What you are going to read in the next couple of minutes is a disavowal of a word that has been used to literally tar and belittle people from a continent we now refer to as Africa. This word I’m alluding to is “black”, a word that was never, ever ours and a label foisted upon a once free people. What I am attempting to do is to wash away a libel that has been affixed on a whole class of people by pernicious souls in the past in order to enslave people by ways of words and dehumanize by means of insults. But there is a wider message that applies to all of humanity; what has been done to people from the continent of mankind’s inception is something that has been done to people throughout the globe in order to colonize one nation after another.
Let us start off at the crux of this article. Understand that I too accepted the word black and referred to myself as such in the past. Though in all honesty, there was always a part of me that felt a tinge of repulsion whenever I used the word black to refer to myself or others. But repeated dogma can breed passive acceptance that overrides common sense. Think about this for a second; if you heard a random “white person” on TV refer to someone as “the blacks”, all of us would be taken aback. Yet we refer to ourselves as black without really thinking of the meaning of the word, the etymology of black, and why we were called black to begin with.
Let’s trace back through history for a second and inspect the word black. No need for me to use my own words, let me just copy and paste the meaning of the word according to good old Webster:
1) dirty, soiled <hands black with grime> 2) characterized by the absence of light <a black night>b : reflecting or transmitting little or no light <black water>c : served without milk or cream <black coffee> 3) thoroughly sinister or evil : wicked <a black deed>b : indicative of condemnation or discredit <got a blackmark for being late> 4) connected with or invoking the supernatural and especially the devil <black magic> <the black arts> 5) very sad, gloomy, or calamitous <black despair>b : marked by the occurrence of disaster <blackFriday> 6) characterized by hostility or angry discontent : sullen <blackresentment filled his heart> 7) characterized by grim, distorted, or grotesque satire <black humor>
The word black is rooted in Latin; the original meaning was that which did not have light. I want you to reflect on that for a minute; “that which does not have light”—I will circle back to that phrase soon enough. The word black and nigger have the same roots and the same meaning, both trace their origins to the word nigrum which is where the word negro, negra, nigger, and black came from. Nigrum is defined as “black, dark, sable, dusky, and figuratively gloomy, unlucky, bad, wicked.” If we reject the word nigger, it is for a good reason. The word has always been a means to libel us and in the process reduces our significance.. It was an attempt to literally paint us into a corner and “otherize” us. This is how divide and conquer works; by balkanizing humanity and making us see divisive labels instead of seeing fellow humans, a few are able to colonize billions.
We rightly reject the word nigger even though too many of us think it is somehow OK to call each other nigga—as if putting an “a” at the end of a word makes it less malicious. Those who understand the power of words are wise enough to say “brother” or “sister” instead of using the despicable “N word” to address their friends and strangers alike. Yet a bigger conundrum is before us, if we reject the word nigger how are we then accepting the word black when both words mean the same thing? This is like getting upset if someone calls you a snake but then you choose to go around saying you are a serpent. The truth is that both black and nigger are rooted in the word nigrum and both are insulting.
As noted before, the reason why “they” call us black is because they are saying we don’t have light in us. That is what black means, the absence of light. Moreover there is a reason why they referred to themselves as “white”, go ahead and look up the word white on Webster as well, no seriously look it up, this article won’t go anywhere…. welcome back, did you see how “white” is defined as “the full presence of light”. This was an attempt by some to say they had the full presence of light and we had no light at all. Go back and reread the definition of black and you will see just how insidious this word is. In Genesis, God created this universe by first creating light in the midst of darkness. It is said that God is the full presence of light; the absence of light is thus evil. Really reflect on this for a minute; by saying that we have no light in us, we are being told that we don’t have God’s light in us and by extension that they have the full presence of God in them.
Let me clarify something for a second, whey I say “they” I am not referring to the totality of our brethren and sistren who are two or five shades lighter than us—no I do not call them “white” for the same reason I do not refer to myself as black. When I say “they” I am referring with specificity to the noxious devils who invented these malicious words in order to dehumanize us. People like Scipio Africanus, Willie Lynch and the rest of their demonic denizens who understood all too well the power of words and knew that in words reside the power of life and death. The most powerful weapon that we humans have are not guns nor even the atomic bomb; the most powerful weapon we have at our disposal as humans are words. Words can either bury us or elevate us, what and who we say we has immeasurable impact on our lives.
