I hated the summer nights more than anything. It had nothing to do with the long, hot and humid nights. Growing up in the Deep South I was as accustomed to the heat as anybody could get.
In the winters all of the shutters were pulled to and latched. The windows were closed. The heavy curtains were drawn at night to keep out the draft. Three layers of wood, glass and the best material this side of the Mississippi kept the house silent at night. But in the summers, sometimes in the late springs, curtains were pulled back and windows were open and the shutters no longer blocked the night sounds. This was the beginning of my sleepless nights each year.
The land we lived on and the house we lived in was my granddaddy’s and his daddy’s before him. My mother was the only surviving child of six. When she married the land went to my daddy. Since my mother only birthed girls this beautiful land went to my husband when poppa died. It helped that I had married well and he proved to be a good business man. Poppa loved John like a son and better than his own daughters.
I never paid much attention to the sounds until I was older. It was after John and I married that realized what was going on. I went to momma. I cried tears of despair in her lap. She stroked my hair and told me it was not my place to ask John any questions. This was business and the best way to keep a plantation thriving was through the labor of the negros working the land. The way we kept cost down was by creating our own laborers. That’s one of the reasons we had huge profits. She tilted my chin up until I was looking her in the eyes and she said, “Never mention this conversation or cry another tear. This is our way and has been for generations. Now get up and make yourself presentable to your husband when he walks through the door.”
I did as I was told. In all the years of marriage I never said another word. But the night cries kept me awake. The seasons held me hostage. No amount of singing, cotton in my ears or strong drink could drown out the night.
It was not love, she told me. It was business. It was how we as a family continued to thrive. It was necessary.
I believed every word until I saw a mulatto baby boy toddling around the quarters. He was an exact replica of John. Only with brown skin and curly hair. I had yet to give him an heir. Much like my mother I was cursed with girls. Three beautiful girls who adored their father as much as he adored them. But still, only girls.
The term Afican American has been around for quite a while. I have never used it consistently to describe myself and definitely not my children. I have some friends who are staunch users of the term to describe themselves. I find it amusing to have conversations with people who say African American while I say black. I am sure they are wondering why I am not progressive and will not use the term they prefer. But I refuse. I’m sure they have wondered why I’m not conforming and why I will not follow along with their part of of the herd.
One of the things I tell my children is do not use words or phrases if you don’t know the definition. For me, I didn’t know the origin or the reasoning behind the change from black to African American. I prefer not to identify as either, it’s obvious when you see me why do I need a label? If you are going to label me as anything how about child of God?
I have questions. When the term is used, which America is being referenced? Is South America included? What about Canada? Is the term solely for certain people living in the United States and if so, why?
A year ago I decided to do a little research on the Internet to determine the origins of the phrase. There are a few different versions of how the term came to be. One is attributed to a poem (I Can) written by Johnny Duncan. Jessie Jackson says he is responsible for the migration to African American. Did you know that there is or was a dividing line drawn to determine who the term references? There is the school of thought that the only people who should use the term are people whose ancestors were slaves. Hhhmmmm… Leaders in the black community wanted to differentiate between descendants of African slaves and everybody else. The term black encompasses everybody, whether you want the label or not. Granted, black is based upon your skin tone or somebody’s perception. Did you know that President Obama is not the first African American president, according to popular definitions? Just take a moment and let that soak in. His father is from Kenya and his mother, while American, is not a descendent of slaves. How nonsensical. How divisive. To my friends who were frustrated with me for not conforming, how you like me now?!?
I refuse to accept a label that, according to some, does the very thing I don’t personally embrace. I don’t like creating division or putting people in boxes.
Don’t we know by now that if there is a movement of some sort then it is going to financially / politically benefit someone? Why was there a shift? What was the long term plan? There is always an agenda.
At the beginning and end of the day I would rather be referred to as my given name but if I must self identify I choose black.