Sie sind auf Seite 1von 4

Chapter I

Nommo: Self-Naming and Self-Definition (A Revision of "Self-Naming and Self-Definition: An


Agenda for Survival" in Sisterhood, Feminisms and Power (African World Press, 1998))

Women who are calling themselves black feminists need another word that describes what their
concerns are. Black feminism in not a word that describes the plight of black women. The white race
has a woman problem because the women were oppressed. Black people have a man and woman
problem because Black men are as oppressed as their women. (Julia Hare, 15)
The above quotation by noted Black psychologist, Julia Hare, who unfortunately is unaware of the
existence of Africana womanism, a terminology and paradigm which responds to her call, makes a
profound commentary on the reality of the difference in the politics of Black life and that of white life,
particularly in terms of how certain ideals have different meanings relative to the two groups. In other
words, Hare's statement reflects the nuances of the relativity of a particular terminology and concept--
feminism-- as issued forth by whites and its inapplicability to Black men and women who are trapped
first and foremost by the race factor rather than by the gender factor so prevalently addressed today.
Because of the critical race factor for Blacks, another scholar, Audrey Thomas McCluskey, concludes
that "Black women must adopt a culturally specific term to describe their racialized experience , " as
she is astutely cognizant of that for Black women, whether or not they pursue this issue to the point of
independently naming themselves, "the debate over names reflects deeper issues of the right to self-
validation and to claim intellectual traditions of their own"(McCluskey 2). Hence, the crucial need for
self-naming and self-definition, an interconnecting phenomenon, becomes pin-ultimate as we must
understand that when you give name to a particular thing, you simultaneously give it meaning.
Nommo, then, an African term which cultural theorist, Molefi Asante, calls "the generative and
productive power of the spoken word," means the proper naming of a thing which in turn gives it
essence (Asante 17). Particularizing the concept,
Nommo, in the power of the word . . . activates all forces from their frozen state in a manner that
establishes concreteness of experience . . . be they glad or sad, work or play, pleasure or pain, in a way
that preserves [one's] humanity" (Harrison xx).
To be sure, Nommo, a powerful and empowering concept in African cosmology, evokes material
existence. Since Africana people have long been denied the authority of not only naming self, but
moreover, defining self, as inferred by the narrator of Beloved by Nobel prize-winning author, Toni
Morrison-"Definitions belonged to the definers, not the defined"-it is now of utmost importance that
we take control over this determining factors of our lives if we hope to avoid degradation, isolation and
annihilation in a world of greed, violence and pandemonium.
Since the mid eighties, I have been seriously engaging in the process of properly naming and defining
Africana women. This process has been effected by identifying and refining an African-centered
paradigm for all women of African descent. In observing the traditional role, character, and activity of
this group, whose affinity lies in their common African ancestry, I arrived at the conclusion that
Africana womanism as a theoretical construct was more of a refinement of ideals rather than a creation
of ideals. My role as theorist was to observe Africana women historically and culturally, document our
reality, and then refine a paradigm relative to who we are, what we do, and what we believe in as a
people. While this process seems to be a natural course of action, society, on the contrary, has not gone
this route. Rather it has ignored the true operational existence of this long existing phenomenon and
has elected to name and define Africana women outside of their cultural and historical context via the
superimposition of an alien construct- Eurocentrism/feminism. In essence, the dominant culture has
held the position of identifying who we are and how we fit into the scheme of things with no regard for
our authentic reality. Rather than respect our lives as representative of self-authentication, the dominant
culture obtrudes itself upon the Africana people. To stop this legacy of European domination, Africana
people will have to actively reclaim their identity, beginning with self-naming and self-defining. As
Bob Bender, Professor of English and Women Studies (University of Missouri-Columbia) asserts,
Naming is important, and one of the problems with being named by some other group is that you are
not who you want to be. Until you have the right to give a naem to yourself and to what you are doing,
you have no power whatsoever. Africana womanism is a fine idea (Bender 7).
An authentic agenda for Africana women, therefore, has to be designed with an endemic perspective,
one that is shaped by the our own past and present cultural reality, molded by our own set of
established priorities. In other words, Africana women must create our "own criteria for assessing [our]
realities, both in thought and in action" (Hudson-Weems, Africana Womanism, 50).
To begin with the concept of Africana Womanism, unlike feminism/Black feminism, is a family
centered, rather than female-centered concept, which is concerned first and foremost with race
empowerment rather than female empowerment. To be sure, female centered/female empowerment as
a priority for Black women could make no sense in a community where the very lives of not only the
female sector, but of all its entire people--men, women, and children--are at risk and threatened daily
by racist white domination. Ridding society first of racism, which pervades the total existence of Black
life, then becomes the first step for human survival. A follow-up newspaper article, headlining
"Beyond Bra-Burning," of the First International Conference on Women of African and the African
Diaspora, held at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (July 1992) highlighted the impact of Africana
Womanism on the conference. It was stated that [Africana}
Womanists do not believe in bra-burning. They believe in womanhood, the family, and society. Their
struggle is to enhance these attributes, not repudiate them. . . . The Africana man and woman have
always been complementary partners and if there is to be an Africana [a] economic empowerment and
survival, both of them have to work together lie they've always done" (Agoawike, 1).
Clearly the notion of prioritizing race, class, and gender within the framework of the tripartite plight of
Africana women is the defining differentiating factor between women of Africana descent and those of
the dominant culture, whose primary issue for them is female empowerment.
Even before the Nigerian conference, I had been on the mission of insisting upon the cruciality of the
