“How are you, cousin?” That’s what I said to the tall, willowy, aloof blonde, the only other passenger on the elevator that morning,
She wrinkled her nose, stepped back, and looked away from me.
“Hey, I understand why you would be leery of family. We are a collection of loons.”
She snaps back. “What’s the scam, cousin? I wasn’t aware that we had a Black branch of my family.”
“Black branch, roots, and succulent black fruit. In the right light, you can see your black history in your lips, hair, and ass.”
“Uh-huh, and I bet you are the bringer of light, the ass examiner and hair analyzer.”
The door opened for my floor. I stepped out and said, “I’m not an expert, but I know what I’m doing.” I winked.
After work, the elevator was crowded, and she was packed in the back. I waived and said, “Have a good evening, cuz.”
She replied, “You also, cousin.”
The next morning, we were again the only two early birds on the elevator. She spoke first. “Cousin, do you even know my name?”
“Of course, I do.”
“Well, I’m waiting.”
She laughed until tears were rolling from her eyes.
“Cousin, you are so full of shit. My name is Katherine. You are—”
“You are Somalia at the edge of things, on the border of becoming you.”
“Bullshit! You need to stop immediately.”
I sigh. “Katherine is your slave name. You are Somalia in heart and soul.”
“Fuck you! I know my own fucking name, asshole!”
“Say Somalia when you look in the mirror, and before you go to bed. Your name will fill your mouth and drown you in the truth.”
Her face is red with fury. Her eyes are slits. Her teeth are long and threatening. Her hands are fists.
“Somalia, Listen to yourself. Look at yourself. You’re so angry, way over the top because deep down, you know I’m right.”
” Fuck you! If you ever speak to me again—who do you think would name me Somalia? Who the fuck—”
I step out on my floor.
“I did. Just a minute ago. Have a good day, Somalia.”
A few hours later, our receptionist called and informed me that a tall, blonde woman was looking for me. She didn’t know my name or have an appointment, but she had given a detailed description of me.
“I’m expecting a visit from a relative named Somalia. If it’s her, have my secretary escort her to my office, please.”
Somalia barely controlled her rage as she entered my office and slammed the door.
“I don’t know what your game is, but I’m not a participant. I’m not your target, your mark, or your experiment. Leave me the fuck alone, or there will be consequences. I’m serious.”
“Please, have a seat. Would you like something—”
“Your Secretary said you’re an attorney. I’ll bet you can be disbarred for this kind of shit.”
“That’s not my fucking name, and you know it!”
Her face is scarlet, and her hands are fist.
“Have you checked your DNA? Do you know your family history?”
“I’m not black, African, or Somalian. I don’t require DNA analysis to know that. You need to stop, and you need to stop at once.”
“Are you sure you want me to stop? You could be on the edge of a life-changing—”
“Fuck you! Leave me the fuck alone.”
She slammed my door on her way out.
The following two days, she was not on our regular elevators.
On the third day, Somalia was back in my office at 10:30 in the morning—again. She looked drained, pale, disturbed.
“What did you do to me? Did you put a curse on me?”
“What are you talking about? Sit down, please.”
I poured us two stiff Scotches.
She tossed back her drink in one swallow. I poured her another.
“I, I feel the name, Somalia, is possessing me. I write and whisper Somalia hundreds of times a day. I even signed my last end-of-the-quarter report Somalia. I look in the mirror, and I see Somalia smiling back at me. Katherine, Kate, Kathy, is a fading memory. What the fuck have you done to me?”
“I gave you your real name, the key to the Africa in you.”
“I’m not African! I’m White! I’m Scandinavian White. There is no fucking African blood in my DNA.”
“We all have African blood. That’s why your name has taken root and is growing in you.”
“I don’t want to be African. I don’t want to be Black. I want to be who I am, White, Katherine Ella Stevenson.”
“Well, what’s stopping you?”
“Fuck you! Asshole! You know what’s stopping me. I’m Somalia. I’m Somalia. I – am -Somalia.”
“You have always been. You just didn’t know it. Now you do.”
She finished her drink. I poured her another.
“Okay, okay,” She takes deep breaths, trying to calm down. “will I turn Black? Will my hair be, be—”
“You are Black, Somalia. You are as Black as any of us.”
“I’m a Republican.”
“There are Black Republicans.”
She thought for a moment.
“I don’t care for soul food. Oh, my God, my fiancé, Winston, oh shit!”
“Winston has a problem with Black people?”
“You have really, really fucked me.”
She poured herself a generous drink.
“Okay, I get this. How much to reverse this? I have money. Six, seven figures. In an offshore account. How much?”
“Fuck you. I’m not a nigger! I’m not a goddamn nigger! I’m not.”
“You said the magic word, and, nigger, I ain’t mad at you.”
She stood and looked pure hatred at me for an awfully long time. She finally turned away and quickly turned back, snatched up my Scotch bottle, and stomped out of my office.
A week later, she marched back into my office with a bottle of Scotch in her bag.
“Asshole, I seriously planned to kill you. And I thought about suicide more than once. I also contemplated shooting fucking Winston. That is still a possibility.”
I provided the glasses, and she poured.
“I need help adjusting. I’m losing it. Will you help me?”
“No. But I will recommend someone that can.”
“You bastard. How can you be so cold?”
My phone buzzed. Our receptionist explained that there was a highly agitated woman named Ethiopia desperate to see me.
Somalia gave me the finger, called me several different kinds of niggers, and slammed my door as she left.
