Dr. David Acey
” . . . I moved from being Black to Colored to Negro from Colored to Black to African to African American. . . “
We do not always have the opportunity to sit and speak to those who have blazed the trail that we now walk. Thanks in part to the StoryCorps Griot initiative one young man was blessed with the opportunity to listen closely – with undivided attention – to one of the countless individuals who is responsible for helping to lift the torch that the younger generation must continue to carry. Only by listening to those who have carved our path can we expect to pick up where they left off.
What’s in a name?
One of the fundamental concerns of any community or individual is identity – how we choose to be defined or how we define ourselves. Today, in the GriotBooth, participant Dr. David Acey, Assistant Professor of African American Rhetoric and Interracial Communication at the University of Memphis, spoke about identity. Dr. Acey is a native of the Orange Mound section of Memphis. This once tight-knit community is a storied section of the city that boasts a proud history of African American businesses, land, and home ownership. Dr. Acey founded and lead the first Black Student Association to force full integration at what is now the University of Memphis. Along with his wife Yvonne he organized and runs the Africa in April Cultural Festival, now in its 22nd year.
When asked how he identifies himself, Dr. Acey replied:
“European people have always identified us. They called us slaves. They didn’t go to Africa and get a slave, they went to Africa and got an African. They, made him into a slave. They, called us slaves. They called us Negroes. They called us colored, shoe, boot, coon, nigger, and anything else. They called us that.
They always identifying you.
If you gonna be a whole person – a man, a full grown man – you have to identify yourself. So, when they call me Black . . . during the Black Power movement . . . Black was a concept to us. It wasn’t an identification. But, when you grow and develop you find black is an adjective, it tells what you look like, not who you are. If you’re running around here saying, ‘I’m Black,’ you’re saying, ‘I’m an adjective.’ But if you want to be a person, it’s a noun.
We are all Africans. Everybody in the world is an African. (I don’t have time to explore that now). We are Africans, we are just living in America. So, if you want to become like all other ethnic groups in America you have to drop the black that says you’re the adjective and pick up the noun, Africa. America is where you reside, so we are African Americans. We’re not Black people. You misperceive your own essence when you don’t know what you are or where you’re going. As African American people we have to look through that African lens as a focal point to take us out of the paradox, create a new paradigm, – practiced – and move to power. That’s the only way we are gonna do it, when we identify ourselves, create economic opportunities for ourselves and make people respond to our definition as if it was their own, by knowing who we are and moving in the direction we need to move without apology.”
Dr Acey, thank you for the opportunity to enjoy a conversation with you. In the quiet space of the booth your reflections gleamed with crystal clarity. It was an honor to sit and listen.