On Friday, an interesting conversation happened on Twitter in regards to names, specifically name calling. More specifically, middle school name-calling.
Some people dreaded high school, others junior high but my personal big bag of suck was middle school. [In Texas, (well, in my area) elementary school is Kindergarten through 4th grade, middle school is 5th and 6th grade, junior high is 7th and 8th grades and high school is 9th-12th.] What is it about the age of 10 to 12 that makes kids little a**holes? Hormones must have a hand in it; the same chemicals that cause height and body hair also make a previously sweet child think it’s okay to brand his former best friend James Hooper as Lames Pooper. And it’s not just boys. Place a group of more than four tween girls together in a room, I can guarantee that one of them will be sobbing and asking for a ride home within two hours. Whatever your “fault” is, overweight, underweight, big boobs, no boobs, rich, poor, ginger or brunette; kids will find a difference and exploit it.
Now that we’re older, we know it wasn’t our fault. That horrid boy in the corner had divorcing parents and that’s what made him such a jerk. The mean girl at recess was getting pressure at age 10 from her mother about her own weight, that’s why she made fun of yours. But even knowing that, it can still sting to remember how badly that name-calling hurt. Even to this day, when I even consider not wearing a bra even to get the mail, I remember a boy named Anthony who told me in the middle of choir class that I needed to start wearing one. To be fair, I did, but it was so out of the blue that I was humiliated. Of course, I hear that now his own boobs are bigger than mine, so HAHAHAHA!!!
My own nickname issues actually started WAY before middle school. Being bi-racial, I was blessed to grow up in a military town where people were pretty tolerant and a good 30% of us were half something or other. (A shout-out to my halfsie’s peeps! Doing our best to dilute the gene pool, legally, since 1967…) However, I definitely knew what racism was and it came from my mom’s side of the family. Not everyone, just a select few but they started early. When I was about 4, I had a relative who started calling me “C.D.”, for Creme Drop. You know, white on the inside, brown on the outside. (Oh, the HILARITY!) My mom had to explain it to me when I got older and even then it took a little bit before I realized he wasn’t be nice or funny. My mom used to call me her little zebra, which is still a play on my race, but it was affectionate. C.D. was not said with affection and his funny was a thin layer hiding a deep kind of ugly that persisted until his passing.
It was because of C.D. that I realized when I was in middle school and someone referred to me as an Oreo that they weren’t being nice about it. I have no idea what prompted it, but I think it was one of those incidents that where they couldn’t think of anything else to make fun of me for, so why not my parentage? And thanks to that lovely relative, I knew they weren’t being sweet or funny. And for reason, Oreo stuck for a little while. When I walked down the hall, a few of the boys would chant, “Or-e-o, ohhhh oh! Or-e-o, ohhhh oh!” (You know, like the in Wizard of Oz and the March of the Winkies? Sidenote – does anyone else find Wizard of Oz to be an infinitely creepy movie? Not Labyrinth creepy, but close…)
It wasn’t until high school that I really got over the Oreo thing. I was talking with a group of friends about names or something and somehow I mentioned the Oreo thing and they thought it was HILARIOUS. And they got me to realize that it was because it was SO STUPID. I mean, OREO? REALLY? That hurt me?!? We then started rattling off all the other possible racist terms we’d heard – Junior Mint, Cookies and Creme, White Chocolate, Othello (like the game), Jungle Fever (cause my parents had it), Jungle Boogie (cause WHY NOT?).
I didn’t realize it at the time, but what we were doing was really cathartic. We took terms meant to highlight miscegenation and stomped it in its stupid face by making them jokes. I reappropriated that b*tch, so much so that Oreo became my nickname my junior and senior year and my friends wanted me to put it on the back of my letter jacket. (I did not. I’d already earned my jacket not in Theatre but in Oral Interpretation, so my letter C had “ORAL” written at the top and “Interp.” at the bottom where you could barely see it. Who thought this was a good idea?)
Would this work for everyone? Nah. Hell, it even backfired occasionally with all the “creamy filling” jokes it spawned. But it helped. I hadn’t even realized I’d held on to the hurt from middle school until I let it go. Nowadays, very few people even remember that I was Oreo – even I forget a lot of the time. However, I still have the confidence that letting go of that taunt helped me gain.
So let’s talk taunts, name-calling, etc. And let’s OWN them, even if it’s just for today. What did you get called in middle (or junior or high) school, and how’d it make you feel? Reclaim that name and let us know how you dealt with it.
Oh, and I’d just like to put it out there, to those who called me C.D. and Oreo and other assorted bi-racial taunts: