About two weeks ago, I heard about an epic beat down of a fight between a girl named Sharkeisha and another one named Shamichael. One day, I will explain thoroughly why I cannot abide World Star Hip-Hop; but suffice it to say that since I refuse to frequent that site, I haven’t seen the Sharkeisha video.
I know nothing of fights. I have never been in one and I see no reason to start now. So this post isn’t about the merits of not getting stole on. I’m not going on in the alleged stupid reason (a boy) why one girl set another up. This isn’t even really about Sharkeisha, the girl–this is about Sharkeisha’s name.
In the many places as I have read about the fight, someone invariably comments: With a name like Sharkeisha, this was inevitable for her.
Record ssssscratch. What?! Where do I begin?
If black people lost every reason in the world to hate themselves, they would still find one more obscure thing and pick it to death. Make no mistake, Sharkeisha is a black name. It is not unpronounceable, nor is it awkwardly spelled. But black people all over the Internet have been making Shark jokes, obtusely insinuating that the etymology derives from the fish and not the construction of Shar + keisha. Hardee-har; it’s more clever than biting.
I have a black name, plucked from its native Yoruban context and given to me in the heat of Houston, Texas. People stumble and trip over the two syllables in “dara” as if they have never heard of “Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.” And yet, because it does not follow the conventions of many other black girl names, my name garners considerably less shade.
Black mothers name their children by the caress of beloved syllables, creating names native to their tongues. They (we) employ both reason and rhyme. If you are unaware of the conventions, here are some.
Prefix: Sha, La, Ta, Ka, Ma, Na, Da, Shon;
Suffix: Keisha, Nisha, Nessa, Rella, Shawn, Nille, Rice.
Sha’Condria Sibley nails it in her ode to big black girl names.
Are these names originally European? No. But they are American, as native to this country as blues and jazz. So, why, then do we prize Michelle (French) and Zoe (Greek), over LaShawn? Because we say that LaShawn is ghetto (and we hate the poor). Any inference we attribute to a name tells more about our own biases than about the actual person bearing the name.
So when I hear that Sharkeisha’s name is ghetto, that her mother should’ve known better than to name her daughter that, that Sharkeisha will never get a job with that name, that the only thing Sharkeisha could’ve done after being named such is wind up on World Star…I see red. Or rather, black. I see black people once again attempting to distance themselves from the “worst” of us out of embarrassment. We like to pretend that our names are the barriers of entry from “good jobs,” but in truth, the socioeconomic status into which we are born has more bearing on our upward mobility.
Sharkeisha’s name did not predict that fight for her. Sharkeisha’s educational environment, parentage, and socioeconomic status did. Her name, like mine, is something that she will have to choose to live up to. It grieves me that the world expects her to live down to her name when they don’t even know the meaning of it. Pick a meaning of Keisha/ Kezia from the Internet: of the cassia tree, favorite, beautiful. Even if Sharkeisha meant nothing at all–because, let’s face it, many people choose names based on sounds they like–it would still be a valid name.
I fail to understand why black people must constantly defend things that are uniquely ours, as if even our very names lack the right to exist.
To put it baldly, assimilation into the mainstream culture of naming in America will not advance us farther than actually fixing the racist thought that makes assimilation a matter of survival. “Tyrone” receives the same ghetto label as “Tarik,” despite its Irish origin. We make names black by using them, and we cannot win a war waged against blackness by pretending our names will save us.
I will cede the argument that some black names are wildly imaginative. But if America can learn how to say Schwarzenegger, Schwarzkopf, and Hoomanawanui correctly because money dictates that we must, then surely, we can stop pretending that D’Brickashaw is a Martian name.
Upbraid Sharkeisha because she’s a confused, combative child who needs much guidance to overcome her brush with infamy. But fishing in her name for tenets to support our own self-hatred makes us the real sharks, not her.