While watching Hasan Minhaj’s “The Patriot” tonight something he said sparked my curiosity. Hasan pointed out that an official US Document referred to Saudi Arabians saying, “The population of the (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) is mainly composed of descendants of indigenous tribes that have inhabited the peninsula since prehistoric times with some later mixture of Negro blood from slaves imported from Africa.”
First, I wondered why we make such a big deal of the word. Although it’s not appropriate for modern use, it is a reality of our history and was for much of our African and American history, our identity from a western perspective. Egyptians didn’t call themselves Egyptians, westerners did. To me, Negro, although perhaps historically inaccurate, is another ignorant western title. The term “Caucasian” is another misnomer since historically this includes only people from the Caucasus Mountain region, not all Europeans. In fact, most European Americans have no connection to that region. Even “Africa” is a Western title given to the continent which is named after a European man. Let’s face it, European Westerners are infamous for inaccurately naming and renaming people and places and it’s a globally accepted practice
Black’s were known by westerners as Nigroes at least since our ancestors were on the African continent and well into the 1960’s. Both the French and Spanish words for black are variations of “Negro”. So how is calling our selves black or brown any different from saying Negro or colored?
W. E. B. Dubois says it best when he explains that to abolish the name is to abolish our own heritage..
“And then too, without the word that mans Us, where are all those whose spiritual ideals, those inner bonds, those group ideals and forward strivings of this might army of 12 millions? Shall we abolish there with the abolition of a name? Do we want to abolish them? Of course we do not. They are our most precious heritage.” (W. E. B. Dubois, 1928)
Needless to say, the Civil rights Era ended in 1968 and the term Negro gradually became unacceptable until eventually removed from official use in courts in the mid 1980’s (Palmer, 2010). History tells us that this was also the period when black Americans became known for less noble historic events such as the crack epidemic that rose up around the same time.
So perhaps having an identity and connection to our heritage, although historically flawed, was better than having none at all…
Fun Fact: In his I have a dream speech, M. L. K. used “negro” 10 times amd “blacks” three times. (King, 1963)
After going down that rabbit hole, I realized that the issue at the heart of this discussion is identity… We want and need one! Not one that has been created for us, handed down to us, or used to degrade us but the ONE that is our own authentic accepted identity… Even if it is only us who accepts it.
The second question raised in my mind was “What other official documents tie “Negroes” to Eastern nations besides Africa”. This took me down yet another rabbit hole that helped me understand this truth at its depth…
W. E. B. Dubois (1928), The Name Negro. Retrieved on 11/28/2018. http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/the-name-negro/
King Jr., M. L. (1963), I Have a Dream.
Palmer, Brian (2010), When Did the Word Negro Become Taboo?, Retrieved on 11/28/2018. Slate. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2010/01/HOW-OLD-WAS-HARRY-REID-WHEN-THE-WORD-NEGRO-BECAME-TABOO.HTML
Wikipedia, Crack Epidemic. Retrieved on 11/28/2018. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crack_epidemic