I have been thinking on how those of African descent in the diaspora struggle constantly with defining ourselves in pursuit of regaining our humanity. Someone asked me recently what “Asabagna” meant. At the same time I was meditating on a post I had read by thefreeslave, entitled: “What’s in a name: Freeslave.” Both instances, together, caused me to reflect on the process I went through in defining who and what I am as a Man…. a Black Man in a hostile White society. This process is in no way complete. I allow myself to be continuously transformed by knowledge, experience and yes, the Spirit of God.
But as descendants of Africans who were stolen and enslaved in the “New World”, I would argue that “we”, the Black/African people of the Diaspora, are in a continual struggle to create an identity we are comfortable with, so our definitions of who and what we claim to be, are forever changing. This is of-course due primarily from being taken from our natural homeland, stripped of our natural culture, history, familial relationships, name, religion(s), and had foreign cultures, names and religions imposed upon us to the point of death…. both literal and figurative death. This cultural surgery not only removed our identity, but more importantly, it stripped us of our humanity. To enslave “us”, the European (and let’s not forget the Arabs) societies at the time had to “dehumanize” us. What easier way to rob someone of their natural rights as citizens of humankind, than to label them, define them, classify them as sub-humans through the use of derogatory names. Words are not only symbols of thought, they also shape thought… the way we see the world and the “others” in it. The past, present and future white supremacy based mechanisms of dehumanizing definitions/names for us never fails to amuse me. We’ve gone from the blatant: “Niggers” to the ‘oh so subtle’: “Racialized People!”
And that is not even the worst of it my people! We now have “educated” and “enlightened” Black people debating the value of embracing and clothing ourselves with the expressions “Nigga(s)” and “Coon(s)”, as terms of endearment and empowerment. This to me embodies the reality of the phrase: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
I went through a process of self-actualization which culminated in 1997, when I made a pilgrimage to West Africa. This journey was very significant for me as it led to a spiritual and cultural rebirth. I saw myself in a new light and made a conscious decision to define myself as being of “African heritage”. During this pilgrimage I visited a village in Ghana and during a naming ceremony to signify my return to the Motherland, I was given the name “Asabagna”, by the village Chief, which means “Hunter”. I also visited a Mandingo village in Senegal and a Griot, the musical historian of the village, gave me the name “Alatentou” which means “God is gracious”, as he added my visit to the history of that place. So like the patriarchs of the Old Testament and Saul in the New Testament, I acknowledged this new consciousness that had awaken within me, this new way that I saw the world, specifically the eurocentric-western world and my place within it, by taking on a new name…. the African/Spiritual name: Asabagna Alatentou.
Since then I, Asabagna Alatentou, have grown, changed, transformed and developed as a man of African heritage. I have built up spiritual, human and cultural capital within myself. It is superior to my eurocentric (slave) name. It is superior to taking on a nickname which would identify…. and I would dare say, “trap one”, into a mentality of continuous struggle at the very least, or acts of sub-human behaviour at the very worse.
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”