Thomas Sowell

Did anyone ever call Franklin D. Roosevelt a "Dutch American" or Dwight Eisenhower a "German American"? It would have been resented, not only by them and their supporters, but by Americans in general. These men were Americans -- not hyphenated Americans or half Americans.

Most black families in the United States today have been here longer than most white families. No one except the American Indians can claim to have been on American soil longer. Why then call blacks in the United States "African Americans," when not even their great-great-great-grandparents ever laid eyes on Africa?

It is certainly understandable that activists, politicians and others who wish to divide Americans for their own purposes would push the notion of "African Americans." They also push such things as the "African" holiday Kwanzaa -- which originated in Los Angeles -- and "black English" or "ebonics," which originated centuries ago in particular localities in Britain, and is wholly unknown in Africa.

Names are just part of the process of creating wholesale frauds about the past, in order to advance special agendas in the present. Personal names are also part of that fraud.

The vogue of repudiating black family names that supposedly were given by slaveowners in times past is another reflection of the widespread ignorance of history among Americans in general, as a result of our dumbed-down education. Slaves were not only not given family names, they were forbidden to have family names.

In many parts of the world, family names began with the elites, and only over the centuries moved down the social scale until ordinary people were allowed to have them. In England, common people began to have family names only after the Middle Ages, and in Japan it was the late 19th century before commoners could use family names. It was the 20th century before ordinary people in Iran were allowed -- and directed -- to have family names.

Slaveowners in the American antebellum South were especially opposed to slaves having family names because such names emphasized family ties -- and the only legally recognized tie of a slave was to his owner, who could sell him miles away from his kin.

The slaves themselves, however, used family names to create a sense of family, though they were careful not to use these names around whites. Even after Emancipation, blacks who had been raised in slavery often hesitated when some white person asked them their family name.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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