Are you Black or African?
In a debate that has raged in the community for decades, Kehinde Andrews asks what’s in a name?
Negro, Coloured, Black, African, West Indian, Caribbean: all have been used at different times and people to name us. The use of different terms has been a subject of debate and each has been used by different organisations. OBU has specifically embraced Black because of the importance of the history and politics behind the term.
Negro to Black
The most significant shift in the naming of our people was the move from using Negro to embracing Black. This came out at a time when our people in the United States were frustrated with the mainstream Civil Rights approach to gaining racial inequality in society. The old style of Civil Rights leadership working with the White power structure was seen by a newer generation of activists as not addressing the issues of the community. Within the Civil Rights movement activists began chanting Black Power and rejecting the old school approach. At the 1963 March on Washington all but one of the speakers used the term Negro when talking about the community. It was only John Lewis of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee who captured this new sentiment saying that the ‘Black masses are on the march for jobs and for freedom’.
Malcolm X best explained this move from Negro to Black, arguing that ‘there is new type of Negro- he calls himself a Black man…. He doesn’t make any apology for his Black skin.’ This embrace of our Blackness was meant as a political statement to tie us into a politics of resistance that did not slow down and wait for White society to be on board, but said and did what was necessary for our community.
Move to African?
From engaging with people about OBU, it is clear that there are those who argue that the using Black to describe ourselves is wrong because we are using the language of the oppressor. In this argument we need to evolve beyond the use of Black and embrace our African self. In this view we need a cultural return to Africa in order to liberate our minds and spirit. Language is key here, and the argument is that to use Black is to limit ourselves to Western framework.
The problem with this argument is that is misses that Black is not the oppressor’s term. We embraced Blackness in order to commit to each other. This politics also connects us into the African Diaspora as it is based on Garvey’s proclamation that ‘the Black skin is not a symbol of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of greatness’. Black is also important because it is not just about colour, Blackness is a position only reserved for those who are politically active in their community. As Stokely Carmichael said, ‘every Negro is a potential Black’ person and if we don’t take responsibility for each other we are stuck in a Negro mentality.
OBU embraces the term Black because it connects us into a politics of resistance and roots us in the African Diaspora. The key is not the terms we are using but the politics behind them; the greatest Black organisation of all time was Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. It does not matter if you embrace Black or African, as long as you are committed to the uplift of the African Diaspora. If so, then join the Organisation of Black Unity and help us build up our communities.