Walter E. Williams
May 13, 2009
Walter E. Williams
May 13, 2009
What to call black people has to be confusing to white people. Having been around for 73 years, I have been through a number of names. Among the polite ones are: colored, Negro, Afro-American, black, and now African-American. Among those names, African-American is probably the most unintelligent. You say, "What do you mean, Williams?" Suppose I told you that I had a European-American friend or a South-America-American friend, or a North-America-American friend. You'd probably say, "Williams, that's stupid. Europe, South America and North America are continents consisting of many peoples." You might insist that I call my friend from Germany a German-American instead of European-American and my friend from Brazil a Brazilian-American rather than a South-America-American and my friend from Canada a Canadian-American instead of a North-American. So would not the same apply to people whose heritage lies on the African continent? For example, instead of claiming that President Barack Obama is the first African-American president, it should be that he's the first Kenyan-American president. In that sense, Obama is lucky. Unlike most American blacks, he knows his national heritage; the closest to a national heritage the rest of us can identify is some country along Africa's gold coast.
Another problem with the African-American label is not all people of African ancestry are dark. Whites are roughly 10 percent of Africa's population and include not only European settlers but Arabs and Berbers as well. So is an Afrikaner who becomes a U.S. citizen a part of United States' African-American population? Should census takers and affirmative action/diversity bean counters count Arabs, Berbers and Afrikaners who are U.S. citizens as African-Americans and should they be eligible for racial quotas in college admittance and employment?
Are black Americans a minority group? When one uses the term minority, there is an inference that somewhere out there is a majority but in the United States we are a nation of minorities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2000 census, where people self-identify, the ancestry of our largest ethnic groups are people of German ancestry (15.2 percent), followed by Irish (10.8 percent), African (8.8), and English (8.7) ancestry. Of the 92 ethnic groups listed, in the census, 75 of them are less than 1 percent of our population.
Race talk often portrays black Americans as downtrodden and deserving of white people's help and sympathy. That vision is an insult of major proportions. As a group, black Americans have made some of the greatest gains, over the highest hurdles, in the shortest span of time than any other racial group in mankind's history. This unprecedented progress can be seen through several measures. If one were to total black earnings, and consider black Americans a separate nation, he would find that in 2005 black Americans earned $644 billion, making them the world's 16th richest nation -- that is just behind Australia but ahead of Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. Black Americans are, and have been, chief executives of some of the world's largest and richest cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. It was a black American, Gen. Colin Powell, appointed Joint Chief of Staff in October 1989, who headed the world's mightiest military and later became U.S. Secretary of State, and was succeeded by Condoleezza Rice, another black American. Black Americans are among the world's most famous personalities and a few are among the richest. Most blacks are not poor but middle class.
On the eve of the Civil War, neither a slave nor a slave owner would have believed these gains possible in less than a mere century and a half, if ever. That progress speaks well not only of the sacrifices and intestinal fortitude of a people; it also speaks well of a nation in which these gains were possible. These gains would not have been possible anywhere else.
March 18, 2002
Did anyone ever call Franklin D. Roosevelt a "Dutch American" or Dwight Eisenhower a "German American"? It would have been resented, not only by them and their supporters, but by Americans in general. These men were Americans -- not hyphenated Americans or half Americans.
Most black families in the United States today have been here longer than most white families. No one except the American Indians can claim to have been on American soil longer. Why then call blacks in the United States "African Americans," when not even their great-great-great-grandparents ever laid eyes on Africa?
It is certainly understandable that activists, politicians and others who wish to divide Americans for their own purposes would push the notion of "African Americans." They also push such things as the "African" holiday Kwanzaa -- which originated in Los Angeles -- and "black English" or "ebonics," which originated centuries ago in particular localities in Britain, and is wholly unknown in Africa.
Names are just part of the process of creating wholesale frauds about the past, in order to advance special agendas in the present. Personal names are also part of that fraud.
The vogue of repudiating black family names that supposedly were given by slaveowners in times past is another reflection of the widespread ignorance of history among Americans in general, as a result of our dumbed-down education. Slaves were not only not given family names, they were forbidden to have family names.
In many parts of the world, family names began with the elites, and only over the centuries moved down the social scale until ordinary people were allowed to have them. In England, common people began to have family names only after the Middle Ages, and in Japan it was the late 19th century before commoners could use family names. It was the 20th century before ordinary people in Iran were allowed -- and directed -- to have family names.
Slaveowners in the American antebellum South were especially opposed to slaves having family names because such names emphasized family ties -- and the only legally recognized tie of a slave was to his owner, who could sell him miles away from his kin.
The slaves themselves, however, used family names to create a sense of family, though they were careful not to use these names around whites. Even after Emancipation, blacks who had been raised in slavery often hesitated when some white person asked them their family name.
The so-called "slave names" that so many blacks began repudiating in the 1960s, were neither given to them by slaveowners nor were they usually the slaveowners' family names. They were names chosen despite prohibitions, in order to symbolize family ties that were often stronger than those in today's ghettoes.
The late Herbert Gutman -- a tough-minded historian -- was once on the verge of tears as he described the desperate efforts of blacks in the years after Emancipation to try to find family members who had been sold, sometimes hundreds of miles away. These poor and illiterate people would find somebody who could read and write, who would write what were called "inquiring letters" to black churches in the South. In these churches, someone would then read these letters aloud to the congregations, asking if anybody who knew anything about the person being sought would speak up, so that this family could be reunited again.
Those who try to claim that the shattered families in today's ghettoes are "a legacy of slavery" ignore the fact that, a hundred years ago, a slightly higher percentage of blacks than of whites were married and most black children were raised in two-parent families, even during the era of slavery.
As late as 1950, a higher percentage of black women than of white women were married. The broken families of today are a legacy of our own times and our own ill-advised notions and policies.
Of all the reactions against the supposed "slave names" among blacks, the most painfully ironic has been the taking of Arab names instead. The Arabs engaged in massive enslavement of Africans before the Europeans began to -- and continued long after the Europeans stopped.
One of the many reasons for studying history is to prevent history from being misused for current hidden agendas. Names are just one of the things being misused in this