Dear Little Black Boy and Girl; You’re Perfect Just the Way You Are
I read this week about a prominent teacher in Chicago telling little black boys they had a greater chance at success in life if they conformed. Cut their hair, have names that are more pronounceable, be more humble. If you do these things you’ll get people to like you more; give you more opportunities. You know what I’ve learned, stop asking people for opportunities and start taking them.
I grew up going to the largest African American school district in the country. North Forest ISD located on the Northeast side of Houston, TX. All my teachers were black, the parents, the students, the coaches. Demez felt like a normal name. It wasn’t until I started applying for colleges that I realized it wasn’t so normal. It wasn’t until my first summer interning for an engineering company and everyone wanted to call me D that I started to notice, “maybe my name is different.”
There isn’t one meeting I walk into or one email I send where someone doesn’t ask how to pronounce my name. Even though we live in a global society where Africans, Asians, Hispanics all have names that aren’t “traditional American.” Though yet and still my name is “unique.”
I learned early on something that has stayed with me every day since. People will look for reasons not to like you, not to give you the job, not to want to be impressed by you. I don’t care if you cut your dreads or change Demez White to D. White. I don’t care if you come to work on time every day and never make a mistake. You can’t conform or blend in enough. The only way they respect you is to be impressive. Is for you to wear your confidence, to know what you’re doing. To be professional and to not back down from ignorance but to face it head on.
The first time I sent my novel to a publisher they told me it was really good. In the next paragraph they told me that if I changed writing name to D. White or David White I could get more of a readership. At that moment I thought, “I’m going to have a son one day and I want to take his little hand and take him to Barnes and Noble or sit him on my lap while we’re online. I want to show him the books his father wrote and I don’t want to have to explain to him why my name isn’t on those books.” Our little black boys and girls are different from how we were but different styles, different lingo, it shouldn’t take away from how amazing they are. If only we nurture them and stop trying to teach them to fall in line.
You can be whoever you want to be. No matter your size, height, color, hair style or financial upbringing. You can get into the college you want to get into no matter your name, no matter your hairstyle, you just have to want to work for it. There are going to be people that look like you and people that look like complete strangers that will tell you otherwise. Don’t listen to them. Let your creativity flourish and let it mold you to be everything I believe you can be.
I thought I was a bright child. I never got in trouble, made great grades. When I was in the 9th grade I remember staying up late watching a Chris Rock stand up special. I’ll never forget what he said in a joke, “If you have a name where people have to double take to ask you how to pronounce it, you’re ghetto. If you call your grandma mama, you’re ghetto. If you can’t call your daddy on the phone because you don’t know his number, you’re ghetto.” I remembered laughing and then I remembered I fell into all three of those categories. I didn’t feel ghetto, I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong but in that moment I felt sad that I didn’t have a regular name. That I didn’t go on summer vacations with my mom and dad.
My name is Demez, I’m the product of an 18 year old mother, no father. I was raised by my grandparents and went to one of the worst high schools in the State of Texas. I failed out of college my first year and almost failed out of Community College. I allowed people to call me D when I first started working because I thought Demez was ghetto. I didn’t have a bank account until I was 21 and my credit was in ruins by the time I was 24. I didn’t remotely get my life together or start being proud of where I came from or who I am until I was almost 30. I tell you this because if I can’t make the mistakes I made and come from where I came from at this age. Then I know you can at 15, 16, 18. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your name or hairstyle or origins make you less than. Don’t ever believe that you’ve messed up so much, that you can’t come back from that. I promise you; you can.