DuBois: The Name “Negro”

When reading the Name Negro by W.E.B. DuBois, I admittedly thought about the first time I was ever exposed to prejudice. I was eight years old and I did a presentation on my favorite dessert that my mom made which happened to be a German food. When asked why I loved German food by the bully in my class I said because it had been passed down in my family and he told me to back to the NAZI’S. At the time, I never once thought that because I was from Jewish decent that I would ever be prejudice in my own country for it. I came home crying to my dad about what had occurred and he had to sit me down and attempt to explain such big concepts and my little brain could not wrap my mind around it.  For the first time I felt like an outsider in my own country and in my school.

DuBois is conflicted about being an African American. On one hand he does not like being called a “Negro” because he does not like how the word is used as a weapon. He also wants to be an American, yet he is being treated as inferior.

He states, “Moreover, you cannot change the name of a thing at will. Names are not merely matters of thought and reason; they are growths and habits. As long as the majority of men mean black or brown folk when they say “Negro”, so long will Negro be the name of folk brown and black. And neither anger nor wailing nor tears can or will change the name until the name-habit changes.”

In this paragraph he is strongly stating that complaining and winning about the term Negro will not be how the word will go away. Instead there needs to be action, educate people on the word and make it clear that another phase is appropriate. Negro is not just a name, it was a symbol of colored people nd a weapon to attempt to belittle people of color. I find many similarities with Jewish people. People will try and call Jewish people Jews as a way to belittle and hurt. For some time, I allowed this kid to hurt me by calling me a “little Jew” until I cam to the realization that I was giving him that power to hurt me. At the age of eight, I leaned to never give a person the tools to hurt me. I started to ignore him and eventually he stopped.

The end of Mr. Dubois’s letter was fantastic. He states, “…get it straight even if it pierces your soul: a Negro by any other name would be just as black and just as white; just as ashamed of himself and just as shamed by others, as today. It is not the name–it’s the Thing that counts…”. This is so powerful because it is pretty much saying what I discovered at the age of eight. Hatred can only go so far, do not ever let someone have the tools to hurt you. A name is just a name, it doesn’t need to define you.


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