What is the Politically Correct Way to Refer to Blacks in Other Countries?

Here in America, we’re supposed to refer to blacks as African Americans.

So what’s the most politically correct way to refer to a black in England? An African Briton? In France an African Frenchman?

How about in a country where the vast majority are black, but there are a few non-blacks? In Jamaica are blacks African Jamaicans while whites are European Jamaicans?

Or are people not so hopelessly uptight outside of the US? :wink:

“Black people” works just fine in 99% of situations. Both of the style guides I currently have handy (1999 versions) list “black person” or “person who is black” as acceptable. “African American” seems to be a bit of overhyped PC-ness about which only a small majority of black people really care about. (That’s been my experience working briefly in mass media and in talking with black people.)

In the UK, they are refered to (officially) as Afro-Carribean.

In South Africa, my homeland, there was a bit of a PC-two-step during the transition to democracy over how to refer to the darkest skinned (and now the ruling) members of society, but common usage has returned to simply Black or African. Under Apartheid they had been variously refered to as Bantu, Ndebele or simply kaffir (the SA version of the dreaded n*-word). At the same time, there were a number of non-PC alternatives, of which my favorite was non-reflective :wink:


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander is the unwieldy, bureaucratic way of labeling black people in Australia. Indigenous Australians is another. Eventually, politicised blacks promoted the word Koori to denote their people as a way to reclaim their identity without resort to a European derived label. However, this is not universally accepted in black communities as it may still be considered a foreign word. One man’s Koori is another man’s Nunga which in turn, is another’s Murray.

Blackfella is also pretty common (amongst aboriginals) and surprisingly, isn’t used the same way Nigger seems to be amongst black Americans.

We just call em people, who cared where the parents are from…

Since you surely have a valid reason for specifying “black” why not ask the people you’re talking about directly? Or is too PC just to ask someone how they’d like to be referred to?

I mean, imagine my surprise when I found out that white people preferred PC “white” rather than my friendly, all in good fun “cracker bastards.” Who knew people were so uptight, eh? :rolleyes:

Okay, sorry to be harsh, but I always get a little suspicious when people ask these sort of questions and get answers from people who are not black. It really makes a great deal of sense to go to the “experts” if you are honestly asking because you don’t want to offend.

Although, to be fair, not everyone lives in an area where there are a high percentage of black people, and not everyone happens to know one. Personally, I know a lot more people with chinese, korean and japanese ancestry (as well as the standard mix of English/Scottish/Irish/Dutch etc for white canadians in Ontario) than I do people with african ancestry. Not that this area doesn’t have black people - I just don’t know them, and so, who would I ask? You don’t just walk up to a random stranger on the street and ask what they consider to be PC, do you? You might be suspicious (of what, though?), but you do not know the context under which this was asked. Perhaps rastahomie is asking because he has to write an essay. Or, perhaps this question was aimed at the black people on these boards (there are some, you know), and white people chose to contribute their point of view.

How do you refer to white people from countries where the vast majority are white? It is rarely necessary to refer to “white Germans”, and it is similarly rarely necessary to specify the race of someone from an African or Caribbean nation. Generally one refers to Africans by their ethnic group. As best as I can tell about Jamaica (I used to have a Jamaican roommate, but I’ve never been to Jamaica so I’m certainly no expert), white people there are called “white”. They are a distinct minority. Almost everyone else in Jamaica has some African ancestry, and so people there rarely feel the need to point it out.

While I never knew any Jamaicans in the US to object to the blanket term “black”, in Jamaica the word seems to be commonly used only for people with quite dark skin and not for people of African descent in general. I have known a few people from other Caribbean nations to object to “black” and insist upon being refered to by nationality (Trinidadian, etc.). I suspect this is due to a wish to avoid a common problem experienced by many Caribbeans in the US, that of being assumed to be culturally identical to African-Americans based solely on their skin color.

Hear, hear. But then again, there are some cases in which it may be helpful to draw attention to the race or physical appearance of a person. For example, if we agree to meet somewhere in person for the first time and you don’t have a photograph you can send me, I would think that, in many cases, telling me your skin colour would help me identify you in a crowd.

One of my professors, who is from Russia, says he still finds it amusing to be referred to as a “white” man, since in Russia, traditionally White would mean you were a part of the anti-Bolshevik movement after the Revolution.

He also laughs when called “Caucasian”-since he IS truly Caucasian-he’s from the Caucasus mountains, and so he always tells us that he’s the only “true” Caucasian on campus!


This thread brings up an important difference. In North America, “black” is almost always used to describe so called sub-Saharan Africans and their descendants. In Britain, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere it can be used to describe Australian Aborigines, South Asians, Pacific Islanders such as the Maori - and other people who are not African - but brown skinned.