Before I go too far, let’s take a group project. This excise you can take part in regardless of your complexion. See the picture to the right? If you identify yourself as “black” go ahead and put your skin up to the black section of the picture. Does your skin tone match that color? Of course not! In all honesty, have you met ANYONE whose skin complexion was that color? Even the darkest human being in the world is really just extra brown, want to know what the color black looks like? Close your eyes for a second. See that color that you could not see because all went dark? That is the true black, when light is not evident and black is omnipresent. Now are you beginning to see why they called us black? They are saying we do not exist. And if you refer to yourself as “white”, I bet the result was the same you matched up your skin to the white part of this picture right? Have you ever met ANYONE who is that complexion? Not even someone who is albino is that color. Want to see the color white? It does not exist because true white is invisible to the eyes.
So we got the eye test out of the way and proved that nobody in this world is black or white. Let me add another layer to this; before people from the continent of what we now refer to as “Africa” were captured and sold off into slavery, they did not refer to themselves as black. They couldn’t have—the word black is Latin. They referred to themselves by the names their parents gave them and by the names of the community they grew up in. The word black was imposed upon once free “Africans” by despicable interlopers who invaded the continent of humanity’s birth like cancers attacking life. These vile traders of men understood the power of words; they renamed people as a means of turning humans into property. Put it this way, when you adopt a pet you name him right? These contemptible monsters, who set about trading free men as chattel, were renaming people as a means of owning them.
Our names are powerful, I wrote in the past that our names are really our destinies. Think about it for a second and reflect on the meaning of your name and why your parents gave you that name. Most of you will realize that your names have had a tremendous influence on your lives; there is a certain aspect of you that fits the name that your parents gave you. The same way a blessed name can lead you to blessings, a cursed word can also lead you to a cursed existence. The word black was always meant to be a curse, a curse to belittle us and to define us as property of others. The first couple of generations of political prisoners refused to be renamed, they resisted enslavement for a man is not a slave as long as he does not accept the imposition of mental chains. But over time, political prisoners turned into slaves. Not because they had chains on their feet or because of the whips. It was the lashes of words repeated over and over again that turned a once free people into the assets of malignant slave owners.
In time, what was once rooted in insults became a source of pride. This is what happens when we accept the indoctrination of others instead of questioning the people who educate us. It was a group of “black intellectuals” in France around the turn of the 19th century who popularized the word black—the movement was called “negritude”. It was a way of taking power away from a malicious word and owning a word that was always meant to do harm. Sound familiar? This is exactly how we rationalize using the word “nigga”; we go around calling ourselves “people without God’s light” not understanding how malicious these words are. We keep trying to find pride in words that were given to us by outsiders yet we keep devolving into the chains of self-hatred. The history of trying to find our names and empower ourselves is as such: from nigger to negro to colored to Afro to African to now African-American. It’s like we are in a Chinese finger trap that has razors in it; the more we try to pull out, the more the blades of these virulent words bleed us into submission.
If you are in college, present this article to your “African-American history” professor and just ask him/her one thing: why do we call ourselves black? The problem is we let educators indoctrinate us and lead us right back into the arms of enslavement. Teachers who “teach” about ‘black history” are either unwitting tools who repeat dogma unquestioningly or knowing fools who value paychecks over telling truths. Add to these “educators” the pundit class who profit from the status quo and politicians who whisper grievance and victimization in our ears. The establishment only feign concern as they make us dependent and enslave us to their counterfeit “charity”. For hundreds of years, we have been accepting the definition of others and in the process accepting defamation as the source of our pride. This is one of the reasons the masses are mired in hopelessness—we celebrate a fraction who “make it” while a majority are stuck in enduring tribulation.
No, we are not black. We can’t claim pride in a word that was never ours to begin with and was always a pejorative. How can we not have light in us when both science and faith affirm that life started in the continent we presently call Africa? Let me add one last twist; remember how I said that Africa was named after Scipio Africanus? Scipio Africanus was a Roman general who defeated Hannibal in the Punic Wars and in the process subdued the continent using brutality that even Hitler would blanch at. Ponder this. Do you think Jews would ever call themselves Hitlerlian? Of course not! That would be the height of absurdity. Yet we call ourselves Africans to honor this monster Scipio. The truth is that the entire continent was called Ethiopia and so was the Atlantic Ocean. Do you know that Ethiopia is named in the bible more than any nation? Do you see now why some like to rename people and places? It is a blatant attempt to erase our significance.
What “they” attempted in the past to reduce our significance, we have taken the baton and nullified our significance into nothingness. We keep calling ourselves black not understanding the power of these words. Maybe we should be doing less protests and instead free ourselves first. Let us stop defining ourselves through the malicious word black and the endless labels we have been given in order to be divided from the rest of humanity. Ideally, all of humanity would just call ourselves human and put the noun of humanity above the endless adjectives we keep calling ourselves. But if that is not the case my fellow Ethiopian-Americans, can we at least not define ourselves as being absent of light and stop honoring Scipio’s deeds by calling ourselves African?
