What’s in a name? The Bard opined that names didn’t matter, and that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.
And as for less pleasant words, there’s the old nursery rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names/words will never hurt me”, which may’ve been created in the schoolyards as a retort to schoolyard taunts, wherein “Girlie”, “Fatso” and “Retard” were only some of the milder imprecations hurled.
And while the murmurings of sweet nothings by lovers might just be a pleasant diversion in the long run, those poor bullied kids weren’t in a position to realise what damage those hurtful words would inflict to their psyches as they become adults. So it would appear that when it comes to “naming” people, context plays a big role.
And we come to the plea by one Nigel Hinds for some of our citizens not to call themselves (or be called) “Black”. They should instead use, “African Guyanese”. The point of the matter, from our above introduction, is: what’s the context in which Hinds is speaking? Wasn’t so long ago that one of the most educated members of that group of Guyanese, ER Cameron, wrote his two-part magnum opus, “The Evolution of the Negro” in then British Guiana.
Lest one should think our Cameron was parochial, the late great Eric Williams, — PhD out of Oxford, who’d challenged his dons with his Marxist-influenced “Capitalism and Slavery” — did also publish “The Negro in the Caribbean”. Then there was Marcus Garvey’s worldwide “Universal Negro Improvement Association” (UNIA).
But what was the context? Both were written before WWII ended. Up until that time, “Negro” was the preferred name of the descendants of the people who’d been brought as slaves to the Caribbean.
In fact, up until that time, the greatest insult (words/names) that could be hurled at someone from that group in Guyana was “Black man”. In Guyana, we also had, in the 1920s, a vociferous organisation fighting for “the Negro”: The Negro Progress Convention. (NCP). Over in the US, however, the group fighting for their dignity was the NAACP – “National Association for the Advancement of Coloured Peoples”, founded in 1909.
Later “coloured” became the insulting term, and “negro” supplanted it there. Our “League of Coloured People” was a British imitation.
In 1968, Martin Luther King used “Negro” in his famous “I have a dream” speech. But by then “Black” was the term radical US “Coloured peoples” used, calling for “Black Power” in reacting to White domination. They also rejected the slave-association of “Negro”.
Which is why Hinds’s quote from Rodney against the term “Black” is misplaced.
Rodney helped introduce Black Power – and “Black” – to the Caribbean.
But in all fairness to Hinds, the term “Black” never really took off in Guyana. Your Eyewitness thinks it’s to do with the residual pejorative use of “Black man” in Guyana. It’s used mostly by folks with a US background, like David Hinds. (relation?) But even over there, things have changed…and brings us to Nigel Hinds’s “solution” to the problematic of nomenclature: that we should use “African Guyanese” as the preferred term.
Is he also reacting to what’s now the dominant US usage? Back in 1988, Jesse Jackson proposed changing “Black” — which referred to a phenotypical marker of the discredited notion of “race” — to “African American”. While this term used two geographical markers, it actually referred to the “cultures” of two lands. He was moving from “race” to “ethnicity”.
But Hinds should know that, in the US, there’s a move away from “African American”. It ranges from Whoopi Goldberg insisting she’s “American” to Slate moving back to “Black”.
From their lived experience, they don’t know what’s it to be “African”? Guyana?
Can we really call our present team a “West Indian” team, when so many of our best players can’t represent us because of the venality of the WICB?