless masquerade. Reece, like Mo, was given to me but I’ve been Reece for so long now I can’t even remember its origins. I’ve used Reece to make myself intelligible and passable in historically White environments. Reece hides fear, rage, and disappointment behind a veneer of collected intellectualism, reservation, and good humor. When I get a moment of solitude, a moment to breathe, I take Reece off. Every time I come undone, splintering and disjoining like a chest over stuffed and waterlogged, too damaged to secure the things that have been entrusted to it. It takes time to get it together. Sometimes I wore Reece like a salted and festering wound, reminding people-those who would listen to me anyways- of the lengths to which I would go to make it through a single day, and the deep history of violence and degradation at the hands of White supremacy someone would have to reckon with to get to know me intimately. Those unwilling to deal with those histories got Reece, who can at best be thought of as a partial truth.

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