Mwanamke Hasira

I’ve been mad at my mother for 40 years for so many things and rightly so.
But nothing that she has done has been worse, or has had a longer effect
Than my name.
Still to this day when I Interview, I put on resumes TL.
Still to this day all of my books are penned by TL.
I have dated people for years who never called me by my real name because I never told it to them.
I couldn’t imagine anyone saying it sweetly during a passionate moment.
I have fumed, like, what was wrong with her in the 70’s?
Why did she purposely make living so much harder for me than it needed to be?
And what changed for her in the 80’s that she gave my younger sisters such “normal” names?
I am the eldest daughter.
I should have been Victoria, or Alexandria or anything but Tomika LeShawn.
My sisters were blessed with names like Erica and Cynthia. Nothing to be afraid of, just like everyone else.
But she named me after some black jungle cat.
She named me after some drum rhythm during a high moment at some festival.
She named me when she was 18 and didn’t know any better.
Some of you understand what it is like to have someone see your name written down and automatically discard you as an intellectual or a creative simply because of your name. They assume that they know everything that there is to know about you because of your name. You can’t hide with a name like mine.
I never understood why she did this to me and not them, why she hated me so much and I have been upset at it ever since.
It puts a huge chip on your shoulder when you have an unusual name.
It gives you something to prove for the rest of your life.
It makes you want to be bigger, be badder, be stronger, be everything that no one expects from a Tomika.
It makes you want to hear people apologize for ever doubting you.
And maybe that is why she gave it to me.
Maybe in 1975 she had hoped that someday things would be different and little brown girls didn’t have to be ashamed that they didn’t have straight blonde hair, and silver spoons.
Maybe she thought that eventually, we could all celebrate who we were and where we were from together, respecting our ancestry with our names and standing up while we stood out.
I have felt nothing but shame for my name, a name whose history I cannot trace, gibberish sounds shoved together to evoke a feeling of nothing more than inner city blackness in America.
But look what having a name I hated has done for me- I have not rested on my laurels, I wake up everyday and kick ass, I am the best at what I do and sought out all over the country on how to do it better by young people willing to learn.
I have published, raised a great child and traveled the world.
I am Tomika LeShawn.
I don’t have to be embarrassed about that anymore.
I almost hope, perhaps like my mother did, that years from now there will be a whole host of other fantastic, beautiful, talented, strong, creative, innovative women who share the same name.
And they will only be that if the few of us who have the name, use that power of being different to motivate us instead of frighten us.
I finally heard the Johnny Cash song, A Boy Named Sue and I immediately knew how Sue felt. What I didn’t understand was why Sue’s father had named him that. And the song doesn’t end with Sue having a revelation; like I did because believe it or not Tomika LeShawn is enlightened, alive and grateful.
Don’t act like you don’t see me.
Don’t keep underestimating me.
I can and will do everything that I want to and I will no longer be ashamed of who I am or where I come from.
I’m right here at your fancy table, in your corporate boardroom, on your yacht sailing the ocean blue and my name has not changed.
I’ve been mad at my mother for 40 years for so many things.Maybe, if I keep trying, one day, I will understand her.
Taking on a different point of view has allowed my name to become one less thing.
You will respect me now.
You will remember me forever.

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