"Please, call me Tao"

By Tao LaBossiere

When I was born my parents filed out my Birth Certificate as follows. First Name - (  none. ), Middle Name: Tao, and Last Name: LaBossiere. They intentionally did not give me a first name, to allow me the opportunity to give myself my own first name when I came of age. I believe they greatly admired similar Native American traditions of one finding a name for oneself. I really don't know where the hell they got the idea that would be a good idea in our society, because it caused a great deal of identity conflict for me as a child. But I suppose they were somehow anticipating that I might have issues with the name they chose to give me due to it's ethnic sound and that "Tao" emphasized the cultural and racial difference I had been born into, compared the predominantly Caucasian community that they had chosen to live.

I will not create a list, but I will give one example of racism that I have personally experienced. It was the first time I ever experienced racism, and the most traumatic for me, and it shaped the way I viewed myself and how I was acutely aware that I did not quite fit into my community a five year old child.

It was the First Day of School! My mother was holding my hand as we walked down our our long gravel country driveway to ride my first School Bus! My mother was kind and encouraging, she said to me,"You are going to make so many new friends and learn so many things! School is an amazing place. You are going to love school!" I could still feel the warmth of her love and reassurance as the enormous yellow bus pulled up to our driveway. It was so big I could barely pull myself up the steps and when I triumphantly reach the top and turned to look up the aisle at all of my new friends, a Big Boy in the back stood up and shouted,"Hey everybody look, it's a CHINK!" Almost all of the kids were suddenly pointing at me and laughing and I had no idea why but it felt like the end of the world as my heart dropped into my stomach. I knew instantly that I was different from everybody and they didn't like me.

Apparently the laughter reassured the bullying Big Boy that he had a captive audience, and victim, and he was on the right track. He gleefully attacked me again, shouting, "How do Chinks name their kids? Huh? They throw utensils down the stairs...Ting! Tang!Ching! Chong!" And the entire bus roared with laughter as almost everyone stared at me with disgust and took pleasure making me the target of someone they could hate ...for no reason other than the fact that I didn't look exactly like them.

The only other person on the bus who didn't join in the laughter was a little red headed girl sitting in the first seat to my left. Her head was down and I could tell that she had been crying and that she had peed in her pants. So I assumed that she had been the  previous victim of the bullying Big Boy. The bus driver told me to sit with a little red headed girl and thus began my first day of school, as an unacceptable five year old child.

I tell that story so that those who know me can understand why I ended up choosing "Scott" as my legal first name when I transitioned into grade school. It was the only Anglicized name that was not taken by any of my classmates and I had hoped that it would give people the impression that I was more of an acceptable Caucasian and less Asian and that I would be allowed to fit in.

Assuming the name and identity of Scott T. LaBossiere did indeed have a profound relief on the level of racism that I experienced. I still experienced it from time to time but I cannot imagine how much worse it would've been had I continued to introduce myself as Tao.

Today, as a 48-year-old man who has come to accept myself and that I am better equipped to deal with the ignorant and mean spirited racism that exists in the world, I have reclaimed my birth name, Tao.

Tao is spelled T-A-O, but pronounced with a "D" sound, as in "Dao" or "Dow". I am not really sure why it's pronounced that way other than my mother's insistence that that is how you pronounce it! Apparently there are fifty-six dialects of the Chinese language, but I wouldn't know because unfortunately I don't speak the language.

So the name Tao, being of confusing pronunciation, gives me the perfect opportunity on almost a daily basis to have to explain my name. Why it's different. I am acutely aware that with many folks who do not share my heritage, it stands to emphasize our cultural differences.

For the most part folks are interested and accepting and will tend to remember me because of my name and the arduous task of its explanation and pronunciation.

But still today, for some, the name Tao gives cause or proof to them that I am an 'other', that I am different, and not in a way that they find palatable. "Oh, I thought you looked a little Asian!" One of my ex-girlfriends mothers who has known me for nearly 30 years, still refuses to call me Tao. She insists on calling me Scott despite my informing her many times that I do not go by that name anymore.

I am half French & English on my father's side and and Chinese on my mother's side. So I am perceived as mostly white, or as one of my buddies use to say, "He's one of the good ones!"

The degree to which I have personally experienced racism is appalling, but I'm sure it pales in comparison to others. I can not imagine the depth of anguish endured by my tan, brown, and black skinned brothers and sisters in the world.

Racism is the manifestation of human insecurity, and we have not out grown it.

Yes, my legal first name is Scott ... but please, call me Tao.