You can't tell me where I'm from...
Happy last day of Women's history month! As this month closes and we step into April I'm brought to a moment in my childhood. When I was in the 6th grade I had an English teacher who tried to tell me where my name originated from. Despite my personal correction, she continued with her declaration.
"Adenike-wow that's a strong name. It's Greek. The word NIKE from the Greek God..."
I interrupted her. Correcting her and explaining my name is Nigerian. My mother gave me a Nigerian Name.
"No. Your name is Greek. See here, let me show you. The Greek God NIKE..."
"No. My name is Nigerian. My mother gave me a Nigerian name. It means Crown to be Revered-royalty and my whole name is African not Greek."
I said it with fire and indignation. My mother and father always told me never to let anyone give me a nickname, especially if they have never even pronounced my name once correctly. So I knew this teacher was wrong as two left shoes. Plus her name was Ms. Fish, so I had no intentions of listening to her talk about where names originated from. In my eyes, she knew nothing.
I remember my voice being raised as strong as It could be at that age, especially when speaking to an adult. But subconsciously I must have known in my bones, this white woman was not going to get away with her decision to TELL ME what my name meant or where it came from.
Despite my first attempt at correcting her, it took a third time and the physical act of me standing up while speaking my truth before she abdicated with a passive-aggressive "Okay, Fine."
But I'm a 6th grader and my physical act of defiance in front of my teacher caused my classmates to instigate and heckle her. The heckling challenged her control of the classroom and she turned her embarrassment and lack of power onto me. She told me I was being insubordinate and disrespectful and I got sent to the principal's office.
As I'm looking back on this experience, thinking about what it means to be a woman during unprecedented times and during Women's History Month.
I interpret my childhood experience in a few ways:
My truth and my voice challenged "authority" or the power dynamic that is held in the "child/adult", "teacher/student" hierarchical relationship.
My truth and my voice along with my tiny 6th grade Black body threatened the white space I was in as one of the only TWO Black students in the classroom, and I needed to be punished.
This moment marked the beginning of my voice, truth, and Black body taking up space and NOT giving it back.
Since the 6th grade, I have gone through experiences of forced silence, voicelessness, and disconnection from my body, but the lesson I've learned from my journey has resulted in the recognition that my voice and my truth has been so POWERFUL even as a 6th grader. No matter how many times someone has tried to silence, stifle, or diminish my voice, truth, and body I am courageous, dynamic and a force to be reckoned with. Most of the time it's beyond my understanding. But I am HERE! My body is MINE. I AM taking up space.
As we end this month and step deeper into Spring I invite you to ask yourself:
Was there ever a time in your life when you were criticized for speaking your truth? What did you learn from that experience? Did you internalize the criticism or did you keep speaking?
Let Spring open us up to the lessons of our past and give new meaning to reclamation!