By Kiah Thomas
The Black Comentator
"…with names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail.”
– Bill Cosby quoted at the gala event honoring the 50th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, May 17, 2004
Mr. Cosby, you may think my name is “crap,” but it actually means “seasons beginning” in Kiswahili. I was born on December 20th, the end of fall and the beginning of winter. My parents bought a book of names before I was born and read it over and over again until they found one they liked. At school, some of my friend’s names are: Shameka, Makeeba, Shaquana and Kashia and none of us are in jail. I don’t know what all my friends’ names mean, but I know they don’t mean failure. We go to middle school, get decent grades and live pretty normal lives.
When I read the remarks you made, I wondered whether Shaniqua was sitting in the audience that night, and what she felt when she heard you mention her name. I wonder if she went to school the next day feeling proud to have been able to attend a gala event to celebrate a historic occasion like the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, whether she felt like she had been kicked in the stomach, or whether she just blew off the whole thing as just another old man talking too much.
My parents talk to me a lot about what goes on in the world. Mostly, they try to get me to understand that sometimes there’s more to a person than what meets the eye and that I shouldn’t make assumptions. I hope that when I am ready to send in my resume for a job, that the person reading it will judge me by my qualifications and not the spelling of my name. I think that someone should not stereotype a child by their name and definitely not tease them because it is different. One of my grandfathers’ names is Rolumus. My dad said that it was supposed to be Romulus, but my great-grandparents couldn’t spell. That happened a lot with black people who were freed slaves. You have a simple and common name. I have an aunt and uncle named Bill and Camille and they are white. I also know that some of your children have unusual names and I think that’s great. You and your wife made the decision to give them different names and no one is going to hold that against you and hopefully not against your kids either.
All I wanted to say Mr. Cosby is that I truly hope you didn’t mean to insult anyone named Shaniqua or Taliqua or Mohammed because I know they are out there. I’ve watched reruns of your show on Nick at Nite and it seemed to me that if one of your TV kids had made fun of someone’s name, that “Cliff Huxtable” would have taught them a lesson. Maybe you were just in a bad mood that night at Constitution Hall. But I think you owe all of us an apology.
This essay was edited by Joan Grangenois-Thomas, Kiah’s mom.