I am willing to bet a fair number of people reading this have already sussed out what A.B.S. stands for in the title of this article. So ubiquitous is this epithet, I used it and had it used against me 30 years ago on the playground, and recently, a very funny YouTuber named Evelyn From the Internets said she was teased with the term as a child. She is well over a decade younger than me and grew up on the other side of the country. Y’all know what I’m talking about, but we’ll get there later on. First, a story.
A few months ago, I was enjoying a beautiful, sunny smoke break with some coworkers and friends. One white, one multiracial, and me. I’m Black. We were talking about teachers and professors we’d had and the white friend was telling an amusing story about their experience with one professor that could not stand them. As we were giggling fiercely and their story was winding down, they ended it with a comment that caused a record scratching sound in my mind and a release of adrenaline into my blood like a kennel of mabari war hounds.
COWORKER: I SWEAR HE WAS SUCH A HOTEP…
ME: WAIT… WHAT DID YOU SAY?
COWORKER: [OFF MY SUDDEN CHANGE OF POSTURE AND TONE] *UNCERTAIN LOOK* A… A HOTEP?
ME: NO… I HAVE TO… *BREATHES* I HAVE TO PUSH BACK ON THAT. THAT’S NOT WHAT THAT MEANS. I KNOW THAT’S WHAT IT MEANS ON TWITTER AND IN SOCIAL MEDIA BUT IT’S ACTUALLY AN ANCIENT KEMETIC ERR EGYPTIAN WORD THAT MEANS PEACE. IT MEANS PEACE OR ‘OF PEACE.’
I then went on a rambly explanation about how the word is supposed to be used, and how the modern world vilifies this word just like it has always done when it comes to anything of African antiquity, from voudon (voodoo) to ancient Egyptian preservation of the dead (mummies are monsters dontcha know).
The difference is that, the twitter version of “hotep” and “ankh,” is not some white campaign to discredit and denigrate, the origin is a bit closer to home. Using these words as slurs is common among ratchet theorists and other Blackademics and Twitter pundits wanting to ally themselves with a more authentic, acceptable Blackness. Then the practice kind of spidered out from there. It’s since become a catch all for misogynistic/chauvinistic, homophobic, narrow-minded Black men. I saw a dude who was clearly from the Christian tradition, bible verses in tow being called a hotep.
One such Black Twitter luminary posted this on their feed and was met with the predictable ha ha hee hees they were, no doubt, looking for.
This is some dangerous anti-Black rhetoric. Someone took the time and energy to make this graphic. Someone is making shirts and presumably profiting from disseminating misinformation. The REAL translation of the shirt is, “Ain’t No Peace” I agree. There can’t be any peace when things like this occur. I saw another oft quoted and retweeted Black Twitter gentleman go on a multi-part rant about how the word hotep deserves to be twisted and made ugly in this way because of what the people who use it speak about.
Hmm dragging something meaningful and beautiful out of the pre-colonial Black past up through the centuries to shackle it and change its meaning and context to fit some twisted notion in the post-colonial present, sounds eerily familiar. I must have read a book about it once…
Like many of the contributors and guest bloggers who write about their lives on BGN, I too fell short of what others considered ‘authentic Blackness.’ One of my nicknames was “white girl” for the way I spoke. And, when hip-hop went from praising Black queens to songs about compulsory gang bangs a la “Ain’t No Fun (If My Homies Can’t Have None)” by everyone’s favorite old-timer, Snoop, I was further alienated, because I stopped listening to the ‘right’ music. I was mostly OK with it because I knew who I was, and in college, I got connected with a program centered on Pan-African education. I felt affirmed. I thought, ‘Yeah, I may not be authentically Black, but I’m this kinda Black and that suits me just fine! 🙂 ‘
“Hotep, sis” was the standard greeting and we adorned our hair and clothes with ankhs because the shape and meaning (Life!) felt important and gorgeous and so, so sweet.
In a month’s time, an African centered charter school placed in one of the fiscally neglected pockets of Philly will begin its school year. Each day starts when the principal, a master teacher, greets her beautiful brown babies with a hearty “Hotep!” and they respond “SHEM HOTEP MAMA!” They are then treated to an academically rigorous, culturally nurturing education that feeds their minds and their souls in a world that is constantly trying to get them to agree to be less than the divine, thinking beings that they are.
But you say, “Well if hotep is so damn great why these dudes out here talking crazy all the time?!” Well, the short answer is patriarchy. All these dudes get their backward ass thinking from the patriarchal bigots that came before them. They may dress it up differently, but it’s the same shit no matter the trimmings. If we’re being real, there’s another group that is way larger, more established, and actually use their considerable power to shape the world in bigoted ways. However, people don’t go around saying, “Them ashy amens get on my nerves!” “Them hallelujahs are at it again with the bullshit….” That’s because post colonial Black folks revere Judeo-Christianity. So, whenever it flexes its repressive muscle, folks are quick to distance the belief from the (MANY) individuals that use it that way. “They’re not real Christians.”
So yeah, A.B.S. or African Booty Scratcher is the term I’m referencing in the title. Some of you may have never heard the phrase before, but I’m betting many of you have. It’s the perfect insult; couple something you don’t respect or have been taught to hate (African) with something funny-sounding (Booty Scratcher) and voila! You’ve got an A+ schoolyard taunt.
Hotep has the word “ho” right in it and it’s a funny and African, and no one knows what it means. So, it basically fits all the criteria for making it a good modern day slur. You may protest that this is not your intent when you use it, and consciously, it probably isn’t. But peep the following:
RUNNIN’ THROUGH THESE CHECKS ’TIL I PASS OUT
AND SHORTY GIVE ME NECK ’TIL I PASS OUT
I SWEAR TO GOD, ALL I DO IS CASH OUT
AND IF YOU AIN’T A HO, GET UP OUT MY TRAP HOUSE
These lyrics were in the song “Hot Nigga,” which struck up a nation-wide (worldwide?) dance craze. If your inclination to these lyrics is to get out on the dance floor, arms raised over head ready to have some fun, then maybe misogyny isn’t your objection to so-called hoteps. Maybe it’s the delivery system. If these dudes wore expensive street wear, bragged about killing people, and found a way to put a beat behind their words, they might be able to elevate themselves from “ashy* ankh hotep ass niggas” to the types of dudes that garner adoring female attention.
If nothing I’ve said thus far has moved you, how about this: when you’re “insulting” someone using a word you don’t know the meaning of, you can inadvertently compliment them. By calling some raggedy rape apologist or creep with custodial ideas about how women should behave a “hotep,” you are stating that they are ‘of peace.’ That shit is not peaceful! Also! It absolves other dudes with different aesthetics from examining their own privilege and any toxic masculinity that may be rattling around in their mind. They can put it off on, ‘those ankh wearing cats.’
At the end of the day, people are going to say what they want and make merry with what they like. I’m just offering an opinion as someone who is as interested in Black patriarchy as I am in the white kind. My entreaty is for folks to find another term for Afrocentric fascists that does not saddle a precolonial word with the baggage of a postcolonial world.
*- I love that ashy is part of the insult so often. Don’t act like it wasn’t the so-called hoteps who brought shea butter to the American masses. Before that, we were rubbing baby oil on ourselves thinking we were doing something. In fact, I’ve seen the term “shea butter bitch” bandied about as the female version of “hoteps” 😉