I HATE my name or so i thought…
On a camping trip gone awry, I found myself in Jasper, Texas. If you are not sure where that is google “in the middle of nowhere” and that’s Jasper. Most people would never see reason to visit such a place, and to be honest neither had I, but after several wrong turns and an incompetent park ranger I found myself at Martin Dies Jr. State Park, named after the famous klansman Martin Dies, may his soul eternally rot in hell.
I do not know very much about Jasper and I doubt there is very much to know. Only 45 minutes from the city and I had never been, but i felt that I had landed her for good reason. My family name- as far back as I could trace it began at the Hadnot Plantation in Jasper, Texas. And here it was over 150 years later, and I had returned to the ‘home’ of my ancestors. There was no-one to thank for this but a faulty road map and an ill-equipped park ranger.
How I felt immediately after my arrival I cannot say. I believe I could describe it as over joyed. I felt that I had been drawn there, and I felt instantly connected to the land. As if my ancestors were there at that very moment, greeting me as if they had awaited my arrival all these years. However, after having been lost for several hours prior to, hungry, hot, and irritable from the car ride it’s possible I was just relieved to have made it to my destination. Even now, I cannot be sure.
However, throughout the stay I watched the slight pause amongst the locals as they registered my name, the slight delay from the receptionist whilst checking my ID, the look from the Walmart employee as she rang up my purchases, the gas station attendant as he helped me with directions. It seemed that everyone knew my name, my family, and our reputation- and after encountering this repeatedly I definitely began to feel something.
I suppose if I had to label it, I’d say it was contempt I felt. Though the inquiries were innocent enough- strangers asked about our annual family reunion (which I had never heard of), whom it was I was here to visit, whether I knew their old classmate who was also a Hadnot. Yet, I was becoming angry. I was angry because I could not answer their questions- I didn’t know; I didn’t even know who to ask. I didn’t know my own family, and as these strangers talked to me about it I felt alienated.
Alienated from my history. Not because I didn’t know any Hadnot’s- though I didn’t, but because it dawned on me that THAT name isn’t even MY name. I knew from ancestory.com that my name was Welch (or some other European country), it was the name of my family’s owner and he had given it to us. It was an ongoing reminder of chattel slavery, oppression, and being treated like a second rate citizen. Hadnot is no more my name than a means of identifying one’s property. The people whom share it with me are not aunts, and uncles, not my sister, or my cousin, they are strangers.
Why hadn’t my father changed it. Why hadn’t he re-wrote that passage of our histories. Become Brianca X! Separate ourselves from our oppressors. Redefine our identity. Did it not irritate him? Was he not saddened when wondering if a person is your cousin, or if you just happened to have shared the same misfortune? If so, well what’s more family than that?
It was Shakespeare who asked “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” right? No, I am afraid not, this name held the foul stench of racism, oppression, familial genocide, the confederate south and so many other deeply depressing, insulting, histories that both I and America would love to separate itself from.
I was fully prepared to drop my name after my visit. I was over it! I wanted so badly to be ‘over it’. It wasn’t until I realized that, if I changed my name, I would not change history- only erase the evidence. It would change the narrative. Not only would it further separate me from my heritage, but it clears the crime from my oppressors too. Changing my name erases the history, it distorts the image. The more I thought about it, deconstructed it- I realized that my name was not my badge of shame.
In fact, it was quite the opposite. My name is a reminder of the triumphant perseverance of my ancestors, the familial qualities amongst the slaves, and an outright rejection of southern romanticism. For this, I am happy to be a Hadnot. It is an act of defiance! A constant reminder of who and what created this country. It is the 10 drops of black paint that created the optic whiteness of America. My name is the diaspora, the 13th amendment, the fall of the south, the counter argument to ‘post racial’ America. My name is me, force feeding the blissfully ignorant a tall glass of tea so sweet it pains their nerves to swallow.
“I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time been ashamed. About eighty-five years ago they were told that they were free, united with others of our country in everything pertaining to the common good, and, in everything social, separate from the fingers of the hand. And they believed it.”
-Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
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