The Other One
I love my name. Now. Growing up, I hated it. I had to repeat it so many times. I had to spell it. I had to clarify b as in boy and n as in Nancy. I have allowed myself to be called Amoeba more times than I care to recall or count.
There is a woman I work with. She is beautiful, articulate, intelligent. She is also black. She has natural hair. Her name also begins and ends in A. Outside of ordinary body parts like eyes and fingers, this is where our similarities end. She is taller than me. Her skin is darker than mine. She does not have braces. Her hair, though natural, is shorter and darker. Wait, our desks are across from each other. It's confusing, I know. Black girls in too-close proximity.
I'm looking for one of them, does it really matter which? Just have one of the black girls call me. If I reach the wrong one, she can just tell the other that I'm looking for her.
It's not nearly that disrespectful or ignorant an atmosphere in my office, but it is no less rude at times. I receive emails from people who just left a meeting with her but type my name. I have people ask me if I'm done with work on a project but they mean to ask her and she's sitting right there but once they see me it doesn't matter that I'm not her. Eh, close enough.
I walked onto the stage at BlogHer one of only three women of color chosen as a reader for the coveted Voice of the Year, and proud of that distinction. At the end of the program, so many people congratulated me, told me I'd made them think when I read this piece. Tall women, short women, round women, white women, Latino, black, men! You name it; there was an air of you go girl and I was eating it up. There was also the woman who told me that my tribute to my grandmother and the underlying discussion of perpetuating eating disorders was magnificent.
See, Issa Mas is gorgeous. She is everything that I consider myself not (though she'd say I am and I am thankful and that much more grateful for knowing her because I know she both means and believes it). Issa is beautiful. She is confident. She is funny. And her hair YOU KNOW YOU WANT IT. Issa had written about her grandmother in this piece. She made us laugh, she made us think. She also apparently made at least two women lose the ability to tell us apart. No matter that Issa has curves and I am straight. No matter that her hair is longer (we tricked you with our curliness, didn't we?). No matter that I was in a cream dress and she was in dark colors. No matter that I had a motherfucking name tag clipped to the top of my dress. To the women who approached us both, separately, I had spoken about my grandmother and Issa had spoken about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin's death. All I could think was well, I didn't even know my grandmother and if Issa's grandma saw me today she'd go ballistic with "Estas demasiado flaca."
Please don't misunderstand. I know that some people are bad with names. I know that. I know that some people can't remember a face, especially at a conference attended by over 5,000 people. But. The inability to know who I am within 40 minutes of my speaking? That, to me, means that to you, I am insignificant. You enjoyed my writing and delivery of it, but you didn't "see" me. Issa and I are interchangeable. My coworker and I are interchangeable.
I gently corrected the woman. Inside, I smiled because I knew that years ago I would have let her blather on. I wouldn't have said, "Oh, you're mistaken. I wrote about Trayvon Martin. My name's Arnebya Herndon. You're thinking of Issa Mas and yes, she did do a wonderful job." I tapped my name tag but the woman's eyes were confused. I think she wanted to ask if I was sure.
When Issa told me the same had happened to her, I realized this was bigger than just mistaken identity. This was downright refusal to see us, to recognize us, to know the difference between two women who have some similarities, but who are not the same person. Everyone that evening had on name tags. If you can't remember my face, is my name also forgetful as is the name of my blog? Was it the excitement of the evening that made these women blind? The ain't never gonna be top shelf tequila?
I am proud of my name. I am proud of its difference. I've never met another Arnebya, though of course I can't say for sure another does not exist. As an adult I have come to desire difference. What sets me apart from everyone else? There are many great writers. I am but one in a sea of them. There are many great mothers and wives and sisters and friends and citizens and employees. And yet, I am the only Arnebya Herndon. I don't think it is asking too much to be called Arnebya instead of Issa or my coworker's name. I don't think it is asking too much to be seen for who I am. Forget my name, sure. Mispronounce it, likely. But don't mistake my identity, my entire being, the essence of me.
Hi. I'm Arnebya. No, I'm the other one.
Cross-posted at What Now and Why.