“Hotep” has taken on new meaning as social media escalates the evolution of words. Language is fluid, and with cultural shifts, words can fall in and out of use or morph into new definitions. What was the term “social media” 20 years ago?
“Hotep” is not as new a word, but it has come into prominence through the aggregators of black Twitter and spread to anyone tapped into the pool of black millennials, leaving many asking, “Wait … what’s a Hotep?”
“Hotep” is an Egyptian word that loosely translates to “to be at peace.” It is visible in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and often found in the names of ancient Egyptian rulers. In its latest iteration, it has taken on a negative connotation, referring to members of the Afrocentric community who push an ahistorical teaching of black history that often belittles and blames black women and the LGBTQ community for the shortcomings of black men—for example, a person who believes in the teachings of Hidden Colors and any of the “philosophers” showcased in that documentary, like Phil Valentine or Shahrazad Ali, who bemoans that the black woman’s “unbridled tongue is the main reason she cannot get along with the Blackman [sic].”
But recently, C.S. Sparrow at BlackGirlNerds called attention to the idea that giving “Hotep” a negative connotation is comparable in anti-blackness to use of the term “African booty scratcher,” which many African immigrants to the U.S. have had thrown at them, typically by African Americans. It’s a term steeped in racism, white patriarchy and imperialism, and sheer ignorance as it reduces someone of African descent to the uneducated National Geographic image of a village-hut dweller dressed in leaves. Sparrow asserts that use of the two terms is parallel because of the original meaning of “Hotep” and how it was formerly used as a greeting within the Afrocentric community.
This use of “Hotep” by Afrocentric black Americans can be traced back to Ra Un Nefer Amen, founder of the Ausar Auset Society in Brooklyn, N.Y., dedicated to Afrocentric-based spiritual teaching. In 1990 he wrote Metu Neter, a spiritual guide of sorts based on his interpretation of Egyptian Kemetic philosophy. Out of this came the use of “em Hotep” as a greeting among Afrocentrics.
Thus, “Hotep” came to be a term defining this group, since that is how they greeted everyone. At one point a term of pride, it took on a negative connotation as the teachings of that group largely began to err on the side of misogyny and homophobia, eschewing any empathy for the rights of black women and LGBTQ folk, and those marginalized groups pushed back against the pervasiveness of the teachings.
Further examples of “Hotep” turning negative happened during the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, when Louis Farrakhan gave a presentation on how women should dress to “earn respect.” And when Umar Johnson asserts that homosexuality is a ploy to reduce the black population, it further negates the true meaning of “Hotep.”
These are not simply one-off people with extreme views, but respected influencers of the Afrocentric movement. It is their actions that have come to redefine the context of the word. While, understandably, there are followers of the Afrocentric Egyptian Kemetic philosophy who are not fond of their greeting taking on a negative tone in the mainstream context, this is how the fluidity of language works. Yes, words do get thrown around loosely, and “Hotep” is used to catch a wide net, with some folks having no understanding of its origins. But regarding claims that calling someone “Hotep” is anti-black, does the word hold the offense or the actions of said group of people?
Language is complex, and with “Hotep” we are confronted with the meaning versus an iteration of the word and how we are potentially denouncing a community of people. The pushback has more to do with how you view the wrapping of Egyptian Kemetic teachings as the “true history” of black people. Do you respect it or see it as a fetishization? That will sway how you view and use the term “Hotep.” In the name of fluidity, you can decide for yourself.