The other day I was in the kitchen and someone said of an unwashed pot the following words:
“How disgusting, look how black and dirty it is, we need to throw that useless thing anyway!”
Now many people think of me the lesser when I tell people that I am not black. It is almost impossible to dissect the reasons I oppose this pernicious label when the question is posed in a binary form. That is the insidious nature of these labels that we have been given, these labels fracture humanity and wash away the truth of our God given identity. When someone says “are you black”, I have a choice to make immediately, answer yes and feed into the paradigm that serves to diminish us; answer no and be looked upon with askance and disapproval.
The third choice is to actually break it down, to go into the minutia of why I reject the label black and equally rebuke the term “white” to describe humanity. But conversations have become so transactional that we don’t really make time to discuss the meaning of the words we throw around so haphazardly without understanding their etymology and intent.
But where conversation is limited, I am able to write about it and change minds and paradigms of those who are willing and able to actually reason instead of being driven with passion and learned habits. So let me break down for a moment why I resolutely reject the label black as well as these other labels we keep calling ourselves.
Now, not too many of us know why and when we started to call ourselves black. I can assure you one thing, before depraved hunters of humanity endeavored into the continent of Cush, our ancestors were not calling themselves “black”. They called themselves by their kinfolk and their names; they called themselves by nouns of what they are, not with adjectives given to them by outsiders. The word “black” is Latin in origin and has NOTHING to do with what we now imprudently call Africa.
Think on this for a minute, color is a differentiator, so if you are in an area of people who have the same skin color as you, you would not call them by a color. Hence, calling someone by a color name would be seen as foolish as labeling someone based on the width of their pinky or the shape of a person’s earlobe. What mattered to people before enslavement and colonization was the name their parents gave them not the color of their skin. More importantly, what mattered most was who they were as humans not what they were as a false depiction.
But outside forces interrupted homeostasis and soon enough dehumanized a whole continent of people by calling them black. The word black in Latin means death so these purveyors of injustice had an intent in using the word black. Black is also the opposite of sunlight, whereas white is the full presence of light. Don’t you understand what they were doing, they were lifting themselves up by calling themselves white while debasing us by calling us black. Along the way, they were fracking the human existence into Balkanized hoods and encampments.
Now notice, when I say “they” or “them”, I never use a label such as “white people”. I refuse to, for two reasons, I’m not going to accept these labels and more importantly I’m not going to play into the deviousness of a devious scheme to fracture humanity. Most importantly, I’m not going to blame the masses for the sins of a few. This is why I fight these labels, blaming “white people” for the sins of slavery allows the true devils who were behind it to escape judgement and in the process unfairly tarnishes those who have nothing to do with it. Are we to forget that there were “black sellers”, “black slave owners”, or “black overseers?
This is the problem of these nefarious labels, not only are they injurious to our souls, they also serve to obfuscate the true purveyors of injustice. This is what the system of injustice and the fraction of society who actually disseminate inequity and suffering throughout the world bank on, for injustice to get lost in the haze of emotional outbursts and irrational rhetoric.
Sadly, most of society is too boxed in by complexion and identity to truly understand the complexity of injustice in this world. So instead we paint with broad strokes as we blame “white people” and defame ourselves by calling ourselves black. And “white people” in return feel indignation and return accusations with indifference and malice. We lose our common humanity in between squabbles and labels. In the process, we take part in the injustice by perpetuating static and friction between the masses. We let others use us as pawns, a way to splinter the masses, when we look through the very constructs of the labels we
were never to begin with.
Nothing changes, just like how the sins of “black sellers”, “black slave owners” and “black overseers” were washed away, we have a new breed of collaborators, the opinion leaders who lead their people into a new form of bondage. These shake down artists make a fortune from spreading grievances, they swear they are fighting injustice all the while they are getting paid by the same people they pretend they are fighting. Their job never changed, they are overseers who use big words and the megaphone of status and fame to whip people into subservience.
These people are actually worse than the overseers, wearing their expensive suits and selling their books all the while living apart and away from the very people they keep using. I could name these hucksters, the Sharptons, the Jacksons, the Van Jones, the Obamas of this world. These people who use race to get to the top and all the while are part and parcel of the policies and politics that eradicate hope for the masses. This is how the powerful enslave people, by erecting boxes and then forcing people into that box and then convincing them by way of demagogues that others who are just as
maligned and manipulated are their enemies.
Malcolm X had it right, the true enemy of the masses are the “black intelligentsia”—in this case the word black actually fits—who slavishly follow the dictates of their pay check masters. The talented 10th have been turned against their own people as they chase materialism and fame and paying lip service to pursuing justice. These “black intellectuals” are either using education to mask their ignorance or are too cowardly to actually speak against the true root of injustice. So we have the “black intellects” selling out their people for fame and fortune, the reactionary crowd who instantly follow the whims of these so called intellects, and then we have the masses on all sides who suffer equally and without regard to traits.
All the while, the opinion leaders—the so-called “black leaders—stay to their lanes, always talking the same shuck and jive, the same tired shtick over and over again as they paint injustice only through the color lines—in the process ghettoizing their own people behind a form of neo-Apartheid. They keep shackling their people with new chains—passing on historical fallacies as fact and miseducating the masses by trying to give pride and dignity to words and labels that actually rob us of both.
