‘Why would anyone do that?’ I thought. It was unfair. It was not right. I saw how people who looked like me were bound and hurt.
There was a man tied up who was being beaten with a whip. His torturers asked him, ‘what is your name?’ After he responded, he would be whipped some more. How could someone’s name be the reason for which he was tortured? That was a mind boggling question I had the first time I watched ‘ROOTS’ a story about slavery.
One of the first things that you are asked when someone meets you for the first time is your name. This is usually given to you at birth and it serves as your identity. In African tradition, your name is given to you a few days after birth usually after consultations with the child’s parents, the elders and the gods. It is bestowed upon a child at a naming ceremony. The details of the ceremonies varied among the different tribes. Most names are a sentence or two which reflect what was going on in the family, what they experienced in the past or a prayer for the future. The names had a deeply rooted meaning.
So you see that when I watched the scene in ROOTS when Kunta Kinte was whipped for stating his name, I was in pain. The only way the whipping stopped was when he accepted the new name imposed on him by his torturers. Let us reflect on the times we have been forced to live outside our true identity.
Are there times when people or circumstances have caused you to change your identity? How many times have we known in our hearts that we are great, special and blessed but then when we are faced with adversity, we cower and hide out identity? How many times have we changed our identity to conform to the standards of people and situations around us? How many times have we given up our true identity so that we can continue to live in mediocrity where it appears to ‘be safe’?
As we celebrate Black history month and we remember those who went before us to pave the way, let us reflect on our identity, the name we call ourselves and the names that we allow others to call us. We are united. We are connected. We are the human race. Step out of the shadows, take pride in who you are and say your name. Claim your positive identity and watch as your life is transformed