How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Name

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Today I launched a portfolio website to showcase my writing and public speaking and I decided to simply call this website Most people would argue that I should have called it, since that is my byline. But I chose to go with as a tribute to my first name.

My first name is the only one I can rely on. Little known fact: my name has been legally changed four times even though I’ve only been married once.  Let me explain. When I was born I was named Javacia Nicole Price. Then my folks got hitched and I became Javacia Nicole Harris. But my mom lost the paper work so when I got my license I was Javacia Nicole Price again and remained that way for a year until my mom got the necessary documents to have my name changed AGAIN. Then I got married and changed my name to Javacia Nicole Bowser. Then I decided I missed my maiden name and changed my name to Javacia Harris Bowser. It's a miracle I even know my name.

Despite its dependability, I haven’t always liked my first name. As a girl, while my friends were thinking of names for their future kids, I would sit in my room jotting down ideas for the pseudonym I would use when I became a published author. For years I hated my name. I was disrespectful of my name, calling it “ghetto.” When people had trouble pronouncing my name I apologized as if I and the syllables it took to address me had somehow offended them. When they looked at me as if I were a green girl from Mars and said, "Well, that's different," I felt ashamed. And when they turned to me with a furrowed brow and asked "Do you have a nickname?" I just laughed and said, "You can call me J." 

Then I became a journalist. And I fell in love with my byline. I became a journalist and that “ghetto” name Javacia was on the pages of The Seattle Times, The Chicago Sun, USA Today, and national magazines.

I’ve been told that having a name like Javacia is a liability because as soon as you see my name you know I’m black long before ever you see me. I’ve been told that having a name like mine could make jobs hard to come by, that I’d be passed over by certain employers. For years I considered going by my middle name Nicole. But then I thought to myself, “Do I really want to work for someone who would discriminate against me because of my name or race?”

Don't get me wrong. I'm in no way judging people of color who do alter their names for the sake of acceptance or a job. People do what they have to do. 

And I decided that what I had to do was learn to stop worrying and love my name. 

That same line of thinking also helped me decide to describe myself, on my new professional website, as a writer, speaker, and feminist. Yes, I used the f-word. Doing so made sense even though I recognize it was a risky move. I don’t want to do any writing or public speaking for someone who is anti-feminist. And feminism is not only a part of my work, it’s a huge part of who I am. 

My name is Javacia and I am a feminist. Can you handle that?

Ramblings on Jesus, Feminism and Ani DiFranco

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ani DiFranco

“We need to stop turning people into icons” – that’s a statement a friend of mine made on Facebook recently with regard to the outrage and disbelief experienced by many Ani DiFranco fans after the feminist folk singer announced that she’d be hosting her upcoming feminist songwriting retreat in Louisiana on the grounds of what was once a cotton plantation.

My friend didn’t elaborate much on her statement about icons, but her words reminded me of the importance of not elevating a person to an idol-like status.  Humans are imperfect. They will screw up and when they do you could become disillusioned with everything they represent.  This happens in churches all the time when parishioners begin to idolize their pastors. The pastor cheats on his wife and then young members of the congregation turn their backs on Christianity.

I am a huge Ani DiFranco fan. She's even part of the inspiration for the name of this blog. I started calling myself “Writeous Babe” not only as a play on the old phrase “That’s one righteous babe” but also as a nod to DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records. Ani’s lyrics have helped me define my feminism. But I can honestly say I've never elevated her to any sort of idol status. I disagree with her on plenty of issues ranging from makeup to religion. But I've mastered the art of being able to accept and even admire something or someone in spite of disagreements. I had to -- I'm a black liberal Christian feminist who lives in (and loves) the South. 

Nonetheless, I was one of those people disappointed by Ani. I initially gave her the benefit of doubt. I live in the South and I know that down here it's pretty difficult to find a building that wasn't built on the backs of black folks. Also, I've visited plantations as a teenager and the groups with which I took these trips managed to transform the visits into an opportunity to honor the slaves who had once lived there. We did research on the black people who worked those very grounds and paid homage to them. I remember one moment standing in silence in a wooded area surrounding a plantation and thinking about how terrifying it would be to run away into the unknown and how brave the men and women who did that had to have been. These experiences brought me to tears and made me appreciate my freedom in a way that no history class ever could. 

