In the 1800’s, you called me a “Nigger”. By the 1900’s, I was a “Negro”.
In the 1950’s, I was “Colored” and by the 1970’s, I had somehow become “Black”.
Now, two years into the new millennium, I am “African-American”.
But I’ve never changed.
It is true that my ancestors were stolen from the bosom of their African homeland
and brought to this land to toil for a strange people
too lazy to work their own fields and tend their own children-
a people who stole this country from one race and built it on the backs of others.
Throughout history, that toiling has burdened us like the heavy yolk of oxen.
It has been our assigned legacy, the sole trademark by which my people
have been labeled, identified and chastised-as everything but Americans.
In theory, they were all Americans-as American as the European criminals
who enslaved my great-great-great grandfather and maybe even more so.
For the soil of this country is ripe with African blood
and the oceans and seas were fertilized with their flesh and bone.
But you do not think of me as “American”,
though I have served America proudly in times of peace and war.
I count back seven generations and my feet land firmly
on the red clay of Georgia and the dusty back-roads of Alabama.
And even though I have defended all that this country is supposed to represent,
it seems that my so-called “inalienable rights”
are given to me only when demanded and they can be taken from me at will.
I ask not for acknowledgement, acceptance, justification or confirmation,
for generations of oppression have lowered my expectation
that these things will ever come.
But I do demand respect for myself and my people, for our sacrifices have been many
and our contributions are well-documented for those who dare research them.
Yet despite this fact, at every turn, history has proven to be
violently brutal to “The Nigger” and hatefully cruel to the “The Negro,”
viciously bitter to “The Coloreds” and deliberately unjust to “The Blacks”.
And no matter where I find myself, I must stare down that reality like the enemy that it is.
So regardless of what I accomplish, or how much I attempt
to delude myself into thinking that I have become something else,
I must remain mindful that I cannot for one second afford to forget what I really am
and will always be: An African in America.
Knowing this ties me to my kindred
in the land of the Sahara and the Serengeti, the Nile and the Niger,
the Mandinka and the Mende, the Gambia and Goree.
It gives me a rich history colored with the shades of Kente cloth
and seasoned with the flavors of fufu.
It gives me knowledge of the geometry and astronomy
that built the pyramids thousands of years before
slide rules, calculators, modern math
and the Palm Pilot.
It gives me the strength of Sundiata, the beauty of Queen Nefertiri
and it stirs fear in my enemies like Hannibal the Moor.
Being “African in America” has also has given me other advantages
that those not like me would never imagine and probably never intended:
oppression has made me strong, not weak;
proud, not ashamed; forgiving, not bitter.
But it has also made me tenacious, not timid;
aggressive, not complacent; defiant, not compliant.
I have deliberately passed these traits to my seed
so they will continue to be inspired by
the love of Dr. King,
the wisdom of Garvey,
the eloquence of Douglass,
the brilliance of Dr. Charles Drew,
the patience of Mandela,
the quiet resistance of Rosa,
the ingenuity of Carver,
the pen of Langston,
and the words of Maya.
But may they also be possessed by
the spirit of Nat Turner,
the fire of Malcolm,
the persistence of Tubman,
the voice of Mumia,
the intensity of Farrakhan,
the defiance of Cassius,
the vision of Huey,
the tragedy of Diallo,
the lyrics of Tupac
and the remarkable resilience
of oppressed peoples around the world.