BALTIMORE Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings has proposed a law to have Maryland's black population referred to -- officially -- as African American.
Forgive me if I don't emit a scream of ecstasy about the notion. At the tender age of 40, I've already been called three things -- colored, Negro and black, in that order -- and I have no desire to be called something else in my lifetime.
Ten to 15 years from now, someone else will be proposing still another change. I have a plan to prevent that. Delegate vTC Rawlings' bill should be amended to designate an official name for black people each month of the year. Think there isn't room in the nomenclature? Peruse the following list:
* January. Official designation would be "colored." It's old and dated, but we'll find there are some blacks and whites comfortable with it.
* February. Official designation would be "Negro." This term has been discredited by black nationalists who claim it was invented by Western anthropologists as part of a white racist, supremacist agenda.
According to the nationalists, here's how the scam worked: Any black people in Africa who showed no sign of civilization were classified as "Negro." Blacks who were clearly just as dark or darker, but who showed signs of being civilized, were classified as "Hamites" and conveniently placed in the Caucasian race. I call this a scam because some Western writers have admitted no physical evidence of a "Negro" race has been found.
* March. Official designation would be "black." This term has gone from one of opprobrium -- to call someone "black" in the colored-Negro days could actually start a fight -- to one of acceptance to one that is now no longer good enough. I suggest keeping it around. We may have to use it again.
* April. Official designation would be "Afro-American." Some have objected to this term, claiming it does not adequately define blacks as an ethnic group. But it's worth keeping.
* May. Official designation would be African American to make the Jesse Jacksons and Pete Rawlings of the country happy.
* June. Official designation would be Asiatic. This is to appease the annoying, bilious members of the sect known as the Moorish Science Temple. If I understand the demented ramblings of temple members correctly, there is no African continent. Africa is merely part of the larger continent of Asia, which was originally inhabited by black people. Hence, blacks are Asiatic. There, that cleared up the confusion, didn't it?
* July. Official designation would be "Moorish-American." This again would be in deference to the members of the Moorish Science Temple, who maintain that while their race is Asiatic, their nationality is Moorish-American. I say we humor them for the months of June and July, provided they shut up the rest of the year.
* August. Official designation would be "Bilalian." This comes to us from Warithuddin Muhammad, who formerly was Warith Deen Muhammad, who formerly was Wallace Deen Muhammad, who originally was Wallace Muhammad.
Wallace Muhammad was Elijah Muhammad's successor as leader of the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims) and changed the name of the organization to the World Community of Islam and then to the American Muslim Mission. Between all these changes he put forth his case for calling black Americans Bilalian.
Bilal, an Ethiopian who was the prophet Mohammed's first convert, was also the man who initiated Islam's "call to prayer." In Warithuddin Muhammad's world view, black American converts to Islam were, in essence, issuing a "call to prayer" to other American blacks to return to their West African Islamic roots much as Bilal issued the call for all Muslims hundreds of years ago. For such inspired and creative -- if somewhat convoluted -- logic, I say we reward Warithuddin Muhammad for one month.
* September. Official designation would be "Nubian," a term preferred by some black nationalists in memory of the black state on ancient Egypt's southern boundary that competed with Egypt for regional hegemony.
* October. Official designation would be "Ethiopian." The ancient Greeks referred to all black people as Ethiopian, and the term has stuck down through the ages. As late as 1910, when black boxer Jack Johnson was pummeling white hope James J. Jeffries into mashed protoplasm at Reno, Nev. (and laughing while doing it), one pundit referred to the former as the "grinning Ethiopian."
* November. Official designation would be "Kushite." Kush and Nubia refer to the same country on ancient Egypt's southern border. This term is included only as nit-pick insurance, for those nit-pickers who are sure to moan if it's not included.
* December. Official designation would be "Sudanese." Hey, why not? Virtually every black American has ancestors who lived in the region of western Africa known as the "Western Sudan." If U.S. blacks want a term that defines their geographical and cultural heritage, Sudanese should do as well as any other. Kunta Kinte of "Roots" fame was a Mandingo, one of the prominent ethnic groups of the Western Sudan. In fact, one historian has claimed that some words from an Indian tribe on Maryland's Eastern Shore were found not to be Indian at all, but pure Mandingo.
This list by no means includes all the names suggested as appropriate designations for blacks, just the most prominent ones. My plan has something for almost everybody and will, I hope, put an end to this tedious debate now, henceforth and forevermore.
Gregory P. Kane writes from Baltimore.