Kwanzaa Day 2 - Kujichagulia: Self-Determination

I’ve meant to do this in the past but never felt I had the right outlet or platform for it. Now that I’ve finally got my own site it’s definitely the right time. I’ll be celebrating Kwanzaa by writing a new piece every day for 7 days based on each of the 7 principles and what they have meant to me this past year and how I’ll be incorporating these principles in the future.

Kujichagulia: Self-Determination - To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

My name is Buddy. I go by Brilliance Proper fka Bananas. I’m a Black man writer, emcee, producer, creator, father, and friend. And I tell my own stories because everyone else only knows a portion and not the whole.

I find it interesting that we’re born with names we have no choice in taking and are supposed to live with for the rest of our lives. Names are a good placeholder but I don’t think we should be held to liking those names forever. I actually applaud people who eventually change them legally and I love the term ‘deadname,’ defined as the legal birth name of someone who eventually changed it, most notably within the LGBTQIA+ community and especially trans persons. After they fully embrace and make the transition from birth-self to fully actualized-self, they change their name and walk throughout the world unencumbered by a world, name, gender, and more they had no choice in taking. A deadname is like the cocoon of a caterpillar and a new actualized self comes out with a new persona that is representative of who that person truly is. I find that to be beautiful; to come into your own and finally have a choice in your name since, even though your parents technically created you, they don’t really know you. Your birth name gets THEM comfortable with your arrival and helps them familiarize themselves with a being that exists in some form in their own minds but doesn’t always line up with your own.

I was born with a nickname that I use as my real name and while I never go by my real name, I haven’t changed it due to the fact that it sounds professional on my resume and, generally, people think I’m a white man before they see me. I’ve crafted this image of myself to project onto employers and professionals to fit into their world and some of their expectations in order to gain employment and have a productive life. I’m not saying I’ve lied to them to get positions; what I’m saying is that my name put a target on me and my stance as a Black man in America meant that I had to go above and beyond to stand out in the crowded fields I was entering. And while I never lied about what I could do in regards to what I could do for any company, I wouldn’t use the same descriptors to discuss who I am off the clock or even what I truly wanted in life. And maybe this is the reason I've never truly grown in companies I worked for or have had my true talents used to get ahead.

Truth be told, I don’t ever want to hear my legal name again. I don’t want to put it on a resume and I don’t want it to define me. I go by Buddy and that’s fine in my day to day life but I created Brilliance Proper. My dad and I share a name right down to him being Buddy as well. Within the family he’s Big Bud, I’m Little Bud or some variation of that. When I was in middle school I thought of being just Lil’ B (I know…) or even going by the name Buddy as an entertainer. I decided against it, only because I felt like there had to already be someone who would use such a plain name (there was a Lil’ Bud on the Don’t Be A Menace… soundtrack in 1996 and now there’s also another rapper named Buddy. I should’ve stuck with it.) I didn’t want to stray too far from a name starting with the letter ‘b’ so I took my more boisterous trait and named myself Bananas. I wasn’t going to necessarily be Busta Rhymes but I felt like I was pretty energetic and could say some off the wall things. I recorded a lot under that name until about 2004 when I realized there was another rapper with a similar name and also a drink called 99 Bananas (also using my favorite number.) To combat this I had to come up with a new moniker. All my life I was called Proper because I don’t have any sort of regional accent and every Black person I knew kept telling me I ‘talked proper.’ I didn’t want to use that as my main name so I attached Brilliance to it as I’ve also been told how smart I am (and it started with ‘b.’) Brilliance Proper was born and I began recording new music and creating things with my new name.

Suddenly I felt more like me. My music didn’t have to be wild and energetic, it just had to be like me. Later on, I even created another persona just for writing a different type of story (that’s for another day) and still, they all felt like me. Names I created for putting things out that are fully me. Self-Actualization instead of what was forcibly put on me. My real name is professional and is needed to get into doors I can’t say I honestly want to be a part of, but those familiar with who I am in day-to-day life use Buddy. Those who love my music, my production, my writing, and my site know Brilliance Proper (plus one other) and THAT is what I love. That my creations are mine, that I created my names and that I was able to tell my stories on my own platforms in my own way. You can bring up my real name but you’re not going to be talking about ME. You’re talking about the representative my parents created to get me out in the world and someone who honestly isn’t spoken about often. But I laid claim to Buddy as my primary and the others are going to project me into the future.

That brings me to now. Going forward, I’m finally taking the chances I left on the table time and time again. Brilliance Proper is going to be writing music, producing beats, writing blogs, stories and more and this is how I’m going to build my career. This is how I plan to dig myself out of my financial holes and take charge of my ever-spiraling life. By not being afraid of being brash with my creations and embracing the real me as I’ve been for some time. I realized that I can get into plenty of doors I WANT to walk through as Brilliance and they can even get familiar with Buddy. Either way, my work, my words, and my songs are going to get me out and lift me up. I was given the tools to get so far and then I created things to keep me going.

I’ll never underestimate myself again.