What’s In a Name?

What’s her name?
Simple question
from mother to son –
recognizing the love-lifted
joy of his countenance.

I cannot tell, said he,
you’ll ask too many questions.
Do I know her?
No, Mom, she’s Somali.
And Muslim.

I felt my whiteness
and all its privilege
slap me, stumbled

Of course she is welcome,
of course it does not matter.

Had no sense of the depth
of my ignorance, how heads
would turn, and vile strangers
attack, and his father shun them.

And how her own mother
would advise her to take his name
when the day of their nuptials came
so that finding work would be easier.

Had no sense of the depth
of my ignorance, how
everyday matters suffer
unfair scrutiny –

hold them in my heart
and pray, knowing my shield
of whiteness holds no sway
to protect them..

(Written for dVerse pub, where Anmol challenges us to address the topic of privilege.)


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Permission to write, paint, and imagine are the gifts I gave myself when chronic illness hit - a fair exchange: being for doing. Relevance is an attitude. Humour essential.

55 thoughts on “What’s In a Name?”

  1. Very, very powerful. I wish the best for them and for you. Love in its purest form is the only force in the world stronger than ignorance or fear. Cheesy cliche but true because it has to be.

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  2. This is a beautiful write. It takes me back some 50+ years. My parents (both white: my mother a devout Catholic/my father of no religion; my father quite prejudiced if truth be told/my mother not so) received two phone calls in the space of one hour. First me: telling them that I was “turning Lutheran” – silence on the other end of the line. Then my dad’s voice saying, Lillian – we love you. We’ll call you back later. I’m certain he had a quick talk with my mother. Then a second phone call for them — one-half hour later — from my brother, who already had 4 children of his own. “Mom and dad. We called to tell you we are adopting a black son. He’s three years old and he’ll be with us tomorrow.” Silence on the other end of the line. Then my mom’s voice saying, “Chuck – we love you. We’ll call you back later.”
    For all of us….family meant love. And love there was and is.
    I think there is a “digging in to the real person” — beyond what is apparently different and a love that grows there. And oh yes…..there is a wishing by the parent that we could take on the difficulties of our children — make them all go away.
    Again, this is a beautiful write.

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  3. Oh, this one touches me deeply, V.J. I grew up with white privilege without even knowing it! We specifically moved to an area inhabited by families from many cultures after we had kids. So it did not surprise me when my youngest began dating a man from Ivory Coast, his first language French, a language she loves and is near-native fluent. Then her older sister began dating a physician of Indian heritage. I told them both how glad I was to get some color in the family :). Unfortunately, both relationships were recently dissolved. My youngest lives in Germany and we had invited her and her beau to a family wedding in the states and I was so shocked to learn that getting here from Europe would be a great challenge. She works for an airline and can get great discounts on stand-by tickets but that wouldn’t work for him because he’d be required to have a return ticket before they’d let him into my country. Breaks my heart that we are so border focused. Any way I guess it doesn’t matter any more for a while. Love your poem, V.J. It brought up lots of ‘mom’ stuff for me.

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    1. Then you know exactly what I’m talking about, LuAnne. My kids can’t travel to the states because she is Somali (although born in Canada) and they are both now Muslim. Young men having converted to Muslim are looked at very suspiciously.

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  4. You offer a perspective common to parents – that privilege, in whatever guise, is not a blanket or umbrella that can shield our children from the harsh realities of the world. Well done.

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  5. Oh, this is so tender and heartfelt, VJ. I can not tell how I admire your take on the prompt which is exactly what I desired everyone would try to consider and put into perspective. This significant realization is so powerfully expressed: “Had no sense of the depth/of my ignorance, how/everyday matters suffer/unfair scrutiny”.
    Thank you for sharing and participating!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Had no sense of the depth
    of my ignorance, how
    everyday matters suffer
    unfair scrutiny –

    oh this was one of those verses that come from great masters V.J – it is passionate and honest with truth we overlook. love knows no boundaries, that is true love, for a person who is whole and one who completes the other. looking beyond the color of skin and nationality just looking at how you make me feel about myself and my values. the everyday matters are what real relationships are made of. thank you for writing from the heart

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  7. This poem makes a good mirror … reflecting back what the reader has experienced. On issues of both race and gender, I was willing to let my two offspring make their own choices, while also hoping they would not choose a “difficult path”. But what constitutes difficult? Neither have taken on the recognized conflicts of gender and race variance – but neither of them has led an easy life, either. Being too guarded can set one (and one’s mother!) up for heartache just as readily as bravely stepping into nonconformity.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This touched my mother’s heart and I hope that the couple finds a way to live their lives filled with love and peace. We can only hope for the best of them, knowing (or not fully knowing) how everyday is impacted by the deepest (often unfair) scrutiny. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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  9. Having been in my 20’s during the Civil Rights 60’s, I was like the protagonist in your poem; dating minority women, and having to deal with their families and mine; quite the educatiion.

    Liked by 2 people

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