Recently, I’ve noticed an uptick in progressive Black folks and others using the Kemetic word “hotep” to label and critique other Black folks who promote a brand of Black nationalism or cultural nationalism that is frequently rooted in the cisheteropatriarchy of white supremacy and Western thought while purporting to be antagonistic to them. Seems as if the Black Panther #TeamKillmonger vs #TeamTChalla debates have renewed the need for Black folks to find efficient ways to demean each other while arguing. But the use of the word “hotep” as a slur had become almost as popular among Black folks as the N-word long before #WakandaForever.
As someone who has been a practitioner of Kemetic spirituality since I was 14 years old and African decolonizing Kweer Theory (ADKT) for all of my career as a scholar-practitioner, it is both painful and frustrating to witness friends/colleagues and would-be friends/colleagues associate a word from my spirituality, which is so deeply moving and meaningful for me, as what amounts to a religious slur and social media joke.
As a young person growing up in the Kemetic community in New York City, I saw models of being Kemetic that were radically rooted in a practice of cisheteropatriarchy. I took inspiration from them and even in my youth found ways to be so as well. That included speaking truth to power in my priesthood even though it meant I would have to disagree with and stand up to my High Priest, a man who I believe could speak my death into existence. It resulted in my being suspended from the priesthood twice and, ultimately, my decision to leave Kemetic organization to found another.
As a newly-minted PhD, I focused my job talk in the Department of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University (the oldest Black Studies department in the United States) on articulating an Afrocentric approach to sexuality that challenged cisheteropatriarchy. It was a dream job for anyone who was fresh out of school with knowledge of the history of Black studies as a discipline. I responded to critical questions by Drs Wade Noble and Oba T’Shaka (two of the three lions of Afrocentric thought in Northern California-Dr. Theophile Obenga, being the third, was also present). I dared to claim a seat at the table of Afrocentricity rather than concede it in favor of the seemingly safer ground of Black Queer Studies. I think they would have been more comfortable with my scholarship had I have done so since they had already written off Black Queer Studies, just as many in Black Queer Studies had written off them and Afrocentricity. I might have gotten the job had I been an Afrocentrist who rooted in cisheteropatriarchy or scholar of Black Queer Studies who was not rooted in Afrocentric Thought.
But not getting that job hasn’t deterred me from contributing to the knowledge and practice of radical Blackness as an embodied, liberatory, and inclusive praxis. Conjuring Black Funk: Notes on Culture, Sexuality, and Spirituality, Volume 1, Bodeme in Harlem: An African Diasporic Autoethnography, and Introduction to Afrocentric decolonizing Kweer Theory and Epistemology of the Erotic are a few of the examples. For a host of reasons, people, even people who identify themselves as academics, the educated, or scholars, don’t do their homework to find these kinds of resources before believing that all Afrocentric thought or all people associated with Kemetic philosophy or spirituality are invested in cisheteropatriarchy and therefore the use of the word, “hotep,” is a justifiable misuse of its original purpose.
1. Hotep means peace, satisfaction or contentment. Historically, it has been used as an invocation, prayer, or blessing like when Jews say “shalom,” Muslims say, “as-salaam-alaikum,” or Hindus say, “namaste.”
The anger, hate, and anxieties that most people labeled as “hoteps” exhibit is a clear indication of their lack of peace, satisfaction, and contentment. So associating them with the concept of hotep devalues its purpose and unduly honors them.
2. People of various philosophies, ideologies, and religions misuse and abuse those systems to justify and validate their prejudices, phobias, and hatred.
So unless you’re going around calling ignorant ass Christians “blessings” or saying all Muslims throw LGBT people off buildings like DASEL does, then you’re being inconsistent in your hostility by believing that the actions of some pseudo-intellectual Black nationalists and cultural nationalists are representative of an entire spiritual tradition.
3. Many people who do not fit within the norms of Western religion, society, and culture have found African spirituality to be a place of healing, decolonization, and peace.
Black folks who couldn’t put up with the patriarchy, heterosexism, cisgenderism, and white supremacy of Christianity, even Black Christianity have embraced African spiritual traditions in an effort to liberate their bodies, minds, and spirits. By using “hotep” as a slur, you further the marginalization and mockery of African spirituality in a world dominated by Judeo-Christian-Islamic sensibilities and contribute to the invisibilization of practitioners of African spiritualities who work for gender, sexual, and social justice.
4. Internalized anti-African-ness and anti-Blackness is real and not always easily perceptible.
Those of us in the Western world live in societies that feed us a diet of anti-African-ness and anti-Blackness from birth. It’s not always easy for us to recognize when we’re acting from that source of self-hate/suspicion. Whenever we use aspects of African/Black culture to parody and caricature each other, more than likely we’re coming from that place and we’re definitely contributing to the messages that say anything African or Black is deserving of ridicule.
5. Most people who are labeled “hoteps” have had decades of indoctrination in Christianity or Islam and Western thought before they study anything else. That indoctrination informs and influences their approach to everything.
Members of TeamWoke have usually spent 20 years or more as members of Christian or Islamic families. They have spent 12 or more years in schools organized by Western thought. These early influences have a huge impact upon how they consume, interpret, and digest information about Africa and African cultures. Oftentimes, their misinterpretations of Kemetic philosophy/culture or that of other precolonial African cultures are based upon how they learned to perceive the world during their formative years. So it would be more accurate to label them according to those early influences.
6. Being a Black nationalist or cultural nationalist does not associate someone with Kemetic spirituality, even if they use the word “hotep” as a greeting.
In the modern era, the practice of Kemetic spirituality by Black folks in the African Diaspora started in the 1970s. The practice usually involves initiation and the performance of rituals, ceremonies, and other spiritual activities (e.g., communication with ancestors, oracles, and other spirit beings). Yelling about conspiracy theories, spewing hatred against Black people who aren’t heterosexual or cisgender, or being “deep” on YouTube are not part of those practices. Neither is tweeting hate speech. Using the word “hotep” to label Black nationalists and cultural nationalists who do those things equates and conflates their behavior with the practices of people who are engaged in the spiritual practices.
7. Medu neter, the language of ancient Kemet and the source of the word “hotep,” is a powerful language. Kemet spirituality is powerful.
In medu neter, each glyph has a mundane meaning and a divine meaning. Each word, therefore, carries a connotative/denotative power to communicate meaning as well as an evocative power to communicate on a spiritual plane. Throwing around Kemetic words out of context because it’s the popular/trendy thing to call people “hoteps” as a critique and insult or because Christianity or Islam and Western colonization has taught you that ain’t no real power in those ancient African things might be cute on social media but you’d be wise to consider that there’s more going on than you know or believe. Anyone who has participated in a Kemetic or other African ritual performed with people who are initiates and know what they are doing should be able to attest to the reality that there’s a power that exists in these cultural products that Western thought and socialization has not truly prepared us to evaluate or assess. So treading with caution, respect, and humility is probably the safest option. That’s not a threat but rather a prescription for maintaining health, wellness, and wellbeing.
And now for your listening pleasure, Chaka Khan and The Roots performing Egyptian Song. Suhir Blackeagle, thank you for being you. I remember.