I know I’ve probably told this anecdote here before, but it’s fitting here:

My senior seminar in college dealt with utopian and dystopian literature. One of the more fantasy-themed novels (no clue anymore what the title was, or the author) described a distant planet inhabited by blacks. Since this was never concretely stated, but merely hinted at, one very PC gal timidly asked the professor, “Um, are they…African American?”

My roommate (the only other guy in the class, as I recall) had to correct her: “No, they’re black. They are neither African nor American, because, you see, they’re on ANOTHER PLANET!”

Cracked me up.

Seriously, though, I’m a white guy that tends to simply say “black,” and I haven’t run into anyone yet who objects. Maybe I’m just not in a very sensitive part of the country; who knows?

Consider my harshness as tossing my grain of salt in with the replies to highlight the fact that the overwhelming response was not from the black members of the board.

(And you’ll kindly note the apology and explanation that followed, yes?)

To be fair to me, it wasn’t that harsh and in my book no more impolite or less teasing than “hopelessly uptight” and the slight mockery of the need to acknowledge race in America.

Now, having gotten rid of my need to harp defensively, I’ll bow out so we can return to the international term poll at hand.

For the record, as an American, I prefer black over hyphenation, but I rarely get offended at polite and well meaning variations thereof.

Um, how do you know some of us aren’t black?

In Brazil, the proper term is negro (pronounced neg-roo), which is derived the same way the English word “Negro” is. To use the Portuguese word for black (preto) would be considered somewhat insulting.


In a sentence, I don’t.

Back to the defensive harping to elaborate: At the time of my original post (Mersavets was the last post I had read), the few replies read from an other than black perspective. I took “they” as a fair indicator of that. Mersavets was the most racially neutral at the time. Thus, I didn’t feel untoward for pointing out that out as something to consider.

In France, they’re called “noirs” (blacks) or sometimes “africains” (africans). People of mixed blood from the french indies would usually be called “antillais”. “negre” (nigger) is extremely offensive. I don’t remember having personally heard it, though there’s no doubt it sometimes is. On the other hand “negritude” (niggerness), which was coined by an “antillais” writer, and refers to black culture and specially litterature has a positive meaning but is extremely rarely used.
And to respond to Alcibiades who is suspicious about answers given by white people, I would say that this is a non-issue, here. I never heard anyone claiming that black people should be called in any other way. There’s no “PC” word I ever heard about in France. So, despite being white, I feel I confident in my statement. I assume Alcibiade’s opinion is somewhat “provincial”, based on a peculiarity of American culture.

Oh…I forgot…amongst the youth, the english word “black” in often used instead of “noir”.

I do not think there is a law saying that we have to call anyone anything. Personally, you can call me black, Negro, African American, colored, brown, etc. and I won’t mind.

Well, what would you call a white in England or France?

If the guy’s race was important, I would say “black” just because that’s the term we use in the US to describe people descended from Africans. But if it isn’t, I would give more weight to nationality.

Because race is socially constructed anyway, I think it matters who your audience is when you’re referring to someone’s race. Saying someone is “black” in Australian has different connatations than in the US. And “African American” to someone from African means something entirely different to Americans.

If you’re trying to describe a person with dark skin, well, how about ‘person with dark skin’? Or ‘dark-skinned person’, if you want something shorter, similar to red-haired or one-legged or whatever else you use to describe someone’s appearance.

If you’re trying to refer to a cultural group, then the best word to use obviously changes according to which group. Here in the U.S., I think ‘African-American culture’ is pretty accurate, accepted and neutral. Obviously, if you’re referring to people living in London of Jamaican culture, then ‘Jamaican’ would be a better description. Other cultural/ethnic groups may have their own preferred words they’d like used to describe them, but of course it varies.

‘Black’ is not a very useful a word, because it doesn’t distinguish between skin color and culture. There are a lot of dark-skinned latinos where I live, who have very little connection to African-American culture.

(and in English, at least, the word ‘black’ tends to have all kinds of other associations with evil and badness, making it kind of unsuitable for neutrally describing someone).

I agree with Quercus that culture is important when referring to a group with a word, and there’s not much African about most black Americans’ culture.

Also, I have friends who are offended by “African-American” because they do not consider themselves of African ancestry (one is Creole and the other is something else). They prefer “black.” Besides, isn’t everyone of African ancestry? At how many generations is the cutoff? I get angry when people say I am not an American. 15 isn’t enough? Why complicate things with hyphens and history?

Only in psych and other formal essays do I use “African-American” and “Euro-American.” Damn the APA.


“This hardcore gangsta image takes a lot of practice
I’m not black like Barry White, but I am white like Frank Black is.”
–Bloodhound Gang