I interview people for a living, so I know very well what it looks like when those who meet me in person for the first time are surprised that the woman they've been speaking to has my face. There's this beat-taking, eye-widening, eyebrow-raising, mouth-parting thing that happens that's both priceless and so commonplace I want to yawn and press fast-forward.
Sometimes, like Chris in Get Out, I wonder if I should have warned them in advance. Other times, I want to Hulk-smash.
For people who aren't familiar with West African names, the combination of my first and last names can be a bit of a cipher. Since my first name is Hebrew, people occasionally expect someone Jewish (which I am not). Since many African names sound Japanese — or actually are also Japanese, like "Obama," for instance — others will ask about that (nope, not me either). The worst of revelatory moments is when people get aggressive or revise the way they talk to me based on finding out who I am.
Years ago, for example, when I worked as an assistant, an older man (who had a heavy accent) called with some demand or another. Before he reached the crux of what he was saying, he paused to ask where my name is from.
"Nigeria," I told him.
"Interesting," he said, before assuring me that all Nigerians are violent scammers, asking me how I felt having a name like that, considering our moral bankruptcy, and then continuing with his request. I'll restate that just in case it was unclear:
Step 1: Man calls me at my job.
Step 2: Man starts asking me to do something for him.
Step 3: Man is curious about my last name and where it is from.
Step 4: Man proceeds to tell me that Nigerians are criminals and scammers, and demands to know how I feel about that.
Step 5: Man reiterates his desire that I do something for him.
Step 6: I snatch him up through the phone like The Ring's Samara in a horror spinoff of The Office and destroy him.
Unfortunately, Step 6 is wishful thinking on my part, but it's part of the reason this high school graduate's senior quote rings so true.
"Going out with a bang," Tomlinson tweeted, with a snapshot of her senior photo and quote: "Anything is possible when you sound Caucasian on the phone."
Her wit had the crowds going wild:
"Me literally every time I answer the phone," one person replied.
"No lies detected," someone else tweeted, with an accompanying GIF.
"Honestly, truly," another person added, referencing Joanne the Scammer.
Of course, like in any conversation about race, one confused, hurt soul replied:
"Things like this young lady's senior quote are what keep racism prevalent. Also racism isn't institutionalized anymore, dude." Nothing like a white dude who benefits so much from institutional racism that it's invisible to him to correct our confusion.
Obviously, "sounding educated" isn't exclusive to white people. (Also, just google "white house spelling errors " and you'll discover a treasure trove of lapses from the whitest presidential administration in decades.) But we live in a world where people make snap judgments about others, their intelligence, and their worth based on their skin color. Just ask any Black person who has been called "articulate" just for stringing two words together in a coherent way. Or who has, on the flip side, had their intelligence questioned for being unable to or choosing not to code-switch. Or pretty much any job candidate with an "ethnic"-sounding name who has faced discrimination in the application process.
It's real, y'all. At least Savanna can laugh at it.
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