Why are black people called black people???

Why did they start calling themselves “blacks”?

I’ve seen an awful lot of them and have yet to see one that was actually BLACK… one was really close, but not quite.

Have you ever seen any red men? Or yellow ones?
I haven’t, either.
Fact is believe we’re all a version of tan.
The classifications of color may be more a reflection of
the classifiers than the classified.

Once I met a gentleman from Khartoum who was very dark, as dark as people in sub-Saharan Africa. He told me: “In the Sudan, when someone is my color, we say of him: rajul akhdar. That mean ‘green man’.”

If anyone can figure this out, please get back to me.

Because they didn’t want to be called Negro any more.

The problem in the US is that there isn’t a good unoffensive term for a, er, person of color. If you call someone “black”, you might seem insensitive. If you call someone “African-American”, you sound pandering (plus, you make the assumption that anyone with dark skin is from Africa). I know, I know, we all want to avoid referring to people by race, but in some situations you need to identify which person you’re talking about in this manner. “Hey, do you know Bob?” | “Which guy is Bob?” | “Oh, you know, the…uh…tall guy over there. With the dark…hair.” | “Who??” | “Ah, er, um…”. You get the idea.

Which leads to another question…

What exactly was the reason they decided they didnt
want to be a “Negro” anymore ?

I mean there is still the United Negro College Fund,
Negro this and Negro that. The National Association of Colored People still exists and they dont want o be called “colored” either… so why is it ok to have these
establisment names, but they become offended if they are referred to as a Negro.
Why can’t they make up their minds?

For that matter, has anyone out there ever seen a truly “white” person? I don’t think anyone is truly white, any more that anyone is truly black. I think it’s a question of comparison, or more appropriately, contrast.

It’s interesting to note that niger, as in the Niger River and Nigeria, means “black” in Latin. It’s probably also the source of the ugly “n-word” that no one is allowed to say any more.

Historically, in the U.S., justwannano is right on the mark. I’m old enough to remember when “Negro” was added after a person’s name when that person was involved in a crime that a local radio station or newspaper covered. It was in the form of “John Smith, Negro,” or “Sam Jones, a Negro.” I can also recall classified ads for real estate that stated things like “Negroes welcome,” or “white neighborhood.” The move toward “black” coincided with the civil rights movement.

Even though minority leaders officially endorse “African-American” as the correct descriptive phrase, “black” is clearly still common in conversation, and is the most common term used by blacks themselves, in my experience. “African-American,” besides being unwieldy, stands out in its ridiculous aim of certifying a class of “victims.” “Irish-Americans,” for instance, never use that phrase; they like to be called either “Irish” or “American,” and shun the transitional combination. The same can be said for Germans, Jews, Asians, Mexicans, Latinos, etc.

“Blacks” did not start calling themselves “black” per se, the usage is an older English language usage which dates back a long ways. Blacks use it because it is the frame of reference of European descended folks.

So, the OP is operating on the false assumption there was a matter of choice here. Not really.

In re Rajul akhdar, it just so happens that Arabic uses green to mean a dark color. One of the old names for the Atlantic, IIRC, is the Green Ocean. Color references between cultures are tricky.

Nope, no relation at all (except perhaps conformance). Niger is a deformation of a berber word (Tamahaq maybe?) ngher, meaning river.

The latin word has no relation to Niger the river, but is of course the root of Nigger.

I stand corrected, and happy for the opportunity, collounsbury! I’ll probably never forget that vague sort of embarrassment in Latin class when the vocabulary lesson included the Latin niger.

“Black” refers to race in our country (like for health statistics) and “African American” is more referring to culture. For example, it would be silly to say you found an “African American” hair in your soup. No way to know if it came from a Jamaican, Nigerian, or a Chicagoan.

In Jamaica they call people for descriptive purposes “red,” “yellow,” and “brown.” “Black” is for only the darkest skinned people and lighter-skinned Jamaicans are sometimes offended by being called that.

very interesting about Jamaica, I didnt know that.

As Collounsbury noted, the choice of “black” (or of any word) was not entirely voluntary. The European settlers of what became the U.S. identified the slaves they imported as Blacks, negroes (from the Spanish and Potuguese word for black), darkies, coloreds, and a host of less palatable terms. The European-descended persons came to refer to themselves as “white” to distinguish themselves from the “red” natives, the “black” slaves, and the later “yellow” Asian immigrants.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the descendants of slaves were most frequently referred to as “colored.” (Hence, the National Association or the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909). As more people throughout the country began to take exception to the Jim Crow laws, which were usually enforced with signs differentiating “whites” from “coloreds,” a number of publications began to use Negro, borrowed from ethnology, as a “scientific” and, therefore, less politically charged word.

As the Civil Rights movement matured and began to display actual power in the 1960s, a discussion arose among the members of the black community as to how they should identify themselves. Nearly all the (not explicitly insulting) terms were considered: Negro, colored, black, Person of Color, Afro-American, and a few others.

From around 1966 or 1967 until around 1970, the discussion continued–never at a high volume, but present, nevertheless. Colored lost out fairly early (despite the fact that a large number of people identified themselves as colored, having grown up with the term) because of its Jim Crow associations. Afro-American, person of color, and a few others were dropped as simply unwieldy. Negro was considered, but the argument against it was that it treated blacks as merely objects of scientifc scrutiny rather than as fellow citizens. (No one seriously referred to whites as Causcasians and the association of the word Mongoloid with people suffering Down Syndrome had already caused that word to be dropped out of discussions of human populations by the late 1960s.)

