There's Something In A Name

I’m not sure why people have problem with the term African-American. Personally, I consider myself black but that’s just my personal preference. When I hear people talk about hyphened American and why is it necessary, I laugh at the hypocrisy of it all.

Throughout our stay, the oppressor defined us. We were separated from our native tongue, traditions and heritage. The men were emasculated and the women raped. It was not enough to physically and mentally enslave us, but we were emotionally enslaved as well. With the enslavement came the redefining of who we were as a people. Negro, colored, porch monkey, spear chucker, coon, jiggaboo, jig, boy, black and the infamous… nigger.

Through all of the defining and redefining, the one thing that the oppressor was never able to enslave was our spirit. And in the spirit of wanting to somehow reconnect with what was taken away from us, we decided that for once and for all, WE would define ourselves. So, we came up with a way to connect to the place that for many of us, where the journey began. You see, many white people can tell you the place from where their families originated.

Black people do not have that option. I have no idea from which African tribe my family originated. But I know that my roots are African. So when the term African-American came about – I wasn’t mad at them. Yeah, it may be PC, but when a people have been systematically disconnected from their heritage and then physically institutionalized, disenfranchised and had to survive intellectual genocide, why get mad when they recognize their roots when an opportunity arises to proclaim themselves?

I’m a black man. I’m an African-American. I’m an American. They are interchangeable terms at times and at times they reflect the different realities of existing in this country and having this complexion. For those of you that don’t like it… well, you have to take it for what it is. But you can’t take it away.

Discussion Starters:

Do you think the term African-American is a divisive?
What do you use when you refer to black people? Black or African-American.


17 Responses to There's Something In A Name

  1. Rashid Muhammad Says:
    I have a white friend from South Africa that I love introducing as my "African American homeboy."

    I never used the term to refer to black people again after I met him. I don't have a huge problem with the term, but if I'm talking about the descendants of people who were brought here as slaves (like me), I'd just as rather call them black.
  2. Shavonne Says:
    I stopped using African-American to define myself after some Africans told me I wasn't African. I didn't have a problem with it because I never considered myself African to begin with. I consider myself an American that happens to be black.

    I've been thinking about getting a DNA test done to try to pinpoint where exactly my ancestors originated from. I mentioned this to a coworker and she went into this whole speech about what is race and why is it important. I said to her "You know that you're italian and you can probably trace your ancestry back hundreds of years to specific groups of people living in Italy. I don't have that option. All I want to do is narrow it down to a specific region of Africa."
  3. Identifying Ourselves Says:
    People just hate it when we take our dignity back. No one has a problem with shoving "Irish" pubs in people's faces, or all the China-towns, or Little Italy. But damn... African-American, that's all devisive.

    People are just mad that other people now do it. Other peolpe that come here now want to retain their identity beyond that of an American. The difference: that is their CHOICE, ours is a relation of being FORCED outside of the system.

    If White people (and come on, it's generally White folks that have a problem with this) are mad about hypenated Americans, let them look to their own community to dish out the blame.

    AFRICAN-AMERICANS did their best to be nothing more than American for hundreds of years; to be treated no differently. It's White folks that don't want to live next to us, or accept us in their everyday lives. That's their decision, but they have no right to criticize the consequence of THEIR choice.

    This may not be "politically correct," a term I hate, but I'm sure most of us know it's true.
  4. Mr. Grey Ghost Says:
    I'm a Black man who besides my skin color has little in common with an African. Granted, my history has been corrupted by Eurocentricity as well as slavery, but I still wouldn't disrespect myself or any African by making it seem like I have any understanding of a place I've never been, much less know anything about besides what I've seen, heard and read.

    So I detest the term "African-American" not only because of the above reasons, but also because we all know this is stolen land we live in anyway. So in a practical sense "America" doesnt even exist.

    BTW, I took a Geneology class in college and you'd be surprised how much you actually can learn about your history if you took the opportunity to try out a Geneology website or took a course.
  5. nikki Says:
    i call 'em both depending upon what they'd prefer to be called. i find i interchange them from time to time. i don't think it matters as long as the person involved or the reader understands of whom i speak.

    personally, i prefer to be 'black'. i do find that the terms can be divisive though. just from the spectrum of folk i interact with, i find college-educated black folk call themselves african american and other folk, generally from a lower income neighborhood, call themselves black.
  6. Miss Lady Ma'am Says:
    I agree with Rashid. Unless one was actually BORN in Africa, we should refer to black people as black. Black PEOPLE, not blacks. It's definitely a divisive thing.

    My mother has been working on our geneology and she found something quite interesting. Not only were my ancestors slaves from Africa, but there were also slaves from Italy. So would that make me African-American or Italian-American?

