In “Romeo and Juliet,” William Shakespeare posed the question “What’s in a name?” Millions of us who are descended from Africans who were held in servitude in this country have struggled with that question for generations.
Nigger. Nigra. Colored. Negro. Black. Afro-American. African-American. Pan-African.
Over the last 25 years or so, I have been asked on countless occasions, “Why do you all keep changing your name?” and, “What do you all want to be called?”
Why do we keep changing the name? It is important to note that half of the group names assigned to our people have been designated by others. With all due respect to the Bard, there is, indeed, much in a name. Slave owners stripped our ancestors of even the most basic right to determine the names by which we prefer to be called. Many Americans fail to realize the historic significance of this.
Aside from the indigenous peoples of this land, who were summarily and erroneously dubbed “Indians,” there is no scenario in the history of this nation that is comparable to the renaming of captive Africans. The designation of the term “Indian” represented an attempt by the invading Europeans to assign a single descriptive term for the vast and varied nations of indigenous peoples. The designation of the term “Nigger” – and several other subsequent terms – was an attempt by the invading Europeans to further subjugate the enslaved African. This “name game” was a part of a broader plan to completely sever the enslaved African from any vestige of his nature, his culture, and his homeland.
One of the most recognizable effects of this nefarious action has been a collective confusion of identity. In America, most people refer to themselves in terms that display a connection to their heritage (i.e. Italian, Spanish) or to this nation (American) or to both (i.e. Mexican-American). What of a people whose connection to their heritage has been systematically and completely severed, and whose connection to this nation was established and maintained in the most horrific ways?
How can one of African descent be asked to share a name (American) with one of European descent, even as the European sits atop a mountain of wealth inherited from forefathers who amassed that fortune on the backs of Africans, and then derides him for not having a fortune of his own? Whichever name European man chooses for himself, I want no part of.
So then, what do I want to be called? African.
The term that I choose is African. One might argue that many of us have never even seen Africa, and share virtually no cultural identifiers with any African nation. I refer to an oft-quoted question posed by Malcolm X, “If a cat has babies in the oven, are they biscuits?” Indeed, I am not a biscuit, though I do presently reside with biscuits.
All the social engineering in the world cannot change one’s genetics or one’s soul. My genetics are African. My soul is African. Therefore, I am African.
Pensacolian Quincy “Q” Hull is the author of the book, “Like Crabs in a Bucket,” and the spoken word CD, “Still Black See.”