Uzo Aduba is one of Hollywood’s rising stars thanks to the groundbreaking Netflix series Orange is the New Black, now in its second season. Her character, Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, is one of the prison inmates and has a habit of putting herself down, and getting too attached to others too fast. These are more than just quirks; they speak to a larger issue of self-identity and a nearly terminal lack of confidence. Thankfully, Ms. Aduba managed to conquer her own confidence issues.
When she was a kid Ms. Aduba ran into a few stumbling blocks, two of which she talks about here and here. Her Nigerian name and her gap-toothed smile (heritage from her Nigerian mother’s family) plagued her as a child. No one could pronounce her name – ever – and she felt so self-conscious of her teeth that she rarely showed them. The voice that helped get her over these things belonged to her mother. When she wanted to change her name to Zoe (her full name is Uzoamaka), her mama wasn’t having it. When she wanted to get braces to close the gap, her mama squashed that idea real quick. The best part of her mother closing these ideas down wasn’t just that she was telling her that who she was, was good enough; but that she was even more special because of these things. Her gap was more than a gap: it was sign of beauty and intelligence, and was the legacy of the people in her mother’s family line. Her name wasn’t difficult and didn’t need to be changed because (and this is truly brilliant and flawless logic) “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka”. Standing ovation to Momma Aduba!
We all carry around with us baggage that can weigh us down. Some of it may seem as trivial as people constantly mispronouncing (or misspelling) our names, or it could be something more insidious like people telling us we’re ugly because our hair is too short or our skin too dark. Whatever the source, and whatever the weight we have to try to work our way through it to a place where we can finally put those bags down and walk away from them. You travel further and faster when you travel lighter.