Hotep, Explained

Here’s how to know the signs that you might be a Hotep.

Popular Hotep meme
Popular Hotep meme Twitter

What does “Hotep” mean?

“Hotep” is an Egyptian word that means “at peace.” It’s basically the Egyptian “What’s good?”

Over the past several decades, the word has also been utilized quite frequently by black Americans who happen to be more Afrocentric. Let me put it this way: If you happen to attend a Juneteenth festival this year and collect business cards from vendors there, at least 17 percent of them will have “Hotep” written somewhere on them.  

“Hotep” seems like a term that should be associated with good and positive things. Yet when I see people referring to Hoteps and Hotepian logic on the Internet—Twitter and Facebook specifically—it’s done in a negative fashion. Why is this?

Great question! Over the past decade or so, the working definition of “Hotep” has morphed into an all-encompassing term describing a person who’s either a clueless parody of Afrocentricity—think “Preach” from Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood—or someone who’s loudly, conspicuously and obnoxiously pro-black but anti-progress.

Interestingly enough, a similar definition and connotation shift has also happened with “bourgie.” A colloquial version of “bourgeoisie”—a French word meaning middle-class, aristocratic and materialistic—“bourgie” became a catch-all to describe a certain type of affluent black person who believed that he or she was above regular black people. Sometimes this belief was due to social class. Sometimes it was due to complexion. And sometimes it was a combination of both.

Recently, however, “bourgie” has been given more of a positive connotation. Instead of implying a class-based arrogance, it’s now a stand-in for urban, educated and upwardly mobile. Cultured, but cool and conscious. (Also, this form of bourgie is often spelled “bougie.”)

Anyway, my point is that while the meanings of words tend to stay relatively static, how those words are incorporated into our lexicon and how they’re perceived are subject to fluctuation.

OK, I get it. Well, can you explain Hotep to me a bit more? Like, what are some signs that a black person might be Hotep? Also, am I using that word correctly?

Yes, you definitely are using it correctly! “Hotep” can be a noun and an adjective. Sometimes in the same sentence! Example: “I didn’t realize he was a Hotep until I friended him on Facebook and he kept sharing Hotep memes on my timeline.” My favorite said, “Why be eye candy when you can be soul food.”

It can also be a verb (“You need to Hotep up your language a bit. More ‘kings’ and ‘queens’ would help”) and an adverb (“She spoke Hotepidly during the community meeting”). OK, maybe the adverb doesn’t quite work, but you get my point.

Anyway, as for some signs that a person might be Hotep, look for the following:

1. a steadfast belief in illogical conspiracy theories

2. an arrogant adherence to respectability politics

3. sexism and homophobia that vacillate from “thinly veiled” to “If being gay is natural, how come there ain’t any gay elephants?”

4. unbowed and uncompromising support for any black man accused of any wrongdoing, even if said man’s guilt is clear

5. ashy ankles