As a result of this minuscule understanding of African languages, parents began naming their children non-English titles. This was a grass roots attempt to reclaim some semblance of our collective memory, additionally it was an attempt to distance ourselves from Christian names and Christianity itself, since the English language and the slave master's religion were part of the "breaking in" or brainwashing and behavior modification to transform us from Kunta Kinte to Toby.
Bill Cosby was a shameful black bourgeoisie slob when he attacked black mothers and fathers who gave their children African names or even Africanized English names, so prominent in the South. The Southern names are so unique and original, even in their spelling, that we should applaud the parents for their effort to reclaim their cultural memory. When the culture of North American Africans is studied, those Southern names shall constitute a genre apart from the traditional African or Arabic names.
In the 60s, we also referred to each other as king and queen, and often dressed accordingly, giving up the Western attire for dashikis and bubas, elegant headdresses or gayles. Men wore African crowns rather than fedoras. This was all part of the cultural revolution that was an essential part of the political liberation. There can be no revolution without a change in cultural consciousness. Language plays an essential part since language is a reflection and expression of mythology and ritual, components of culture.
In the Black Arts Movement, we wanted to break out of the English language as well. Use of so called profanity was one attempt to express ourselves in the basic language of our people. It was also a method of putting "curses" on the oppressor by rejecting his proper speech in favor of grass roots linguistics. And yet some of us were multi-lingual, often combining Arabic, Swahili and grass roots English. And then there the attempt to purify our works of so called profanity. During the height of my Muslim period, especially my time in Harlem, 1968, I purged my work of profanity until Sun Ra pulled my coat that I was trying to be so right I was wrong.
And so we are in a linguistic conundrum, because every writer is duty bound to speak the language of his people, especially if he and his people are going through the process of decolonization from the culture of the oppressor. The great Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiango has called for African writers to abandon the English language and return to writing in their native tongues. But the majority of North American Africans speak English, so what choice do we have but to use English until we can discover another language. Hip Hop has fashizzel, but don't know how far we can go with fashizzel.
Often, the most significant change we can do is redefine the language, reverse meanings that are negative into positive. Black was at one time a fighting word--if you called someone black you better be ready to fight. Now black is beautiful. Nigguh is another term that was negative but today is a global expression of love among the Hip Hop generation. It is a multi-ethnic term. Youth around the world are calling themselves nigguhs, even when they have little or no understanding of the historical significance of the term. The older generation of North American Africans go into a tizzy when they hear youth, especially non-Africans, using the term. But this is due to their fixation on the original meaning as something negative, while we must understand that language is dynamic and fluid, ever changing, so we must flow with the flow. The term Negro is archaic, although I love the term because it calls to mind a time when we had our own society even though we lived under segregation. But imagine, when we were Negroes we had Harlem, Fillmore, South side of Chicago, and other enclaves of black culture. We had Seventh Street in Oakland. Today we are Black but where is Harlem, Fillmore, Seventh Street, either destroyed or on the way to gentrification. As Negroes we had our own restaurants, hotels, clubs, newspapers, magazines. What do we have today? Nothing, hardly a pot to piss in except for a few high class blacks who act white for all practical purposes--like Bill Cosby rejecting the linguistic originality of his people, a Negro who grew up in funky Philly, yeah, a Philly dog Negro.
With the destruction of the liberation movement came the destruction of culture, thus the necessity of the cultural revolution to get back on track, on the right path or ihdina sirata al mustaqim. And then we must practice eternal vigilance, stay ever alert and watchful that we do not relapse into our negrocities. It shall be a daunting task because our situation is not only a linguistic dilemma, but we must resolve contradictions in our social relations, male/female relations, brother to brother/sister to sister/ parent to child relations, even our relationship to the Creator.