    Not to mention we all have some Indian in us... :)
  7. L.T. Says:
    I prefer to use the term black. I don't have anything against people that use the term "African-American", but as others have pointed out, though I have an ancestry that links back to Africa, I am not an African. And Africans would not accept me as such. And that's cool, I'll just be black.

    I mean, later down the line I have roots in South Great Grandmother on my Dad's side and my Grandmother on my Mom's side were both from there. But I don't tell people that I'm from South Carolina and Michigan. I tell them I'm from Detroit, period.
  8. The Best [ Ghostface ] Says:
    I personally understand that African American is a political correctness term but at the sametime many blacks are simply ashamed of the name African. They feel inferior also not all but many white people have no problems being called white Europeans. Because they are proud of Europe this a fact. Blacks feel shame of Africa but at the sametime I understand also that African American does not sound right in all situations. When you use it so I would prefer black because it sounds right. In all situations but I feel grateful for being a mixed blooded man I am happy that I am a mulatto HAAAAAA! I really have begun to love what I am and I feel more comfortable with it I’m mixed and it shows in my body. So I feel a type of uniqueness and harmony that only another person who is mixed to the degree that it shows in his or her body can understand. I love being mixed with all of those various racial groups.

  9. kerri Says:
    interesting topic james. i've never really used the term african-american. i've always used the term black. most blacks i know don't refer to themselves as african american...

    but, there is however a woman that i work with who still uses the term "colored". she is a 42 yr old "christian" white woman. when she says it she gets really quite and whispers it. i've corrected her on this on several occasions... it offends me that she would use a term so hurtful and degrading. i've discussed it with several of my friends at work, black and otherwise. they REALLY want her to say it to them, but they know she won't.

    any suggestions??
  10. Rashid Muhammad Says:
    I've always had a hard time finding the word "colored" to be offensive. "Negro" too. I understand that there is a history behond the terms but I guess in the end I'm one for accuracy and these are accurate terms.

    One school of thought (NOI) calls whites "colored" because their complexion is the anomoly on Earth. It sounds funny at first, but if you really want to get technical about "color," you find that white is actually a hybrid of all colors where black is the absence of color.

    I mean what else are you supposed to call black people? We all know the term that those who wanted to talk down to black folk used. And there is an ovbious problem with calling a 50 year old man a "boy" but colored and negro don't do it for me. Kind of like Asians who get offended at the word Oriental. The word ain't perfect (and out of respect I don't use it), but when you think about it, it's a hell of a lot more accurate than "Asian."
  11. james manning Says:

    For situations like that - see This
  12. James Manning Says:
    My father uses Negro. I don't know anyone that uses colored. Actually, I would expect to hear that term from an older white person not a 42 year old. But that may depend where they are from and how much interaction they have with black people.
  13. Rell Says:
    yea i have a REAL african-american friend (she's from africa) -- me, I'm black.
  14. Jaimie Says:
    I use black, but at work, in a school setting black students are referred to as "african american" and lations as "hispanic".
  15. SRH Says:
    It is a difficult road to hoe for us whiteys. I tend to not use the term African-American since I have seen it used horrendously before. For example, so people trying to be overly PC called a gentleman from Ethiopia an African-American. Nope, I am sorry, he is just African, and took offense at the "American" portion of that monicker. Similar situation with a gentleman from London, England. He was "most assuredly British."

    Anyway, without knowing the personal history of the person in question I tend to identify someone of African ancestry as Black. IF someone requests that I refer to them by a different "label" I will.

    Curious about something else though. My wife works in an anti-oppression field, and their is a reletively new way of referring to non-caucasians as "People of Color." It typically refers to any Hispanic/Latino, Asian, or Black person. Any personal reactions to that label? I am just curious.
  16. Diane S. Says:
    As a white woman, I really believe in the perogative of an ethnic community to define themselves. When the term "African American" came into vogue, I dropped "black" and changed to "African American".

    Then came French figure skater, Surya Bonali. I was talking skating with someone and mentioned her and I said she was the "African American" French skater. Then I realized how ridiculous that was. There was nothing American about Surya Bonali. So I thought, "French African?" But I don't know anything about the terms the French black community have chosen to define themselves, and Surya Bonali's mother is white, and it just got... too damn complicated.

    So I went back to "Black." But, if I know a person prefers the term "African American" I will use that term to refer to them, and in conversation with them.

    There is a similar polarization in the hispanic community about the term "Chicano". People feel strongly one way or another about being identified as Chicano. On this too, I try to just follow the lead of the person identifying themselves.
  17. Bullfrog Says:
    A large percentage of my friends refer to themselves as "black" so I use that most of the time. I really can't remember the last time I used the term "African American".

    I don't believe the term African American to be a divisive. In my experience, black people use both terms interchangeably.