proper naming and defining of Africana women and their struggle as an on-going collective activity in
the Black world in an effort to combat the life-threatening issues to the existence of a collective
Africana people.. And the key to this seminal issue is that when one buys a particular terminology, one
also buys into its agenda, which in the case of Africana women discounts the inextricable connection
of their identity to the destiny of theirs people . As Hudson-Weems proclaims in an interview with a
Caribbean newspaper, "We (of the African Diaspora) are not playing with gender issues-we are dealing
with real-life issues which don't exclude gender but deal [first] with securing and empowering our
people" (Fuentez, 3).
It may be appropriate here to comment on the venomous beginnings of feminism. The true history of
feminism, its origins and its participants, reveals a rather blatant racist background. Feminism and the
Woman's Suffrage Movement had its beginnings with a group of liberal White women, who were
concerned with abolishing slavery and granting equal rights for all people regardless of race, class and
sex. However, when the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified in
1870, granting Africana men voting rights, while denying that privilege for women, White women in
particular, the attitudes of those white women toward Blacks shifted. Disappointed, having assumed
that their benevolence toward securing full citizenship for Africana people would ultimately benefit
them, their response was a racist reaction to both the Amendment and to Africanans. Hence, an
organized movement among White women from the 1880s on shifted the pendulum from a liberal
posture to a radically conservative.
The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was founded in 1890 by northern
White women; however, "southern women were also vigorously courted by that group" (Giddings, 81),
which demonstrated the growing race chauvinism of the late nineteenth century. Departing from the
original women's suffrage posture of Susan B. Anthony, the organization brought together the National
Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association, protesting that middle-
class white women's vote must aid their male counterparts in preserving the virtues of the Republic
from the threat of Black men, unqualified and biological inferiors who, with the voting power could
acquire political power within the American system. Carrie Chapman Catt, a staunch conservative
suffragist leader and other women in her camp insisted upon strong Anglo Saxon values and White
supremacy. They wanted to band with White men to secure the vote for pure Whites, excluding both
Blacks and White immigrants. In Peter Carrol and David Noble's The Free and the Unfree Catt is
quoted saying,
There is but one way to avert the danger. Cut off the vote of the slums and give it to [White] women. . .
. [White men must realize] the usefulness of woman suffrage as a counterbalance to the foreign vote,
and as a means of legally preserving White supremacy in the South" (Quoted in The Free and the
Unfree, 296).
Embracing a firm belief in inherent Black inferiority, these women believed that Blacks should not be
allowed the right to vote before them, which did not come until the 1920 Nineteenth Amendment.
Thus, while it is understandable how White women felt regarding their exclusion from the voting
rights agenda, their racist hostility and racist toward Africanans were unjustifiable and hence, cannot
be overlooked.
In May 1995, I had the occasion to observe the consequence of subsuming our priorities as Africana
women under those of the dominant culture. The Supreme Court was ruling on the issue of Affirmative
Action set-asides and the question raised was how (white) feminists would respond to the increasing
attacks upon Affirmative Action, since they as women had been the largest group of benefactors of this
program, including Blacks, who were the originally intended beneficiaries. Putting this question into
an historical perspective, I surmised that since they were, in fact, members of the dominant culture,
their security would be protected. Predictably, in June, 1995, the Supreme Court returned the ruling
that Affirmative Action set-asides that were racially determined were unconstitutional; those
determined by gender equality were conversely constitutional. Therefore, for women of African
descent, which is a racially defined category, the priority of gender, rather than race, is inapplicable in
this case, since Africana women would be still burdened with the yoke of the race factor: "Even if she
does overcome the battle of sexism through a collective struggle of all women, she will still be left
with the battle of racism facing both her family and herself" (Africana Womanism, 59). In other words,
when the white feminist has realized all of her needs and demands, thereby rendering her a proper
place in the workplace, the Black woman will still be Black and on the bottom. Hence, the Black
woman, who has surrendered her number one issue of racial parity to a gender specific priority, will
find herself back to the vulnerable experience of Black degradation.
Having said all, the glaring revelation is that Africana people, particularly Africana women in this
discourse, must decide for ourselves who we are and what our authentic agenda really is. We must
necessarily engage in identifying for ourselves our individual needs as an Africana people, beginnning
with self-naming and self-definition in order that we may better understand what it will take for us to
bring total human parity to fruition for us. To be sure, this is the first step toward bringing about true
harmony and real survival for all-Black, white, red and yellow; men, women and children.
References
Agoawike, Angela. "Beyon 'Bra-Burning': [Africana] Womanism as Alternative for the Africana
Women." Nigeria Daily Times, July27, 1992.
Asante, Molefi Kete. The Afrocentric Idea. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Bender, Bob. "Reassessing Roles." Mizzou Weekly (Columbia, MO). October 27, 1993.
Carroll, Peter N. and David W. Nobel. The Free and the Unfree: A New History of the United
States. New York: Penguin Books, 1977.
Fuentez, Tania. "Africana Womanism: Ties to the Destiny of a People." Daily News (St. Thomas,
Virgin Islands), June 2, 1994.
Hare, Julia. "Feminism in Black and White." Quoted in Mary-Christine Phillip. Black Issues in Higher
Education, March 11, 1993, pp. 12-17.
Harrison, Paul Carter. The Drama of Nommo. New York: Grove Press, 1972.
Hudson-Weems, Clenora. Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves. Third revised edition, second
printing. Michigan: Bedford Publishers, 1995.
McCluskey, Audrey Thomas. "Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?: Reflections on the Role of Black
Women's Studies in the Academy." Feminist Teacher, Vol. 8, n. 3, 1994, 105-111.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.