As of today, I am referred to as an African American woman. This is the first of many names that have changed over the years for one reason or another. Anthony Neal points out that my racial title has moved from “other persons” to Africans to slaves to Blacks to people of color to Negro to Colored to Afro American to African American. Various other names have been used to describe me or my culture which would be minority, at-risk, inner-city residents, underclass, and the infamous term: Nigger. (Britt, 1999) The historical marker the Constitution considered my ancestors three-fifths a person, consequently not recognizing them as a full person. Thus, legally they had no rights to name themselves or their offspring. Their whole existence was of servitude to another group of people. Therefore, they could not to take part in openly retaining the names that they were given from at birth from their primary country, village or tribe. When there is no course of liberation or freedom how could they have an influence in “the naming?”
Historically, to be “defined” has been particularly important to people. The definition of who you are as a person can define your existence. This brings us to the point of understanding that Americans of color feel as though the naming process is to keep them in bondage to the very institution that named them from the onset. Considering the diverse cultures people of color were removed from in the country of Africa, Mazuri (1986) stated that saying that a person is Black is more tied to a race than a culture. K.E. Baird points out “the name which marked them as slaves-or black which describes them physically but deprived them of cultural identity.” (Baird,1970) So, the verbiage to describe people of color is used as a way of keeping them in control in the narrative.
There have been several cultures who have come to this country under undo circumstances. For example, there are Jewish Americans, Asian Americans, Mexican Americans but these people are called this in respect to their cultures and not the color of their skin. Many who have come to this country from Africa cannot be represented by their culture. They are all lumped in as be African American. For example, Ghanaian Americans or Nigeria Americans two totally distinct cultures, but their skin hues are the same as African Americans. The authorities in this nation would not effectively allow one culture to represent themselves in that manner. They would have to check the box as Black or African American. Due in part to represent the narrow mindset of this country to neglect the differences of African Cultures. Not all people of color are descendants of slaves.
Consequently, “the naming” to those who are descendants of enslaved people is a daunting task to deal with rationally. The historical reason for this dilemma is not a happy one at all. It requires one to live in a false reality or a “double consciousness” as explained by W.E.B DuBois. It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. (DuBois, 1953) This double consciousness fights between being recognized as a person regardless of race, color in a country that is not the country of your ancestors. Especially when your ancestors were brought here in bondage.
Given these points, can one change history with “the naming”? History or someone is always recording events, of things that have happened. So, in the course of being called a “slave” what happened next? How did we move to being called a Negro? Then how did we move to being called an Afro-American and so forth. The details in between are being recorded. And each step of the way we have been able to become a little more valued in our society. The legacy of Africans being brought to this country and enslaved to build this country up is gratifying to many of the African American community. No matter what people of color call themselves or are called-achievement, education, and economic growth are what count. (Lyles, 1989)
Therefore, my thoughts on “the naming” in the social structure (society) is that of who we are to others. It is important to me, as long as it is not inflammatory. The term African American does not offend me I have embraced it and understand both the “African” and the “American” that is in it. However, in the governance structure (culture/family) of who we are to each other. These are the people who make sure I know my culture’s legacy and who we are and who we call ourselves. These are important to me as well, so that we create our own names internally. And as we move forward to create movement and memory and preserve those memories of the past, we can transform our names into something that can never be controlled by the social structure but preserved by the governance structure for generations to come.
Britt, B (1999, August) Call me what? Code, 58-59
Bois, Du W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 1953.
Lyles, B. (1989, February 27). What to call people of color. Newsweek, 8-9
Mazrui, A.A. (1986). The Africans: A triple heritage. Boston: Little, Brown
Neal, Anthony. “The Naming.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 32, no. 1, 2001, pp. 50–65. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1177/002193470103200103.