Success, with Style

Posts tagged “identity

What to do when you have a “ghetto” name

Posted on October 6, 2015

It wasn’t until law school that someone told me to my face that my name, Takeia, was considered “ghetto.” Until that point, all I knew was my name and that I required people to pronounce it correctly if they were going to talk to me. Five-year-old Takeia held lessons in classrooms and on playgrounds on how to pronounce my name: Ta-kee-uh. When I was younger, I don’t think I knew why I demanded that recognition, but now I know: your name is often the first glimpse into your identity that people have.



As the poet says in the video, I demanded that people pronounce my name correctly or not say it at all.


In law school, when professors would call on me, they would say my first name. They almost always got it wrong the first time. I corrected them, and would not allow them to move on to whatever question they had until they got my name right.


Yes, I had the audacity to require recognition before I proceeded in any relationship with you, even if that relationship was for three fleeting minutes in which I presented the facts, issue(s), holding and reasoning of a case. For those that persisted in incorrectly pronouncing my name, I let them know they have the option of calling me Ms. Johnson instead.


Although I have a decidedly Black-sounding name, I have still achieved numerous goals. I can’t say, however, what levels of success I might have reached or what opportunities were foreclosed to me, simply because of my name. Even though I can’t identify where I have been denied access and opportunity because of racism, research shows that people with ethnic-, and in particular, Black-sounding names are treated differently and ultimately less favorably, because of the race and ethnicity attributed to their names.  See, e.g., “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.”


We live in a world in which the politics of identity means that there are social forces always working to ignore, deny, and denigrate individuals and groups based solely on their identities – whether it is based on race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any number of other identifiers.


Marlo Stanfield said it so succinctly on The Wire: my name is my name. It is the world’s first entry into my identity and I demand recognition.


I Define My Dapper

Posted on February 10, 2015

High-res version

Audre Lorde wrote, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies of me and eaten alive.” Her words are so powerful and they resonate with such an uncanny truth that I cannot help but allow it to resound in my daily life.  Every single day, I decide to be myself and every day I proudly accept the privilege and danger of presenting Black masculinity and queerness. Every day, I smile gleefully and laugh raucously because I define my identity. I define my dapper.

Photographer Amanda Hope, yet again, captured in our latest photo shoot my style and personality in all its enthusiasm, introversion, introspection, and flamboyancy. Yes, I am a walking contradiction, and it works for me. What works for you?


Follow me on Instagram for more of my style posts: @thetjway_

Photographed by Amanda Hope. Instagram: @sharpiesandpocketprotectors

Fearless Friday – AzMarie Livingston

Posted on January 30, 2015

AzMarie Livingston is not just a talented model, actress, and Raven-Symoné’s partner. She is also a woman who is intentional about her work and how her work reflects her identity and expression. AzMarie identifies as an androgynous woman, and has successfully branded herself professionally to reflect that androgynous identity. She has managed to bring her full identity to her career, overcoming efforts to force her conformity, like this one:

AzMarie refused to wear butt pads to participate in a “booty tooch” competition, presumably a competition meant to showcase the model’s rear end. In the above clip, AzMarie expressed her concern with wearing the butt pads, stating, “I don’t know how I feel about this, because this is taking away from being androgynous.” She asserted her limits, saying she “draw[s] a line with that.” AzMarie suffered the consequences of asserting her professional and personal androgynous identity when she was not allowed to participate in that particular competition.

Undoubtedly, however, AzMarie also reaps the benefits. She has clearly identified her gender identity and expression, engaging in a process that, for many, can be scary, difficult, and overwhelming. Her fearlessness is not only evident in her process of self-revelation, acknowledgement, and acceptance, but also in her ability to present her full self, confidently and unapologetically.

Check out AzMarie in all her androgynous beauty:

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