Just A Thought....Can We Stop Changing Our Name Every 20 Years?
by Rick Adams
SEVERAL years ago the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and a number of Black leaders from around the country had a summit, out of which one of the resolutions, proclaimed that the most correct name for our people was "African American". The designation was thought to be the most descriptive and accurate nomenclature for the descendants of Africa in the United States. Some of us reacted by questioning who were "they" to proclaim such a thing, others said what's the fuss, it is not an important issue, still others remarked that they had called themselves that for years, and still others thought we should refer to ourselves as Black or simply Africans. Another segment of our community felt we should call ourselves Americans.
I thought that the term African American was the name most suited to locating us geographically, historically, and culturally. Judging from many of the callers to my daily radio talk show the issue is far from being settled. Various callers have said that we should be called by our correct name; Nubians, Moors, Moorish Americans, Hebrews, Ethiopians, Asiatics, Kemetians, and Black Israelites to name a few. The more ideological minded prefer Afrikans, New Afrikans, and simply Africans. Not too many years age some advocated that we call ourselves Bilialians. Of course Black remains very popular as a name.
PERHAPS most of us can agree that it represents some progress since the names, Negro, and Colored have generally fallen into disfavor, however, there are small segments of our population that still refer to themselves in such terms.
FROM my perspective, the names Black and African American, are synonymous and generally acceptable to the mass of our people. It is most helpful to use the Kawaida Nationalist definition of Black, popularized by Maulana Karenga and Amiri Baraka; "Black is color, culture, and consciousness". In other words it is a word that is inherently political. It is political because, if it referred to color only, it would be profoundly inaccurate since many of us are not actually of "black" pigmentation! It is political because it speaks to the most massive, complete, and sustained evil of; murder, rape, kidnapping, brainwashing, and total separation of a people in the annals of recorded history. It is political because it is a stark reminder of the ultimate horror of the African Maafa or holocaust; a people unable, for the most part, to identify the homeland, people, language, or history of their birth. Uniquely among all Americans, it is only the African American who suffers from cultural/historic amnesia, not even the almost extinct Native Americans have endured this savage consequence of genocidal European/American policies. Finally Black is political because it implicitly, if not explicitly, recognizes the unity of African people and the reality of not being able to connect with the nation state or ethnic nation of ones' heritage in their motherland. In short, its very usage displays a consciousness and makes a political statement.
A people are defined by the area of the world that they traditionally inhabit, their language, religion, social practices, and shared physical characteristics and history. It is unarguable that Black people originate in Africa, and after 400 years in this country, are Americans in citizenship and culture. If you don't believe my last assertion, travel to Africa or read the testimony of those Blacks who have, and they almost uniformly remark on how much of an "American" they realized they were! If you are ever unfortunate enough to be caught overseas without your passport, or attempt to present papers that allege that you are; an African, African American, Black, or any of the other names one hears, you will quickly find out what designation enjoys international recognition.
We are unavoidably a people trapped in a duality; of African roots, transplanted to American soil, and blossomed into a new hybrid African American fruit. We are US citizens by birth and international standards, and ethnically African. A negotiated political agreement, forged in keeping with accepted international laws and practices could change this, but until then the description US citizens of African descent, Black Americans, or African Americans best depicts who we are in terms of citizenship and ethnicity. Any inordinate debate about being something else is a needless waste of energy, unless one is engaged in serious political struggle to get official recognition for a change of status.
WHY is this of any importance? First of all, we do not need to have meaningless debates that serve to further divide us. Secondly, if we do not adopt names that reflect our ties to our historic homelands and our people; then we perpetuate confusion both among ourselves and among those with whom we live. Thirdly, the recognition of our dual origins honors the tremendous contributions, involuntary and willful, that we have made to the development of the richest and most powerful nation in the world.
THERE are two additional reasons that should compel us to settle this conundrum once and forever. The first is that by stressing the ethnicity of African Americans we can combat the simplistic, and erroneous line that to be pro Black is reverse racism. The idea that Black people should not desire elected officials of their own, or communities of their own, or to do business with each other is somehow racist is an absurd and dangerous concept.. All people clearly have the right to self -determination, self -reliance, and voluntary association. It is an unvarnished attack on the civil and human rights of African people to assert otherwise. Even some of our own people think the goal is to be "color blind" or invisible, when all other people enjoy wealth and power by exerting their God given right to build their own "thing", without threat of attack or vilification. We should demand no less.
The second reason is that by using and understanding the terms Black, and African American we can understand the promise and challenge of Pan Africanism. It is imperative that when we call for the worldwide unity of African people, we must understand that many of our brothers and sisters see themselves as members of a political, ethnic, linguistic, or religious group first. Therefore, when the call is given, many will not respond because they will see themselves as Nigerians, Ibos, or Muslims first, for example. An effective Pan Africanism must be able to demonstrate the positive and pragmatic benefits of being both; Nigerian, Cuban, Christian, Muslim, and African! If it does not, it will not be successful.
MY dream is that we have changed our name for the last time and we can finally get down to the real business at hand; Black Liberation, well it's JUST A THOUGHT.... September 1, 1998