Last week at a dinner party, 25-year-old Shondra Hawthorne found herself having to explain her Anglo-Saxon last name to her friend Nora, who is white, without totally ruining the mood.
“There’s a pretty simple reason why I and other black people in this country have European surnames,” said Ms. Hawthorne. “I just didn’t want to make things weird for everybody by explaining the truth to her.”
Shondra tried a few different methods to explain her white last name while maintaining the chill, neutral atmosphere at the intimate gathering of friends.
“First I tried changing the subject, then I told her that maybe she could look it up on her own time,” said Shondra. “But she was not having it.”
In fact, Ms. Hawthorne explained, Nora pitched reasons of her own.
“She’s of English and Welsh descent,” said Shondra, who is of black and only black descent. “It’s kind of endearing, because I think she just wants us to figure out that we’re distant cousins or something.”
“It would just totally wreck the atmosphere if I told her about the transatlantic slave trade,” she added.
Nora remains blissfully unaware of the origins of Shondra’s last name.
“I just want to understand,” said Ms. Gilfeather, who majored in American History in college. “Maybe we could do a DNA kit together or something and find out!”
For Shondra, whose ancestors were immigrants but from Africa and not by choice, the whole ordeal ultimately reached a breaking point.
“I’m just gonna have to tell her that it was slavery,” said Ms. Hawthorne. “Is there a cute way to tell someone that your ancestors’ identity was beaten out of them and replaced with the identity of their oppressors? I don’t wanna make things awkward.”