Over five decades ago, a great man stood before America and stated proudly, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Well today, I stand before you…in a state of Rejection. I have been in this state for over 4 decades. I can remember during the 70’s, pulling out a coloring book that contained the story of two friends, one black and one white. Subconsciously, I pulled out a black crayon and a white crayon. The colors on the paper failed to accurately portray myself and my friend. This was my first experience with the inaccuracy in which color is used to designate us. It was not accurate in 1970 and its even less accurate in 2016. I stand before you today in a state of Rejection.
Since 1442, Africans/African-Americans have been described by names given to them by others. These names have been used whether purposely or accidentally to stereotype them/us as a people. This has led to many misconceptions about them/us as a race of people both internally and externally. Even as a race, African-Americans cannot decide when is a good time or a bad time to use the word Nigger/Nigga. While we state we are African-Americans, we also cling to Black as an identifier of us as a people. This has led to a confusion amongst other races as to how we are to be identified. It has also led some to stereotype us based on such labels.
In 1982, having moved from Bronx, New York which was very multicultural to Camilla, Georgia which is located in the south, it was definitely a shock to come from a place where all kids played together regardless of race to a place where kids separated themselves based on their ethnicity, i.e. the color of their skin…a place where adults didn’t associate with one another based on those same set of differences. I remember being cautioned against dating a Caucasian girl or risk dying with a rope burn around my neck. I was 15 at the time.
In my adult life without provocation, I’ve been told by a Caucasians Sailor, “You fucking Nigger, I hate your fucking guts.” Why? Because his parents were involved in a hit and run with another African-American. This was in 1988. In 2003, a Caucasian employee who I supervised at Best Buy, told one of his friends, “Theo’s a lazy fucking Nigger.” Why? Because I preferred to have Sundays off so that I could spend time with my oldest daughter who only visited me on the weekends. Last but not least, I have been to “Go back to Africa you fucking Nigger” by just some random Caucasian driving by in a vehicle right here in Tallahassee, Florida. Sometimes I think fucking and Nigger go hand in hand. SMH, SMH, SMH. It is amazing how the word Nigger has been internalized by each and every race including ours to identify us. I stand before you today in a state of rejection.
In 1442, when the Portuguese first arrived in Southern Africa while trying to find a sea route to India, the term negro, which literally meant ‘black‘, was first used. The word was used by the Portuguese and the Spanish as a simple description to refer to the Bantu people they encountered on arrival. The late Nelson Mandela is a member of the Bantu tribe. From the 18th century to the late 1960s, negro was considered to be the proper English-language term for people of black African origin. While it is true that the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to himself and his fellow bruthas and sistuhs as Negros, I ask you this? Who told Dr. King that he was a Negro?
In 1735, Carolus Linnaeus (a Swedish European) published the first edition of Systema Naturae which subdivided the human species into four varieties based on their continent of their origin and their skin colour: “Europæus albus” (white European), “Americanus rubescens” (red American), “Asiaticus fuscus” (brown Asian) and “Africanus Niger” (black African). In the tenth edition of Systema Naturae, he would later change the description of Asians’ skin tone to “luridus” (yellow). Two hundred and eighty-one years later only two races seemingly cling to color as a representation of who they are, are Caucasian Americans and African-Americans. All other races have intellectually outgrown such naïve, immature and idiotic labels. If we look at any job application, there are only two races identified by color; Black and White. I say again, I stand before you today in a state of Rejection.
Expanding on the work of Mr. Linnaeus, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (a German Professor of Medicine) introduced race-based classifications in On the Natural Variety of Mankind. In the second edition Blumenbach changed his original geographically based four-race arrangement to a five-group arrangement, one that emphasized physical morphology (the study of the form of an organism). Those five categories were: Caucasian, the white race; Mongolian, the yellow race; Malayan, the brown race; Ethiopian, the black race; and American, the red race. Although he retained geographical names for his categories, the change marked a shift from geography to physical appearance. In essence, it went from being about where you’re from to how you look. I stand before you today in a state of Rejection.
The Martinique-born, French Frantz Fanon and African-American writers Langston Hughes (“That Word Black“), Maya Angelou, and Ralph Ellison, among others, wrote that negative symbolisms surrounding the word “black” outnumber positive ones. They argued that the good vs. bad dualism associated with white and black unconsciously frame prejudiced colloquialisms. When you say “White” and “Black” there is a good vs. evil mindset regardless whom you see to be evil/good or good/evil. How can it not? See, we have never named ourselves. It has always been someone who did not look like us, naming us and we just went along with it. Remember that word Negro that I spoke of earlier? In 1970s the term Black replaced Negro in the United States as the main identifying label for African-Americans; a term that continues to this very day. Oh, I stand before you today in a state of Rejection.
Even in this modern age of technology, we all know or can find out where our genealogy derives from. Yet some of our most famous celebrities still cling to such outdated labels. In 2003, on Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam, Smokey Robinson stated and I quote:
“I’m proud to be Black, And I ain’t never lived in Africa, And because my great, great granddaddy on my daddy’s side did don’t mean I wanna go back, Now I have nothing against Africa, it’s where some of the most beautiful places in the world and people in the world are found, But I’ve been blessed to go a lot of places in this world and if you ask me where I choose to live; it’s America, hands down. Now by and by, we were called Negroes and after a while, that name was banished. Anyway, Negro is just how you say Black in Spanish. Then we were called Colored but shit everybody is one color or another and I think it’s a shame that we hold that against each other and it seemed like we reverted back to when being called Black was an insult even if it was another Black man who said it, a fight would result, cause we’ve been so brainwashed that Black was wrong that even the Yellow Niggers and Black Niggers couldn’t get along, But then came the 1960’s,when we struggled and died, To be called equal and Black, And we walked with pride, With our heads held high, And our shoulders pushed back, And Black was beautiful. But, I guess that wasn’t good enough, Cause now here they come, With some other stuff. Who comes up with this shit anyway? Was it one, or a group of niggas, Sitting around one day? Feeling a little insecure again, About being called Black, And decided that ‘African American’ Sounded a little more exotic. Well, I think they were being, A little more neurotic.”
With all due respect to Mr. Robinson, I stand before him and this class in a state of Rejection. My ancestors didn’t name themselves a color. They had such tribal names as Aka, Baka, Bantu, Chewa, Banda, Efe’, Gbaya, Kongo, Kanuri and Lingula just to name a few. The continent is Africa. These are a few of their tribes. Not one mention of a Black, a Negro nor a Nigger. Not one. And if $400 is all it takes to trace my Genealogy, I can always do that but I stand before you today, Rejecting the notion of a color as a representation of who I am. As an African-American…I’ve met, played sports with and fought alongside Asian Americans, Irish Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans. But I’ve never and I mean never have I met a Yellow American, White American, Brown American nor a Red American. And when I look in the mirror, I sure as hell don’t see a Black American. I stand before you today proud to be me. Proud to be an American. Proud to be a descendant of the Continent known around the world as Africa. I am Proud to be an African American but I reject the notion of being Black. I reject the notion of a color as all races should. My question is…why don’t you?
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