The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae Read Online (FREE)
My name is Jo-Issa Rae Diop and I’ve always wanted a nickname. For the first twelve years of my life, none of my friends were lazy enough to shorten the pronunciation of my name, or affectionately bold enough to replace my name with an entirely new word, like Cocoa or Jollyrancher. Because every cool person I knew had a nickname, I decided not to wait on anyone to do me the honor. So in the fourth grade, when a substitute teacher came to take the place of Ms. Osei, I took the opportunity to publicly anoint myself with a new lovable identity. I waited as the teacher called roll, for once excited about the impending mispronunciation (if it wasn’t my first name, it was always my last name). She couldn’t get to the Ds fast enough. This time, I’d not only correct her, but I’d intervene with a name that was both easy to pronounce and fun and adventurous, just like me.
“Joe-EYE-suh . . . uh, DIE-OP?” she asked, pretending to look through the sea of white kids to find my ethnic ass.
“Here! It’s Jo-EEE-SUH JOPE, but my friends call me . . . Sloppy Jo.” I chuckled as I looked around the class, waiting for the high-fives and acknowledgment from my classmates that never came. All that accompanied my announcement was my own laugh, and two seconds of silence as the teacher looked at me and nodded, processing the ridiculousness of my suggestion.
“Right. Jo-E-SUH,” the sub continued. “Sarah Dotson?”
“Here,” Sarah said.
Hot with regret at my blatant attempt to rebrand myself, I sat, defeated, as the teacher continued down the sheet of names. I had conceived my new nickname the previous Friday, after a delicious school lunch. One part self-depreciative humor and one part clever wordplay, the name seemed perfect. Now that nobody had so much as looked in my direction after my made-up proclamation, I just felt silly. Who wants to be “sloppy” anyway? That teacher probably saved herself from a lawsuit. Can you imagine calling the sole black girl in the class “sloppy”? Good for her indifference. I’m thankful for it. What an absolutely stupid and embarrassing nickname from a painfully childish mind. (If I could go back in time and slap all of the idiocy out of my mouth, I would be a busy time traveler.)
Where my first name has been an individual struggle, my last name has, appropriately, been a family battle. Having spent some of my youth in Senegal or around Senegalese people in America, I never could have imagined that my monosyllabic family name would have so many alternate, incorrect variations. There’s “DIE-OP,” “DEE-OP,” “DIP,” “JIP,” “JOP,” and my personal favorite, “DEE-POH.”
In high school, I found no burden in correcting people. It wasn’t their fault that they didn’t know, and there was no harm done. My annoyance would emerge when people would take it upon themselves to correct me in the pronunciation of my own name! It would go something like this: