I don’t think hardly anyone outside of the Black community understands the import of names and naming.
I want to take a moment to make clear I’m speaking to/about *everyone* who is Black, no matter where you’re from or what you’re mixed with, before I continue.
That said, names, naming, it’s important in a lot of cultures. I’m not arguing it isn’t. But the fact that so many of us who are in the Americas and Caribbean do not know the names of our pre-enslavement ancestors is a big deal. Indeed, the fact that many of us are hard-pressed when it comes to the task of naming our ancestors who survived through (much less the ones who did not) enslavement means something.
Our names were and are powerful. The heritages reflected in our names is scary to the world. There’s a reason Malcolm X eschewed his last name and took on the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz goes beyond what has since become (unfortunately) the hollow-sounding “that was my slave name.” It goes to the crux of finding out who we, as Black folks are. It goes to the core of finding out what our identities mean in a world that would have us stripped of all identity and takes our Blackness as a blight to be smoothed out and eventually disappeared.
One of the first things that happened to our ancestors (and, if you care to see the parallels in other examples of colonialism, especially in the resource grab that’s happening throughout the African continent now), was that they were renamed. We were renamed. Our true names were considered forbidden, they were stolen from us and we were given new names.
So our power now, limited as it may be, to find out about our histories—whether it be through oral tradition or paper documentation—is terrifying to people. It’s evident in what these anons are attempting to do to L&S, what happens when Black Natives are brought up, when Blackness in a non-US/Caribbean context is brought up. The fact that we have been able to cobble anything together of our histories during and before, and especially in the before-before, enslavement is destabilizing to white supremacy.
The fact that we are able to point to anything that affirms us in any way as more than just the product of white supremacy’s avarice troubles them. It gives them nightmares.
Our heritage is complex, it is multi-layered, we are European before there was a Europe. We were Roman, we were Vikings, we were the first scholars of the old world, we traveled over the entire world while those in power were still scrambling amongst themselves.
I know how this is coming off all Pan-Africanism and all. And…well…I have a complicated relationship with that. But I think one thing that is true, that we’re seeing over and over again in the discussions of white washing, of race-bending media, of OUR OWN GODDAMNED NAMES, is that knowing who we are, having any access to our histories is too much for them.