The term "African-American"

I’m bothered by the sloppy use of the term “African-American,” as it’s often incorrectly used as a synonym for black. Here are two examples, both about ten years old:

There was an article in the New York Times that described the forensic evidence collected at the scene of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. It mentioned that some hairs found were believed to be from the assailant, and were identified as belonging to an “African-American.” Really? I can see how the hairs might be identifiable as coming from a black person but how can nationality be determined?

Similarly, an article, also in the Times, described the controversy when a New Jersey church put on a passion play and had Jesus played by a black man. Apparently some people had problems with that. The article quoted a minister who commented on this, asking retorically if he went to heaven and found that God were “African-American,” would he want to turn around? I can accept that God might be black, but now he resides in the United States?

In an earlier thread on the SDMB, someone argued that “African-American” was an appropriate term to use for black people in the US who were descendents of slaves and could not identify their country of origin. By that reasoning, neither Dave Matthews nor Charlize Theron (both are white people born in South Africa) should be called African-American. Fair enough.

But now I hear Barack Obama referred to as African-American. For example, the biography on his campaign website mentions that he “served as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.” His father emigrated from Kenya and his mother was from Kansas, so by that reasoning, should he not be called Kenyan-American (or even Kenyan-Kansan)?

My goal isn’t to pick on Barack Obama, but instead to point out that the term should be used more carefully.

I (and a lot of other people) think that the term “African American” shouldn’t be used at ALL. It definitely promotes a dichotomy in the U.S. which blacks have been trying to end for a long time.

And others think all the griping about names is stupid.

Every black person I know prefers the race/ethnicity be referred to as “black” and all refer to themselves as black whenever the situation arises.

If John Kerry is elected president then his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry will be the first African-American first lady. Who could better represent the views of the disadvantaged than a billionaire heiress to a ketchup fortune?

Was it the Olympics four years ago, when a person from Africa was the first – um – black person to win a gold in a certain category, and the TV announcers were falling over themselves trying to figure out how to state this? One of them actually said she was the first African-American to win… no, American she certainly was not.

You are right.

From now on I am calling all of them “Negroids”.

masonite, are you thinking of Vonetta Flowers? During the last Winter Olympics, she won a gold for the two-person bobsled. At first all the networks described her as the first African American to win gold. Yes, she was. But in a broader context, she was the first black person of any nationality to win gold. Everyone was hesitant to state it like that for some reason.

Back when all the stuff was going on in Haiti before Aristide left, I actually heard a reporter on the radio refer to black Hatians as “African-American-Hatians”. I was like, Uhhhh? What??.

monstro, that’s possible. I seem to remember the person being an actual African from Africa; the story’s funnier that way at least. But my memory is unreliable.

monstro, that’s possible. I seem to remember the person being an actual African from Africa; the story’s funnier that way at least. But my memory is unreliable.

Assuming you are correct, the ridiculous thing said by the commentators would have been “the first African-American of any nationality…”

Muad, I know you were joking; the term “Negroid” is probably very offensive to many. But I believe (as a white person whose business it isn’t, really, I know) that there’s a case to be made for reviving “Negro” to mean “a black person of African descent.” This draws a distinction, if a distinction needs to be drawn, between Africans/African-Americans and, say, Aboriginals who are just as dark but don’t share the heritage at all. Not to mention extremely dark non-Africans from places like India and the Middle East.

Doubtless there are many African-Americans who don’t feel any connection with Africans, though; maybe focusing on nationality instead of “race” makes more sense. Or maybe focusing on common humanity is the only thing that truly makes sense! :slight_smile:

ARRGGHH! This PC crap makes me want to Pit! Just call me an Italian-Dutch-Euro-Native-American American. Or just a mutt. :smiley: And DAMN proud of it!
(BTW, blacks are not black, whites are not white, and I don’t see the negative connotations; but that’s another thread.)

When I was of an impressionable age, and the words “Negro” and “colored” were still considered acceptable to society at large, I heard Dick Gregory (at least I think it was Dick Gregory) on the radio insisting that the appropriate term was black. He said, “If you think we’re ‘colored people,’ then call yourselves clear people!” So that stuck with me all my life.

The only thing that bothers me about the terms “black” and “white” is that they are opposites, and that’s not really how we want to perceive ourselves…

So… what is it you don’t see, that some terms are insensitive because of their history, or that people want to be called particular things?

“African-American” is sometimes used to mean black even when America isn’t involved at all, which I think is really amazingly dumb.

For heaven’s sake, people, go with the flow. I lived through the whole succession from negro and colored, to black (and proud of it,) to African-American. A friend of mine in the fifth grade got slapped when he called a girl in his history class “black.” Ooooh, she was pissed. A few years later, she was pleased to be called black. I’ve never had any problem with calling people what they want to be called. I don’t think my Egyptian-American urologist wants to be called African-American. I call him Dr. Salah. I know some people who prefer African-American, and I can do that. One old friend of mine tells me he was born in Talledega, Georgia, USA; not in Africa. He says, “I am a negro.” I’m down with that, too.

When my friend Paul says I can call him Al, that’s cool. Let me write this down…

I don’t see why it’s even important to separate people into “races,” which are an artificial construct anyway. All of us are one species, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, we all interbreed, there are no subspecies.
If it’s a matter of classification, then how many “races” are there? Where we draw the line is arbitrary.
If it’s for purposes of identification, call it what it is: hair, black; skin, medium brown; eyes, yellow, etc.
I believe the term “African-American” is an attempt to be liberal/sensitive, and amounts to biased labeling, and, as has been pointed out, often wrong. Probably it’s a shorter way to say “American of African descent.”

Turning the thing around, let me ask people who are not descended from ethnic sub-saharan Africans:

What do you want to be called?
European American? (or other regional descriptive)

And why?

Or should that go in another thread?

Just call me “American.”

Sound like that was me.

Accurate, too.

Does Obama refer to himself as an African-American or is that just on his website? Does he do so in his autobiography? It is very unusual for descendants of immigrant Africans or Haiti or Trinidad, etc. in America to call themselves “African-Americans” – most are quick to correct you . (I’d actually say “never” but there’s probably some out there.)

I suspect a website bio screw-up. It could be a genuine misidentification on Obama’s part. Alternately, it could be a politically motivated white lie used to encourage his African-American constituents’ identification with him.

I understand Barack Obama’s Kenyan father was entirely absent for his upbringing, and although Obama strongly identifies with his African heritage, I suspect (though I could be wrong) he was raised in an almost entirely American cultural context and possibly never even ate ethnic Kenyan foods like curried corn, kofta kebabs or irio that his Mom prepared.

If his father had stayed involved in his son’s life, it’s very likely that Obama wouldn’t consider himself African-American. In learning about his family history from his father, he’d learn the difference between himself and American blacks around him. In terms of family history he’s not African-American. In terms of his own personal identification… well… it’s iffy.

Has anyone read Obama’s autobiography?

I just looked up my skin color on this color chart and it turns out that my race is seashell. Who knew? I love genealogy.

That’s true and has been pointed out in some Great Debates. It’s not ‘important.’ The terms exist because sometimes it’s necessary to group people. Race isn’t real genetically, but it certainly exists from a social standpoint.

I don’t understand why liberal and sensitive are the same. As far as I know, it was black people who came up with the term (and wikipedia backs me up, at least as far as how it was popularized. So I don’t think it’s an issue of sensitivity so much as (some) people not liking a term they were being called.

I call myself white but I really don’t give a damn. I probably wouldn’t use another term because if one was introduced, it would likely be another example of unnecessary PC-ness.

I’m, uh, something like Navajo White 2. :confused: