There has been a systematic attack on the psyche of “black” people for roughly 400 years in the United States of America. I place “black” in quotes because it tells you how you look but not who you are. Dr. John Henrik Clarke once said that the proper name of a people must always relate to three things: land, history, and culture. Black is simply a color. As a matter of fact, black is the combination of all colors. It is a noble word. Despite its nobility, I maintain that it fails to adequately reference the proper history and lineage of its intended audience. It is a cleaver word and one that has been given great power by whites and blacks alike. However, there is no geographical specificity with the word “black”. Land, History, and Culture are three things that are noticeably deficient when referencing so-called “black” people. Let’s break down the three and see what I’m talking about.
When the term land is referred to it means an ancestral point of origin. A place in which your ancestors have dwelled and controlled the resources therein. For “blacks” in America this is a complicated issue. Though most have been born and raised here in America for numerous generations, this land is not our ancestral homeland. We do not control the resources of this land. There have been centuries of government sanctioned anti-black racism that have made it very apparent that “blacks” were merely residents or second class citizens with limited rights and/or privileges. Political activist and Anti-Racism advocate Scot Nakagawa gives us insight into this by stating, “anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.” Scot is correct in his observation. The kidnapping, dehumanization, and enslavement of “blacks” provided a platform on which white supremacy could flourish. An entire country was built on this platform. The European refugees who fled to this country under the guise of religious persecution needed land. This land was necessary for their very survival. Land provided the foundation for the promulgation of white supremacy. How can one reasonably expect me to say that this land is my land when my ancestors were denied the basic rights of humanity? How can I claim this is my land when centuries of legalized discrimination even lynching was tolerated and encouraged? How can I claim this is my land when my Native American brothers and sisters languish into obscurity? Contrary to the song my friends, this land is not your land and this land is not my land. It is Native American land.
The second concept central to the identity or name of a person is History. As previously stated, black is a color not a culture or race. A color has no history. A color has no culture. Sure, we can assign meaning to it to make it relevant to our needs, however, in and of itself , the term has no connection to the history of a people. To call me a “black” man is to deny my history. It denies me the land associated with my ancestors. The “negro”, “colored man”, and “black man” all have histories that do not extend beyond the boundaries that white supremacy built with the founding of the United States of America. Prior to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, we were not negroes, colored, or black. We were Igbo, Asante, Fulani, Ewe, Wolof, and a host of other nations. All with their own distinct land, governance, language, spirituality, and moral codes. However, if you strip a person of the aforementioned, particularly under the threat of death, it becomes much easier to create a new being. A new creature with no history. No ancestry. A lump of clay who can be molded into whatever the artist wants. History tells us who we are and where we must go. The term African-American though closer to accurate than “black” is flawed also. When identifying one’s ethnic background it is necessary to not confuse ethnicity with nationality. They are two very different concepts. According to the U.S. Dept. of Education Guidelines for Universities regarding U.S. Federal reporting, ethnicity is defined as, “a term which represents social groups with a shared history, sense of identity, geography and cultural roots which may occur despite racial differences.” Nationality can be defined as membership or belonging to a nation by birth or a naturalization process(as defined by most reference dictionaries). We inevitably negate our own history by using nationalistic terms to define our ethnic background. Yes, “blacks” in America are absolutely American. I argue that despite its many racial failings, we can still be proud Americans. However, I am not American by ethnicity. My geographical and cultural roots extend much further than 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow discrimination. My sense of identity was forged by my African ancestors who endured the most horrific Maafa(Genocide/disaster) the world has seen. I am a proud American but that has nothing to do with who I am ethnically. As scholar Dr. Marima Ani once said, “I am not African because I was born in Africa. I am African because Africa was born in me.” To ignore the genetic evidence that most “blacks” in America are low-end 70% and high-end 80% Sub-Saharan African is ridiculous and shameful to me. We have allowed cultural and societal attitudes of race to trump the scientific reality pulsing through our bodies. I hear it frequently from my brothers and sisters. I am not African! Don’t call me no African! Often times this is said with contempt as well. This ignorance is indicative of a lack of awareness between ethnicity and nationality. But more pressing is why harbor so much resentment for who you are? When faced with a genetic test would they still make this claim in the face of science? By limiting our history and identity to nationality only, we will continue to be marginalized and unaware of our own true history. As Mark Twain once said, “The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.”
Lastly, a name must refer to a specific culture. A shared culture. I recall as a graduate student being in a seminar class and this very issue being raised. We were discussing what culture was, how it functions, and what is African-American culture. After much lively debate, a sister(the only other “black” in class) made the comment of referencing the uniqueness and vitality of African-American culture. I thought about her comment and then raised the point that I didn’t believe African-Americans had a culture. I argued that a sub-culture was present but certainly not a separate and distinct culture. My thoughts have not changed. Until “blacks” re-embrace their African heritage, we will be in a perpetual state of sub-culture. A sub-culture cannot exist independent of a larger dominant culture. The fact that we widely ethnically self-identify as “African-American” speaks to our acceptance of being a part of a larger more dominant culture. We should bear in mind that dominant is not congruent with proper morality. It should also be noted that a sub-culture can have variances and differences from the larger culture. However, even with these differences, the sub-culture owes its very existence to the dominant culture. By using identity terms associated with or given by the governing culture, we are forever relegated to being ethnically defined by a group of people other than us. No group of people regardless of their ethnic background should endure be defined by anyone other than themselves. Language, Music, Art, Religion, and many other factors all make up what we call culture. In no way would I imply that we haven’t made tremendous accomplishments in some of these fields since our arrival in America. However, our indigenous culture has always pulsed beneath the surface. For example, there are numerous English words derived from African sources. Banana, Jazz, Juke(jukebox), okra, cola, coffee, banjo, gumbo, jive, yam, zebra, and zombie are just a few examples. Religion is another arena where we can see links between African culture and Western culture. If we examine the links between the Judeo-Christian religion and The Ancient Kemetic(Egyptian) religion, we can see clear links between the 10 commandments and the 42 Negative Confessions of Maat. To limit our understanding of culture to the last 400 years is to deny thousands of years of our own culture.
Don’t call me black. Don’t call me a negro. Don’t call me colored. I choose to be called by what I am. A strong and proud African. A man of African descent. I am also a proud American. However, I will not forsake my ethnic heritage in lieu of my nationality. My ethnic heritage is too important. My ancestors were well aware of who they were. I will not dishonor their legacy by denying my heritage.
“What we’re going to have to do is to reclaim those things that belong to us, and we have to prepare for it. We must develop a temperament for freedom, and we must learn some lessons from history that lead to our liberation. And we must locate ourselves on the maps of human geography.”
Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Grandmaster Historian and Elder R.I.P.
P.S. I have included songs by Dead Prez and Peter Tosh that I feel explains this concept as well.
Peter Tosh- African
Dead Prez- I’m a African(some profanity)