Unfortunately, Ani's released statement revealed that there were no formal plans to acknowledge the history of Nottoway Plantation. She just hoped the conversations would "emerge organically."

So, yes, as an Ani fan, I am very disappointed. But I'm not disillusioned with feminism because while I admire Ani she's not my feminist icon. 

Thinking about this I began to wonder -- do I have a feminist icon? 

I realized I do not. At least not yet. 

I'm currently in the process of making Jesus my feminist icon. Let me explain. 

I’ve identified as a Christian nearly all my life and for the past decade I’ve identified as a feminist as well. And for the past ten years reconciling these two parts of myself has been a constant struggle. And I’m tired. Sarah Bessey, author of the book Jesus Feminist, says Jesus made a feminist out of her. I can make no such claims, but I wish I could. No longer do I want to be a feminist in spite of my Christianity, I want to be a feminist because of my faith.

I said that Ani was part of the inspiration for the name of this blog. But I also decided to play on the word righteous because of the dictionary definition of the term – “morally good; following religious or moral laws.”

I don’t just want to be “writeous,” I want to be righteous too. I want my actions and my words to be pleasing in God’s sight.

I want to be a Jesus feminist.

No, we shouldn’t make people our icons because they will mess up. But we can put our trust in God.

And if you’re not sure why Jesus should be a feminist icon, I leave you with these words by Dorothy Day:

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man – there has never been another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronies; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.

Beyonce - Flawless and Feminist

Saturday, December 14, 2013

This morning I woke up and took a photo of myself.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've taken a selfie. But this morning I just had to. I woke up with Beyonce's "Flawless" playing in my head: "I woke up like this/ We flawless, ladies tell 'em."

"I woke up like this."

Like most Beyonce fans I spent most of yesterday in a state of disbelief. Did Queen Bey really drop a surprise album in the middle of the night? Does this album really feature more than a dozen songs and more than a dozen music videos?

I rushed home from work yesterday so I could sit down and carefully listen to all the tracks. The album immediately won me over with "Pretty Hurts," which speaks to the pressures of fitting society's beauty standards. In "Ghost" Beyonce gives listeners some insight into her business strategy and bluntly says she doesn't trust record labels. Tender tracks like "Superpower," "Heaven," and "Blue" (which features an adorable cameo from her daughter Blue Ivy) show off Bey's vocal prowess and tug on heart strings. And while the sexually explicit lyrics of tracks like "Drunk In Love," "Blow," and "Yonce"/"Partition" are a bit much at times, Mrs. Carter certainly does a good job of dispelling notions that married folks don't have good sex.

But then you hear "Flawless" and you realize she's doing so much more.

"Flawless" is a revamped version of the previously released track "Bow Down." And I will admit, when I first heard "Bow Down" I was confused. I didn't get it and I didn't like it. "What is she doing?" I asked myself.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
But "Flawless" is now about to be that track on repeat in my car when I'm running errands or driving to work. Yes, the song starts with Bey telling her haters to show some respect for the path she has paved, but don't think for one moment this means she's turned her back on sisterhood. The entire second verse features snippets from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk "We Should All Be Feminists." This is one of my favorite TED Talks and one that I show to the students in my Women & Media class.

I get chills listening to Adichie's words to the backdrop of Beyonce's soaring soprano. And with Adichie's words, Beyonce's message becomes clear.

Bey's braggadocios lyrics fly in the face of the notion that women should "aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man."

And when Mrs. Carter says "I took some time to live my life/ But don't think I'm just his little wife" she challenges the fact that girls are often taught to, as Adichie explains, "aspire to marriage."

Adichie says, "Marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don't teach boys the same?"

Adichie goes on to ask, "Why do we raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments -- which I think could be a good thing -- but for the attention of men?"

And when Adichie declares that "We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are" suddenly even those raunchy rhymes from previous tracks have more purpose.

In case you were wondering if Beyonce is a feminist -- yes, she is. And in case you're not sure what that means, Adichie breaks it down: "Feminist - a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes."

And no, Beyonce has not turned her back on her Beyhive. The song ends with Queen Bey inviting all of us to join her in declaring that we're flawless -- not because of makeup, plastic surgery, or expensive clothes, but because we "woke up like this."