Wrath James White calls me this (only he and one of my uncles call me this). To this day, nicknames make me uneasy or at least uncomfortable. Granted, Wrath’s huge and thus gets away with a lot, but I’ve also begun to come to terms with the idea of nicknames. It doesn’t quite bother me like it used to because he’s like my big brother showing affection – I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t tell a well-intended nickname from a bad one.
Back in fifth grade, I was given the name “Crunch”. Now, I was the only black male in our class and as such, apparently I reminded a few of my mouth-breathing brethren of a Crunch bar. To this day, I doubt many of the folks I went to high school with even remember or knew the origins of the nickname since by then it had become strictly a term of endearment.
The “nicknaming” did not stop with Crunch, and became a source of amusement as the kids sought to outdo one another with their creativity at oral bullying. I was determined to not let their words hurt me, even making a joke of the issue. I carried around a list, filling up a page with three columns worth of “nicknames”: from Crunch(y) to Alabama Porch Monkey to Sambo (with some of the agile minds even putting the phrase “little black sambo” to a lilting melody)*. Granted, guys can be harsh with one another, riding each other, busting one another out of a sign of camaraderie and equality. But this was different and my little fifth/sixth grade brain trying to muddle through this acceptance through belittling, dehumanization, and the constant reminder of my “otherliness”.
It’s the analogous logic that leads some to take back the word “nigger” so that it loses its ability to hurt and we can make it our own … ignoring the reality that defending the use of that word only rationalizes the internalization of hatred. It perpetuates the legacy of hate, in one powerful word encompassing the history of slave ships to Jim Crow. The word is the penultimate form of dehumanizing, the spit-in-your-face kind of assault to one’s sense of dignity and self-worth.
The internalization of the hatred can eat away like a cancer. You learn to start absorbing hate, it becomes a standard way of dealing with accumulated hurts. Possibly even believing such hateful things actually define you. So this cycle of naming and internalizing continued until one day my teacher, Mrs. DuVall—also black—stumbled across the list.
“Looks like a list.”
“Just some things the kids call me.”
“Do you know what this is? What they’re saying about you?”
She then wadded up the list and threw it away. Just like that. People in power have the ability to name, to define, and I needed to take back any sense of power. The names don’t define me. My identity is not in hate, theirs or my own learned/absorbed (self-)hatred. We need to wad up the lists we’ve accumulated over the years—the ways our families, “friends”, or colleagues have contributed to developing our false selves—and throw them away. So I never tolerated any distortion of my name. I was always Maurice. Not Mo. Not Maury. Just Maurice.
Now since the first Mo*Con, I’ve been learning to re-embrace or rather better tolerate the nickname “Mo”. Because I know it now comes from a place of connection and familiarity.
I have no idea where this came from. It might be after effects from reading Wrath James White’s story, “Scab” (from the Dark Dreams III: Whispers in the Night anthology). I probably need to get back to writing my novel.
*When I called BFF Jon to help jog my memory on some of the other nicknames, his response was this: “Why are you needing to know fifth grade nicknames? The only one I can remember is Crunchy and I’m sure you already knew that one. There were plenty of others, none I would have taken the time to remember, because most of them were pretty stupid and racist by the morons we went to school with.” *Wadding up the list … again.*