today in a room full of three other white women and myself, a white woman, upon meeting me for the first time, looked me dead in the eyes, and — in the silence belonging to no one — asked me,
“so WHY is your name jenevieve? are you a little french and….?”
she stares at me but doesn’t finish the question. doesn’t utter the Other. doesn’t name the thing that i am most visibly, the thing that is and should be labeled foreign. she does not ask anyone else in the room why their names are their names, doesn’t demand an explanation, doesn’t try to trace their lineages in their faces or make sense of a name and a skin color and a body that cannot — must not — align.
she is not looking at anyone else.
truthfully, she is not even looking at you either. in an instant, the familiarity sets in like scar tissue. you are reminded that this is how white women have always made you feel seen and invisible at the same time.
ghost and shell.
in the nanoseconds that pass before you collect yourself enough to respond, the only thing that escapes your mouth is a scoff, what feels like the leftovers of the same fire stoked at again and again — another form of huo qi leaving your lips. “yes, my great grandmother’s name was geneviève.”
lightbulbs and understanding, suddenly, dots connect in space — a white, expansive space. she nods, knowingly. she sees you now — you are just the result of something that deserved the mantle. you are just an echo of a lighter-skinned woman’s name. you are just french enough to be questioned, just chinese enough to be translucent.
your chinese name means “one who possesses artistry.”
today, your american name means “you do not belong to yourself.”
today, your name means “i don’t believe you.”
today, your name means “you owe me this.”
you wonder when the micro will stop feeling so macro,
when your Otherness will stop feeling like it introduces itself before you do,
when you will be more than your body,
or even more than your name.
you cannot write your name in chinese,
you are made aware that you do not belong in this name either.
what do you call yourself when you are never more than a name?
where do you go when you are taken, even from yourself?
what do you do with the silence that stays,
the feeling that lingers,
the innocent inqueries that feel heavy with guilt,
and the eyes that deny you,
what do you do with the body then,
when you are unmade again,
turned into an explanation,
when you are seen
all the same