I think that she may be adjusting better than she realizes.
That afternoon Somalia called, apologized half-heartedly, and requested the contact information for my transition assistance resource.
Katherine Ella Stevenson
I had never hated anyone as much as I did that smug, Black son-of-a-bitch. I took time to regain my composure before I called Anamanda Horton, his transition assistance person.
Horton’s assistant gave me an emergency appointment for an hour later.
What did I do to deserve this? I’m not a racist. I don’t have anything against Blacks or other people of color. I was merely living my life and building my future. And he brought it all crashing down. That Black motherfucker! I will have revenge. I swear to God he will not get away with this.
Horton is short, brown-skinned, with a light brown natural that is like a halo. She has generous lips and gorgeous eyes. Her smile is direct and honest, and warm. I like her despite her association with him.
“Please, call me Ana and make yourself comfortable anywhere.”
Her office was like a living room with plush Oriental carpets, overstuffed chairs, and love seats. Two chairs faced the tall windows opening onto the street. There was no desk. I chose a window seat.
Ana sat in the other window chair.
“What is your connection with that, that asshole who put me in this shit and refuses to even help me?”
Ana looked serious. “Ruston Walker is a friend and colleague. We met a year ago as a part of Project Redemption.”
I’m ready to leave. Any friend of the asshole is not a person I want in my life.
“Somalia, you will need help making the transition from White to Black. I’m your best bet for that help. If you took your situation to any other therapist, it would be difficult to get them to even believe you. We have fifty minutes. If I’m not helpful, you have only wasted a little time. If I am helpful, this could be invaluable time.”
Ana didn’t smile. She looked serious and concerned.
“I’m a licensed Clinical Social Worker with 12 years experience. Everything you say is confidential.”
I take a deep breath and try to relax.
“Why did that Ruston asshole do this to me? Can you help me with that?”
“It’s his calling to free people enslaved by White racism. People—”
“No! This is absurd. I was not enslaved. I was free. I knew who I was. How can you even say I was a slave? My family is worth billions. I graduated from Harvard in the top ten percent of my class. This is bullshit! He has ruined my fucking life. Now I live like a, a pariah.”
I’m standing and crying and shaking.
Ana stands beside me with her arm around my shoulders.
“What’s changed since you became Somalia? What’s different?”
“Everything. My mother said my walk was different—I rolled my hips more. My sister said my lips were thicker. They haven’t changed. My brother questioned why I didn’t jump on a private prison stock he recommended. My boss said I gave him the evil eye like his Black PA does. They see me as different. Why is that? I look exactly the same. I compared recent pictures and videos. My physical appearance hasn’t changed.”
“How do you see yourself?”
“Fuck! I’m Black. I see things I didn’t see before. I’m beginning to understand how Katherine’s advantages gutted your life, our life, my life. Fuck! I see the politicians rolling back our right to vote. I see Republican-encouraged racism running rampant. I see badge-carrying murders go free. I see homelessness and hunger increasing as fat cats get fatter. I feel angry and on edge. I want to understand our contradictions as a nation. I have to if I’m going to survive. How could I have been so fucking blind?”
“What does it feel like to be Black?”
“On edge. Watching. Waiting. Wondering. Watching the store clerk watching me. Waiting for my boss to tell me I’m not a ‘good fit’ in this office. Watching my doctor dismiss my pain complaints. Wondering why the squad car is following me. I’m always just a step away from the edge of the ledge. How the fuck do we do it, Ana?”
“A day at a time with our friends and family, faith and hope, sex and love, music and dance, liquor, and a few other drugs.”
“This is fucking impossible! Blacks resent me joining their conversations. They clam up and wait for me to leave. I hate Black people more than I do Whites. I can’t take much more rejection. Fuck! Why can’t people accept me for who I am, not what I look like? This would be so much easier if I didn’t look White.”
I slump back into my chair.
“There are Black people who look like you, and they find a way. You need to remember it’s only been two weeks. It takes time. You will be fine. I promise.”
“Fuck. I’m not Rachel Dolezal. I don’t want to pass. I just want to live my Black life my way.”
“You will find your way. I will help you.”
Ana smiles. “Listen, if I could snap my fingers and you could go back to being White, would you want me to snap them?”
“Yes! No! Yes! I don’t know.”
“Why don’t you know?”
“I see so much more. I feel a connection, a purpose, a need to fight back. I’m under threat all the time, everywhere. I’m part of something. I would be a traitor if I left.”
“A traitor to the people that reject you?”
I think. I look Ana in the eyes.
“A traitor to Blacks and Whites. I could open White eyes. Starting with my family.”
“And what if they reject you?”
I ponder that question for a long moment.
“They will reject me. I’m almost positive about that. I have to try to open their eyes. Maybe that’s my calling.”
“Possibly. It sounds like a demanding long-term endeavor.”
“This is all so, so incredibly challenging. I’m so alone here.”
“I’m with you. I accept who you are. I support you. And you know who else accepts you?”
“Asshole. That, that, Ruston accepts me. Right?”
Ana nods yes. “That is a good start. If we can, others will. Our time is almost up. Do you want to set up another appointment?
I embrace Ana so hard, and long I think it will never end.
I whisper to Ana, “If I went back to being White, it would be like ripping out my eyes, like falling back into slavery.”
I feel almost free of whiteness on the street—a disease I never knew I was a slave to.
I smile as I walk. I’m about as free as any other Black person in America.