THE BLOG

What's Your Nickname?

08/20/2013 06:31 pm ET | Updated Oct 20, 2013

Even though my name is Mawuena, I sometimes feel like one of those Italian mobsters with several nicknames: Or rappers like Diddy, who seems to go by a different alias every other year. In my case, my name changes were a lot more embarrassing and unflattering, but necessary according to some.

"Yo, I go by the name Mawuena aka My-Weenie aka Maui aka Eclipse aka That Nappy Big Headed Ass Nigga."

Middle school was a long time ago however, and now I regard those nicknames with a grudging fondness. You know, like for an ex who broke your heart but taught you to never trust a big butt and smile. However, there was one nickname that had me scratching my head, tossing and turning to no end. The one that floored all my other terms of endearment. African Booty Scratcher.

I can't remember the first time I was called that, but I am pretty sure it occurred during recess on the basketball court. There I was, fresh from Ghana, extra awkward with the skin tight jeans before they were cool, shuffling my dress shoes on the concrete. I stared longingly at the kids playing soccer, but would rudely remind myself that I was in America, not Ghana, and black kids in America play basketball, not soccer. Gathering my courage, I would waddle over to the courts and timidly ask, "Hey y'all, can I play?"

The white kids snickered and giggled, but the black kids regarded me with extreme loathing. One of the black kids gestured with their head toward me and the other black kid said with a dismissive wave of his hand, "Get yo African booty scratching ass outta here."

First off, what did that truly mean? Were they trying to imply that I should scratch other Africans' booties, or was the fact that I was an African make me a booty scratcher by trade and therefore scratcher of all booties, regardless of nationality?

Second, why were my fellow African brothers (sisters too) doing this? White people could make me feel awkward, weird, downright inferior sometimes, but never ashamed of my identity. The minute you hit them with "Is it 'cause I'm black?" they would usually retreat, lest the "R" word come up.

But that phrase didn't hurt just because of what it said, but who said it. It attacked my soul, my very essence, from one who was so much like me in every way except in how our ancestors arrived here.

As I grew older, that phrase eventually phased out. I tell myself that it was a long time ago, that we were kids and didn't know any better. To my bewilderment, those ignorant and regressive sentiments still exist when us grown folks should know better. But of course, this is never a one-way street because some Africans start talking about African-Americans like this.

Then Africans are surprised when some African-Americans have choice words for them like "arrogant," "selfish," and "exclusive." This then gives some non-blacks, who were former acquaintances of mine, the audacity to come up to me and say, "Mawuena, that's why I am cool with you. You're black, but you're not... black black, you know?"

In retrospect, I wish I could have said something on those basketball courts instead of shuffling off like George Michael. It could have been a fitting comeback, something along the lines of, "Why don't you kiss my ass instead?" But then I am reminded of my parents, who had to deal with a lot more ignorance and apathy when it came to their culture and identity. Several times they were asked "Is that a real name?" or "Are there houses in Ghana?" To every one of those questions, without fail, there was a sincere, albeit impatient response. Of course, they would have a little bit of fun and say "No, people in Ghana live on trees and the president lives on the highest one," just to see if there was a disbelieving frown or an affirming nod. (There were more of the latter than should be admitted.) But they always made sure that the person left a little less ignorant. I can do nothing about what happened back on those basketball courts, nor completely erase our prejudices, whether African to African- American or vice versa or whomever. But I damn well can answer your questions, even if you ask if I can speak "that clicky stuff y'all people talk." Just don't ask me for my nickname.

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