This is a post about microaggressions. Except I hate calling them that, much for the same reason that people hate the term “alt-right.” I’d rather call these things what they are…some b***s***.
My name is Portia. And for reasons that I sometimes understand (but mostly don’t), people have a hell of a time pronouncing my name. This is not about that. This post (venting session) is about those (always white) people who know exactly what my name is, where it is from, and feel the need to educate me about it.
Portia is of Latin origin, meaning “successful pleader.” (Becoming an attorney was apparently inevitable.) Portia was also a character (two, actually) in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Julius Caesar, though the real woman who the character in the latter was named after actually spelled her name Porcia.
Upon introduction, sometimes I get a direct, “Do you know where that’s from?” Sometimes it is an immediate lecture, usually only on Merchant of Venice because these people are generally not as well versed in Shakespeare as they think they are. Other times it’s a more insulting exchange that goes something like this:
“Oh, lovely name. It’s Shakespeare, you know.” (This is never a question.)
“Yes, I know.” (Unsettling surprise.)
“What play?” (As if it’s a quiz.)
(I reluctantly play along, which always catches the asker even further off-guard.)
Here’s why these common interactions irritate me to the core. The general shock that people exhibit in response to the fact that I know the origin of my name is offensive. While people seem to think that Black parents just make up any old name for their children, I assure you that is not the case. (Some do, but parents do, not just Black parents.) Black parents are entirely capable of choosing a name that holds meaning relevant to them and naming their child accordingly.
Occasionally these names may come from something that white people have long coveted, like Shakespeare. I get that 45 would lead you to believe that Black people are walking around ignorant because our schools are “no good.” However, even in these (not always failing) schools students of color across the country learn Shakespeare. Given that Shakespeare is explicitly mentioned in Common Core standards, this will likely be true for the foreseeable future. So it should not be surprising that: a) a Black child was named after a Shakespearean character, and b) said child (now adult) named after said Shakespearean character KNOWS the story of this character.
This is only surprising if you subscribe to one or more variations of the following assumptions couched in ignorance:
- Black people don’t read.
- Black people don’t understand what they read on the rare occasions that they do.
- Black parents name their kids after cars and liquor and other things glorified by rap videos. (Amazingly this belief seems to overlook that parents of people in my age bracket named us before the proliferation of videos of this nature.)
- Occasionally while naming their children after things glorified in music videos they spell it wrong and accidentally spell cars like Shakespearean characters that they were too ignorant to know of through reading because… (see “1”).
- Black people only use the internet for social media, YouTube, and Worldstar.
- Even if Black people use the internet for purposes other than social media, YouTube, and Worldstar, they don’t read, and don’t understand on the rare occasions that they do because… (see “1”).
All of these are offensive and make just about any literary lecture on the origin of my name, well… some b***s***.
by: Portia Allen-Kyle