Brownsplaining: Microaggression Edition

Brownsplaining title

By Puja

It is time for another installment of Brownsplaining! That whacky segment where people of color explain why something someone said to/about a brown person is offensive and/or wrong. Today’s edition: The Name Game (part 1).

The following is based on true events. Names have not been changed to protect the innocent (mostly because I forgot the lady’s name).


Setting: Puja, Nancy & Nancy’s friend Stephanie are in fancy shmancy suite at a sports arena turned concert venue for Duran Duran’s performance. Puja and Nancy are guests of Stephanie, all three ladies are trying to Turn Up [on a Tuesday].

Stephanie and Nancy have procured adult beverages, Puja is typing out a hurried blog entry on her phone, when and unknown woman approaches them. Description of the woman: Early forties, average height, thin, trendy haircut, wearing torn skinny jeans, booties, probably a designer plain white t-shirt, a bulky “festival circuit” sweater, Clark Kent style glasses, and a version of Pharrell’s hat; cocktail in one hand and designer purse dangling from the wrist of the other. 

Unknown Woman: (Sticks hand out to Stephanie) Hi my name is [garble garble].

Stephanie: (shaking woman’s hand) Hi. I’m Stephanie.

Unknown Woman: (Sticks hand out to Nancy) Hi, [garble garble garble]

Nancy: Hi, Nancy.

Puja: (The Unknown Woman sticks her hand in Puja’s face, who is still typing out last week’s blog entry) Hi, Puja.

Unknown Woman: What?

***At this point Puja’s running inner monologue will be noted as “Inner Puja.”***

Inner Puja: Ugh. Ok it is a concert, it is loud, you didn’t catch her name, so maybe she didn’t hear yours.

Puja: (speaking louder and slower than she did the first time) POOH-JAAA

Unknown Woman: (wearing a look of consternation, hand still clasping Puja’s) Spell it.

Inner Puja: Ok, maybe she really can’t hear me, I do talk into my chest sometimes. Maybe she’s a visual person and can pronounce it better if it is ‘said like it is spelled.’ This isn’t the first time you’ve had to do this.

Puja: P-U-J-A

Unknown Woman: Oh, like it’s spelled. (She lets go of Puja’s hand). You should get a nickname.

Inner Puja: No this indoor hat wearing bitch didn’t just say this to me! Puja calm down! No. You don’t know me lady, why should you get to use my nickname? I’m so mad, she clearly doesn’t know what she did wrong, just look at her vacant eyes. You can’t go to jail. Puja you are too pretty for jail! Do no cuss this woman out. Do not cuss this woman out. Do NOT cuss this woman out. You are someone’s guest! Fine, OK!

Puja: It’s 4 letters…

Nancy: I like her name.

Stephanie wears a look of horror on her face. The unknown woman exits quickly as if she had been recognized as a public smelly farter.

End Scene

Yes, that actually happened. Without Inner Puja giving you cues, were you able to spot the microaggression? Yay, if yes, you’re woke. And if “no” here is pretty decent definition from a 2010 Psychology Today blog entry:

Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.

Why did I consider this a microaggressive move?

  1. She could have asked me whether I had a nickname (for the record, this is only slightly less offensive than telling me to get a nickname).
  2. She seemed to hear my friend’s names…
  3. Instead, what was demanded of me was that I provide an alternate version of myself so that garble garble would not be inconvenienced.
  4. I wasn’t offered an apology when the look on my face clearly said ‘I’m offended.’
  5. Clearly she could pronounce difficult names because at one point she had to have gone into a store and tell someone she wanted “Pharrell’s Hat.” Unless she went in there with a picture, she had to offer up some level of attempted pronunciation of ‘Pharrell,’ which is twice as long as my name.

As a brown person who gets asked this [un]surprisingly a lot, I am used to a certain level of insensitivity and indifference when it comes to my name. I was initially thankful for this experience because it taught me the value of not only my name, but of names and identity in general. But now, I’m over it.

I’m tired of this specific type of microaggression. It was fine when I was new to America or I was encountering people who were as foreign to me as I was with them (ex: Is it Brit-a-knee or Brit-knee?). But I’ve been in America for over 20 years now, and in that time I have met a lot of people with unique names and people with mainstream names. Not once did I say ‘oh that is dead common name you have there Larry’ to someone with a traditionally mainstream name.  If the only way to make people stop asking these asinine questions and catalyzing insulting interactions is to get offended by it, then so be it. Because just laughing it off as something people say in passing, or telling them “it’s OK, I get it a lot” is no longer part of my personal credo. Open your mind and learn about the world that surrounds you people. If not, I am lurking around the corner, waiting to pounce and give you a lecture on microaggression and mindfulness. At the time of writing this, it has been a week since this incident, and I am still salty about it. I bet garble garble didn’t take anything away from the interaction. She is probably off somewhere learning to Dab.

So you want to be woke and need alternatives to asking someone to spell and slowly say their name?  Good for you, here are some handy dandy examples:

  1. Instead of “What?”  try: ‘I am so sorry, I did not catch that, can you repeat it please?’
  2. Instead of “What is that/Where is that from?” try: ‘That is a unique name. I have not heard that before, where does it originate?’
  3. Instead of “that’s different” try: ‘Does it mean something?’
  4. If you know you will never see that person again, just smile and nod and say nice to meet you.

For the record, my name means prayer/worship in Hindi. I should have told her my nickname was “bow down bitches” (shout out to delayed comebacks). This has been another edition of Brownsplaining, we hope this lesson gives you the tools you need to avoid getting stabbed.

Feel free to share your coping mechanisms for microaggressions you’ve faced in the comments or on the Facebook page!

Things Keeping Me Sane This Week: Nothing, Prince died last week. I’m in mourning. RIP your Purpleness!

2 thoughts on “Brownsplaining: Microaggression Edition

  1. Puja, right there with ya sista! I feel your pain regarding the name pronunciation issue. I will not give myself what others may call a different name just so it would be easier for others to pronounce. Maybe in my teens or twenties – forget that.


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