Jadesola James: Name-calling can hurt even more than sticks and stones

What's in a name? My grandmother has told me what's in mine so many times that it is engraved in my memory forever.

Jadesola, meaning: "Born into wealth, wealth of family." This definition is true. If family members were currency, I could retire early and live out my days on an island.

Even though Americans butcher it daily, I love the culture behind my name and I wouldn't change it for anything. Somehow, over time, I learned that my name had many different meanings as well. Too African, too long, too ethnic, too complicated, and some names that can't be repeated.

In every place I've lived, one thing I've observed is the inherent necessity for human beings to classify. Slurs, insults and attacks are directed at one another. In recent months I've seen these attacks heighten online, and heard them more often in quiet whispers.

Years after middle school, everyone seems to realize that the "sticks and stones" mantra runs completely false. While words may never physically hurt me, I would choose a broken bone over the mental trauma I've sustained from verbal abuse at a younger age.

It's not my intention to write a whole column about the importance of bringing an end to name-calling. Something about that idea feels juvenile, child-like in a vaguely irritating sense.

Perhaps it is the ingrained "sticks and stones" mantra in my mind, reminding me that grown ups don't get to cry over hurt feelings.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but I've never broken a bone in my life. I do, however, know what it feels like to be called the n-word by a stranger, and that is my broken bone. There is history behind names, and there is history behind every single word we speak.

Some history runs centuries deep, like that of words used to oppress people until their backs break and their broken bones cry out for mercy. Some history is personal, reminding you of a moment in your youth when everything seemed hopeless.

When I think about the names we call one another, I think about how I want the world to be different for my own children. I want conversation to be open in their classrooms about the long history behind racial and homophobic slurs, so they may learn the overwhelming impact of those names.

I want them to be able to ask questions about names without offending anyone, but if they do, I want them to sincerely apologize and learn from their actions.

The current status quo surrounding bad names is that if you say them in the privacy of your own home, it's safe. No one will know. But that is far from true.

Your kids will know. They will hear what bad names you may call the Hispanic couple down the street and learn to believe that it is OK. Your peers will know. In private company, you call a gay man a bad name, passing it off as a hilarious joke.

Your peers now believe this man's identity is funny, and now it is OK. As you go for a drive with your partner, you make a snide comment about the man in a wheelchair, taking his time crossing the street and holding up traffic. Your partner calls him a bad name, and you are surprised. However, you feel relieved. If someone you love can say it so easily, it must be OK.

It starts in the home, where children learn what is appropriate and what is hurtful. Names are much deeper than what was scribbled onto our birth certificates.

Never be ashamed to express vulnerability, or to call someone out for using a bad name. Behaviors can be unlearned, as well. Whether bad names affect you or not (and I'm sure to some extent they do), do what you can to discourage them at every opportunity.

There are dangerous repercussions to classifying others, as history has shown us time and time again. I only have one given name, and I know what it is. Do you?

Jadesola James is an intern at Multicultural BRIDGE and a senior at Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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