Like Bob Marley sang once in Redemption Song, “emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”. Harriet Tubman once noted that she freed a thousand slaves in her lifetime but that she could have saved a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves. It is high time for us to liberate ourselves from these corrosive and depraved words and instead take our rightful names. Centuries of doing the same thing over and over again is only leading us further and further into bondage. Instead of protesting outward and waiting for liberation from without, let us look within and free ourselves from the chains of the words we keep calling ourselves. There will not be a Moses coming to free us; we will have to free ourselves. Perhaps we can take modest steps towards redemption by first extricating ourselves from the word black.
These things I write of are not trivial nor are they inconsequential. As we proclaim pride in this word black, we are concurrently being bombarded with the endless negative connotation of the very same word. Not too long ago, I was in the kitchen making dinner when someone raised a pot that was dirty and said “look how black and dirty this pot it, we need to throw it away it’s useless”. This is the subliminal buzz saw we are being treated to on a regular basis. The whole of society associates black with death, debauchery and wickedness as we are wearing this same word as a badge of honor. I know that some will say “you are purveying a ‘Eurocentric conception of the word black’. This retort I find amusing, the word “black” is Eurocentric to begin with. But it’s not really amusing, it’s more deflating because we are raising our children to accept this treacherous word and in the process internalize this malicious label.
In order to prove that “separate but equal” was detrimental to “black children”, Thurgood Marshall and his team conducted a test between “white” and “black” children using “black” and “white” dolls. To no surprise, the “black” children again and again chose the “white” dolls over the ones that looked like them. This field study that the Marshall team conducted was presented as prime evidence of the pernicious aspects of segregation and was instrumental in overturning Jim Crow. Except we never escaped the shadow of Jim Crow because we keep holding on to odious words others gave us. The same study that Marshall conducted was undertaken a few years ago. Surprise surprise! The same results were manifested as “black” children still gravitated to the “white” dolls while disavowing their own. Is it any wonder; our children are being bombarded with infinite negative connotations of “black”. They end up internalizing the germ of that hateful word within their spirits. If the root of a tree is poisonous, no matter how we try to pretty up the leaves the leaves are toxic nonetheless. The same logic applies to the word black, the root is venomous no matter how we try to sweeten the leaves.
Be careful what you call yourself, you become what you say you are—words are potent and all powerful. Scroll back up and review one last time the meaning above for the word black. Is death, insignificance and inferiority what we wish upon ourselves? Endless poeple keep going around preaching about “white superiority” without understanding that they are at once debasing themselves with the world “black” while elevating others by calling them “white”. Our ancestors fought enslavement and suffered ceaseless pains to ward off and fight enslavement. I say “our ancestors” because the totality of people from the continent of Ethiopia are my people as well—our connection does not end based on artificial borders drawn by colonial monsters. What our ancestors fought against we now accept without nary a thought or a reflection. I am asking you to pause and reflect and then start the process of healing from the wounds and scars which have been programmed and seeded deep into our psyches over generations. Black no more. We are a blessed people, start thinking, acting, and living as one.
Next time someone asks”are you black”, respond back “no we are not black” and in the process fight ignorance with knowledge instead of fighting ignorance with ignorance. I know that what you read will take some time to process. It’s like opening your eyes after being stuck in the basement for years without light. I am not claiming the moral ground here my fellow Ethiopian-Americans, I am on the same journey of self-discovery. I’m just imparting the lessons that I learn to those who are walking towards the same journey of actualization and redemption. I humbly ask that we stop calling ourselves “black” and instead find pride in WHO we are not what others say we are. Defiance is not accepting the dogma of others; defiance is questioning conventional wisdom and refusing to accept indoctrination.
Let us start a new movement. Pass on this article on to others and use social media to start a broader conversation even if you don’t agree with everything you read here. It is ironic that I wrote this in the middle of February. For the record, February is not “black history month”; 365 days out of the year is our history since our story is the story of humanity. Get the conversation started and let us take part in questioning and rejecting the libelous lies that envelops us in darkness. Share this article on social media using #WeAreNotBlack and get the conversation started. Peace and God bless.
Liberation starts the minute we stop understanding ourselves through the definition of outsiders and learn the truth of our history from own.
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Teodrose Fikre is the editor and founder of the Ghion Journal. A published author and prolific writer, a once defense consultant was profoundly changed by a two year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of upper-middle class privilege to a time spent with the huddled masses taught Teodrose a valuable lesson in the essence of togetherness and the need to speak against injustice.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II,Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.