Enslaving people with chains was not the worse of deeds, for a slave is not a slave as long as he knows his past and believes he is free. Enslavement starts when a man decides to understand his existence through the narratives of someone else. Why do you think free men were given new names, it was a way to break them of their ancestry and define them as property of another human being. The minute free people decided to accept the labels given to them and rejected their names that their parents gave them, they were at that precise moment enslaved. And I’m not speaking of enslavement with balls and chains, no what I am speaking of is enslavement of the mind.
This enslaved mind has been passed on for generations and with each successive generation the chains get more and more rigid and ingrained into the psyches of a once free people. Decedents of Cush have tried for years to break these chains, yet they keep putting on new chains instead. Went from nigger to negro, to Afro-American, to African-American, and most pernicious of them all, slavishly hang on to the label black.
What difference is there between negro and black other than the spelling? Both mean black, yet “black folk” would start a fight if a “white person” called them “negro” yet proudly proclaim they are black. The same with the name African, how many people actually asked themselves “what does African mean and why do we call ourselves that”. I bet it would be a shock to most if they actually knew why the continent was renamed to Africa.
It was a group of intellectuals who ironically started a movement called “negretude” not too long ago who decided to own the word “black”. It was an attempt to invert an insult and in the process make it beautiful. Doesn’t that sound familiar? That is what we claim when we rationalize why we call each other nigger.
But fact is fact, you can’t change an insult to a compliment. Why even try, why lower yourself to accepting the name others gave you instead of defying their malevolent intentions. Besides, let me let you in on a little secret, go ahead, look at your skin and compare it to something black next to you. See, you are not black. Not one person in this world is black, neither is ANY person in this world white.
Now I’m not writing what I write to somehow blame “white people” or to alienate our lighter complexion brethren. The tools of divide and conquer, of colonialism, depends on one tribe being elevated and the rest being shitted on—or at least make us feel that one “tribe” has it better than the others”. In reality, the masses on all sides suffer equally, tribalism only benefits an elite few. Thus “white people” suffer along with “black people” and only an elite few out of these various tribes and labels succeed while the mass majority languish. Using labels prevents us from realizing this fact. Instead, we fight each other instead of addressing the greed of a few that is at the root of injustice.
Let me wrap it up with this, there is a difference between consciously choosing a label and the subconscious damage those labels afflict on people. Consciously, people try to make black a source of pride, going around saying “black is beautiful” or “black lives matter”, but subconsciously, these very people are being bombarded by the derogatory aspects of black. As we teach children that they are black and beautiful, the former of which they are not and the latter they certainly are, they are concurrently being blitzkrieged by endless associations of black being dirty, associated with death, being grimy and disgusting. We are at once claiming pride while immersing ourselves into toxic sludge.
All the while these labels continue to fracture us. As they damage us by making us claim what we are not and accepting the negative inferences that comes with it. Concurrently, generations of “white people” are made to feel guilty for sins that they did not have anything to do with. Is there a system that exists which makes the lives of “black folk” miserable, I can’t deny that. But this is a product of a system that devalues human lives and impacts broader humanity irrespective of color. The human suffering in poverty stricken “white neighborhoods” are tied to the same system of injustice that afflict “black neighborhoods”. The same injustice that mugs hopes in America is tied into the injustice that robs humanity of dreams throughout the world. But when we hang on to labels, we see only our tribe which ultimately prevents us from attacking the root of injustice.
So take a minute to actually think about it. Why do you call yourself black when your skin is actually brown and your ancestors never called themselves that? Why accept the wicked labels of others and wear it as if it was indigenous to us when it’s not? I understand it’s hard, to shed labels that have been inculcated in us. But we will not free ourselves until we first free our minds.
I know some might think of this issue I bring up as being trivial. I mean who has a time for etymology and meaning of words when we are suffering so much. But I humbly submit, maybe the suffering is caused because of these very things I bring up. For the root of injustice I truly believe is how we—collectively as humanity—are fractured and disunited. If tribalism goes away and we start seeing each other as equals with shared aspirations, maybe that will be the day injustice starts to ebb into irrelevance.
And if we want to truly have equality, maybe we need to get rid of these labels that have always been rooted as insults and ways to dehumanize us. Don’t think of this as being inconsequential, when you teach a child he/she is black and then they are bombarded with the negative connotations these labels have, they will subconsciously develop a sense of shame about themselves.
The same study that was done with the “black” and “white” dolls during Brown vs Board of Education holds true today, why do you think little kids gravitate to the “white dolls”, it’s because of the endless subliminal messages that associates black with undesirable and unworthy while white is associated with being valued and vitreous. We can’t change the associations of these words and their meanings, but we sure have the ability to change what we call ourselves, especially when these colors (black and white) have nothing to do with who we are either the complexion of our bodies or the make-up of our souls.
So if I associate with you, if I say you are my people, it’s not because of your skin color or by hanging on to a word that was always meant to be an insult. You are my brother and my sister not because of what we call ourselves but because of what is in our souls.
So yeah, I’m not black, are you?
Think about it.
~ Excerpt from Serendipity’s Trace, a book of our common struggles and connective hopes. Search “Serendipity’s Trace” on Amazon or “Teodrose Fikre” to find the the book ~
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij 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. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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