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Naming It: An Essay in Six Parts
Part Three: A Different Kind of Naming
Naima Karczmar

"aaaaand the cable has been cut" by Flickr user  Lindsey Turner  

"aaaaand the cable has been cut" by Flickr user Lindsey Turner 

My Polish grandfather calls my Russian grandmother Pussy, possibly because English is not his first language and she reminds him of a cat. 

Their house consists of bricks on the North side of Chicago, steeped in whiteness, steeped also in the kind of Buddhism that rich people like to claim in the form of expensive statues. 

My Polish Grandfather and my Russian Grandmother are Jewish, and my grandfather believes that because he is Jewish, he cannot possibly be racist. It is often useless to explain to him that his attitude toward my mother is certainly racist. She tried for years, and it was a valiant effort, but was colored by her particular brand of argument and his particular brand of racism, doomed to failure before it started. 

A closer relative is my father, who feels ambiguous toward his parents and often looks careworn when they are brought up in conversation. 

One summer, my mother spent the better part of two afternoons pulling until my head was cornrows. It took more patience than I had at seven, but she insisted and I liked, eventually, how they felt, shook my head to make them dance. 

There are still pictures in which cornrows and bangles are the center of black and white faux-artistry. 

That summer, placidly, my grandmother whose nickname is Pussy and who is indeed cat-like, assured me of my whiteness, patted the top of my head as if defending me from an attack by an unnamed foe as she maintained that the braids were cute, but didn’t really suit me. She could not bring herself to call them cornrows. I could not bring myself to correct her. 

She added, then, that they were somewhat tacky. 

CONCLUSION: And I, the child, did not understand why my mother devoted so much energy to hating her. 

Naima Karczmar is a biracial, semi-youthful, fairly gay student living and writing in Portland Oregon with the help of two cats and a fabulous mentor. She writes a lot about being biracial, semi-youthful, and fairly gay, though not always at the same time. She also writes the kind of fiction she wants to read. 

Naming It by Naima Karczmar