Not long before I took off the empire's uniform, I recall doing some training alongside some of my fellow soldiers. There were about ten of us. And as I looked around the group for a minute, I made a rather subtle observation of the name tapes worn on our chests. I noticed that certain last names did not match the faces wearing them.
One soldier's name tape said "Rodriguez." He was Hispanic, so the name fit. Another's name tape said "Nguyen." As he was Asian, his name fit, as well. One soldier's chest read, "Thompson." She was Caucasian, so again, it made sense. Though when it came to the last names of Black soldiers, there was no such consistency. Names clearly not of African origin - Williams, Jones, Murphy, Jackson - were being worn by Black people. I was dumbfounded, if not saddened.
If this had been the year 1812 and I had this same observation, of Black folks wearing European names, I would still be troubled, of course; though not dismayed. But this was the year 2012. And here I was, in the 21st century, looking at the sons and daughters of Africa wearing the names of their former slave masters. What disgusted me most was that I stood among them, steeped in apathy toward the matter. At least until then.
I had heard Brother Malcolm's commentary on names before. More times than a few. But it was this experience that made his words finally resonate. And I asked myself why?!? Why am I...a Black man...of African origin and of Hebrew heritage...going by a German last name?!? And it was at that moment of introspection, faced with this unanswerable question that I decided to make a change.