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The Hateful Names of U.S. Towns

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or don’t know any women at all, you’ve likely heard about the heartwarming, yet tragic love story “From Scratch,” now streaming on Netflix. It’s based on the real-life story of Tembe Locke, who worked with her sister Attica Locke to get the series made for Netflix.

During a recent podcast appearance, Tembe Lock spoke of her family’s rural farm roots with love and reflection and revealed something I found shocking, distasteful, and angering. Her grandparents hail from a small Northeast Texas Community called “Nigton, Texas.” Nig. Ton.

You read that right. And, yes, it means exactly what you think it does.

I almost cried. It didn’t matter that the name was supposedly suggested by one of the former slaves, Jeff Carter, who was a civic leader during the early days of its settlement in 1873. I felt the familiar quiver of trauma just hearing the name and knowing that Jeff Carter and every person who looked like him had probably heard that word, that horrible, despicable “N” word their entire lives. So much so that they adopted it into their vernacular to describe themselves (akin to the way many younger Black people do today).

Lest you think that Nigton stands alone as one of few remaining American towns with a racist-inspired name think again. In a June 2021 article, Axios reported that there are 799 U.S. locales that contain the word “squaw” – a derogatory term for Native American Women. Moreover, there are 621 U.S. locales that include the word “Negro” in them, including Negro Foot, Virginia, so named in reference to a slave whose foot was cut off to prevent him from escaping bondage.

Living in Trauma

Black Americans are often told to just “get over it” when it comes to racism and/or slavery in America. Those who deny systemic racism exists often assert that racism is a relic that may be part of America’s past but has no relation to America today.

I beg to differ.

And I’d bet that the vast majority of the citizenry of the more than 1,400 American locales that still bear monikers that are racist, insensitive, and trauma-inducing would do the same.

How is it that we can find a voice to protest the removal of statues erected to memorialize known traitors (confederate generals and soldiers), but are not similarly motivated to decry blatantly racist town names that are still on every U.S. map and still affect every single individual that must endure being in proximity to such an offensively named locale?

Maybe perhaps because they’re unaffected. But if we are to embrace one America, like the stalwart constitutional scholars who dominate Facebook and other social media platforms spreading their version of patriotism, shouldn’t we all be outraged that places like Nigton still have their names while statues of long-dead, long-defeated, and too long idolized confederate heroes have been relocated, destroyed, or sold while still living, breathing Americans are subjected to stigmatization and traumatization connected to town names every single day?

Name Changes Happen Every Day

It’s not as if it’s completely unheard of for a community or town to change its name. It does happen. Town bylaws and statutes may permit such a change, particularly if the citizens of the community support it, but there must be the will.

Educating people about the history and hate associated with some of the most offensive town names would be a welcomed first step toward opening the door to change.

What I know for sure is that it’s possible for communities to come together and embrace all their citizens with the same kind of welcoming love displayed by “Amy’s” and “Lino’s” families in From Scratch. Changing the hurtful and racist names of many of these locales would be a solid first step in that direction.

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