A Lesson in Manners from Great-Granny Eve

October 11, 1991|By IVAN PENN

COLLEGE PARK. — America's black population has wrestled for decades over a name fitting for its people.

The other day science stepped into the ring to add more fuel to the fires. New evidence, it seems, supports the theory that all contemporary humans spawned from a single African woman who lived about 200,000 years ago. Scientists say this woman was misleadingly dubbed ''Eve.''

Wasn't there a man involved? If so, he was probably misleadingly dubbed ''Adam.''

Anyway, after examining genetic material from modern people around the world, researchers at the University of California in Berkeley concluded that the roots of the contemporary human family tree were planted in sub-Saharan Africa. So the continent that everyone views as the motherland for blacks is actually everybody's homeland.

Some of Eve's descendants traveled from their native homeland Africa to Europe and Asia and then to Australia and the Americas, the researchers say. Most blacks just stayed closer to home.

Imagine the implications.

First of all, this theory could solve the long debate over what blacks -- or Negroes, colored people, people of color, Afro-Americans, African-Americans (note the hyphen), African Americans or Afrikan Amerikans -- should be called.

Secondly, that person sitting next to you, whether red, brown, black or white, is your distant cousin. Introduce yourself. Don't be shy. They're family.

The only problem is that if I call myself an African American, I might offend some of my new-found relatives who don't share the natural pigmentation that I have. They might not believe they are really part of the family unless they, too, can share the African name.

The most practical move is to switch the words and have our cousins worldwide adopt the family name. Just like the global-economy concept, we would have one big global name to which we can all refer. And blacks would no longer be in search of a proper name.

So no longer would I be an African American but an American African, a name all Americans could adopt whether they have natural pigmentation or not. Those in other parts of the world would become Asian Africans, European Africans and Australian Africans.

Such a move would give us a more accurate name, and help us see racism differently, too. Really.

Hating another race would be to hate other members of the family. And we would disappoint our great, great, great . . . grandmother ''Eve.'' If she were alive, we probably wouldn't get anything for Christmas or Hanukkah.

Of course, if she were alive at 200,000 years of age, she probably wouldn't have enough energy -- or money -- to give presents to all of us.

Well, some anthropologists, like Milford Wolpoff at the University of Michigan, say we really don't have to worry about who would get gifts because the theory of ''Eve'' just isn't true. They say that Chinese fossils of Homo erectus date back 1.25 million years, obviously before grandma's time.

But then it is still believed that human evolution began in Africa 2.5 million years ago with Homo habilis, if Professor Wolpoff and others want to get technical.

We'll just refer to those anthropologists as the white sheep of the family.

Ivan Penn is a journalism student at the University of Maryland.

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