Say My Name


name-tagBy Javacia Harris Bowser

My name is Javacia and for most of my life I have hated my name.

Let’s be frank, my name is REALLY, REALLY black. If you saw my name listed somewhere you’d know I’m a black chick even if my picture weren’t beside it.

Growing up people told me my name was a liability. They told me that because my name is SO BLACK, I would be passed over by certain employers and jobs would be hard to come by.

As a girl, while my friends were thinking of names for their future kids, I would sit in my room jotting down ideas for the pseudonym I would use when I became a published writer. I was disrespectful of my name, calling it “ghetto.” When people had trouble pronouncing my name I apologized as if I and the syllables it took to address me had somehow offended them. When I told people my name and they said, “Well, that’s different,” I felt ashamed. And when they turned to me with a furrowed brow and asked “Do you have a nickname?” I just laughed and said, “Yeah. You can call me J.”

Perhaps I was so insecure about my name because I’ve spent over half my life often being the only black person in the room —in some of my high school classes, in many of my undergrad and graduate school classes, and in my professional life.

Being the only black person in the room has meant fielding questions that often begin with the statement “Javacia, why do black people…” It’s meant constantly being asked, “Can I touch your hair?” and dealing with older white men who jokingly referred to me as their “brown sugar girlfriend” while I was trying to conduct interviews. On top of all this, I have also often found myself surrounded by people from wealthy families —people who never had to figure out how to keep warm in winter when the gas bill couldn’t be paid; people who have never come home from school to find an eviction notice taped to the front door.

It’s because of my family’s money woes that I never thought I’d be a homeowner. But on May 14, 2015 my husband and I bought our first house. Moving day felt like Christmas—or what Christmas must have felt like for kids whose families had money.

That morning when the movers arrived to load up our furniture, I ran down the stairs of our apartment building to greet the two men with the truck. I stuck out my hand to one of the movers and said, “Hi. My name is Javacia.”

And he laughed.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Your name,” he replied, and continued to giggle.

And this man, whose skin was the same shade of brown as mine, reminded me that sharing dark skin doesn’t make two people kin.

And sometimes even your family members are not allies—a lesson I learned when I overheard an uncle say that if his children had been born with darker skin he would have smothered them in the hospital; a lesson I learned when a cousin told me I needed to stop running outside when training for half marathons because the sun was making me too dark; a lesson I learned when an aunt told me I needed to let go of this “natural hair thing” and get a relaxer.

But the Javacia greeting that mover was different. This was not the Javacia who once apologized for her name or wished to change it. This was a new Javacia who knows her name is poetry.

This is the Javacia who is a writer.

When I became a journalist I fell in love with my byline. That “ghetto” name Javacia proudly made its way into the pages of The Seattle Times, The Chicago Sun, USA Today, and half a dozen national magazines.

And when I learned to love my name I also learned to love the girl who carries it.

I learned to love my curly tresses by writing articles on African-American women and the natural hair movement. I learned to love my dark skin by writing about colorism. I learned to be proud of knowing how to make a dollar out of 15 cents by writing about how my parents have instilled in me an unwavering work ethic.

And it all began with writing, with telling my stories and helping other people share theirs, too.

Now I’m on a mission to share this good news, spreading it as if it were the Gospel because indeed God did use writing to save me, to save me from self-hate and self-doubt.

And so See Jane Write, the website and membership organization I created for women who write and blog, is not simply a business; it is a ministry. The networking events I host are communion. The blog posts I publish are virtual evangelical tracts. The informative workshops that I lead I take as seriously as a sermon.

And the word I have is this: Every woman has a story worth sharing, and every woman has the power to write herself back together again.

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