The telling argument seemed to be that newpaper stories identified the majority population as “white” and the closest analog to that word (without inventing a new term entirely) was “black.”

From the late 1960s until the mid-1990s, when Jesse Jackson coined African-American as an unfortunate attempt to be more like the Irish-Americans, Polish-Americans, Italian-Americans, etc. of Chicago and the rust belt cities, black was the accepted term. It is still favored by something over 60% of that group.

I once was going to meet someone at a local BBS gathering. On my way into the restaurant where they were meeting, I ran into another friend, who was leaving, and asked if Scott was there. She said yes. I said I had never met him, so she described what he was wearing. Then she left.

Well, there were two guys who fit the clothing description, one white and one black. I approached the white guy first, and was directed to the black guy.

I later met up with my friend and asked her, “Why didn’t you just say ‘the black guy’? He was the only black guy in there!” :):slight_smile:

Few points.

If some of this seems familiar, it’s because I’m pretty sure I said much of this in another thread not too long ago.

  1. “Black” people are called that because, at the time when it was popularized, the word was socio-economically, politically, and chromatically the opposite of “White” people. It was a revolutionary, conscious decision to be named so. Prior to “black”, the most common designation for African-Americans was either “Negro” or “Colored.” The “discussion” tomndebb mentions came primarily out of a generational conflict: older blacks absolutely didn’t like to use it, because “black” had so many negative connotations. More militant, younger blacks (especially those in college or involved the Civil Rights Movement) did. Youth turned the word on its head. Remember: James Brown sang, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” in 1964.

Also, mainstream newspapers’ use of “black” to describe African-Americans instead of “Negro” or “Colored” came after students in the Civil Rights Movement (SNCC and CORE) began using it in widely, and almost certainly after following the leads of African-American publications like Ebony, Jet, Sepia, The Crisis, The Black Panther, etc.

  1. I’m not sure if Jesse Jackson can be properly credited with coining, ‘African-American’, although he may certainly may have had a hand in popularizing it. (Aside: he wasn’t alone. Anybody remember the episode of The Cosby Show that swirled around the racial designation of a mixed race teacher? I can’t remember the episode’s name or season - sorry! - but I have my suspicions that that whole show was contrived specifically to introduce the phrase “African-American” to the NBC viewing public.)

  2. Inasfar as the fluid notion of race is concerned, “African-American” is best used as a cultural designation to describe descendants of slaves living in the United States of America. Immigrants from Canada, South America, Africa, the Caribbean, et. al., do not apply. Their descendants? That’s iffy. But unlikely to be used.

  3. Free advice: Do not refer to a West Indian an ‘African-American’. I dated one once. Once. She and her family hated, hated, hated that shit.

  4. As a practicing African-American, it has been my personal experience since high school that “African-American” is used mostly in written form, and “black” in everyday conversation and communication. The “60%” figure somebody cited earlier seems pulled out of a hat. My guess: it’s probably a lot higher than that. African-Americans working in corporate America may have to go through some unusual contortions relating to their (presumably white) colleagues, to conform to PC-approved behavior.

  5. Pop culture redefines itself every decade. Kitsch and nostalgia becomes popularized approximately 20 years later. African-Americans, as a cultural group, likewise, rename ourselves almost every generation or so. Colored (little c), begat Colored (big C), which begat negro (little n), which begat Negro (big N), which begat black (little b), then Black (big B), then Afro-American, and finally, African-American. I’m personally pushing for ‘Nubians’ next-go-around, but we’ll probably be calling ourselves “Cosbyites.”

  6. With the advent of hip-hop, ‘nigga’ is preferred over ‘nigger’, and is a point of some debate within the ‘black community’. Quentin Tarantino’s rather colorful and amusing urban fantasy Pulp Fiction notwithstanding, and regardless of the outcome of the debate, white people still can’t use either. :wink:

It goes without saying that I vigorously (but respectfully!) disagree with this statement.

We are referring to different historical periods. When the usage entered the English language, choice was distinctly out of the question. Of course recent usage, as Tom and you point out, is a different history. I interpreted the question as going wrong from the start.

Ah. I get it now.

Of course you’re right: 400 years ago, African slaves could hardly object to being called negro (a borrowed Spanish word). But even then, there’s a difference in what they were called and what they preferred to be called. For decades, they preferred colored to negro and Negro-with-a-capital-N to lowercase-negro. The key, it seems, is how one interprets the OP’s question. “Why do they call themselves black?” Instead of… I dunno. “Fat Albert Brown?”

“Black” had been used as an antithesis to “white” starting around 1941 or thereabouts (Richard Wright’s Black Power, Black Boy and Twelve Million Black Voices were all published in the 1940s and 50s)-- then picked up 20 years later by college audiences (my 20 year kitsch theory in operation) and really catching on. James Brown put it to music, protestors used it in chants (“Black is Beautiful!”) and it grew into near-universal acceptance by the late 1960s.

Census forms also help bear this out. In the 1940, 1950 and 1960 Censuses, racial designations were for “Negro” only. By 1970, it was “Negro or Black”.

Apologies, also, for mistyping your name in my previous post, Collounsbury. That first “u” is tricky.

Right, I knew I was taking a bit of a non-obvious interpretation but I thought it merited being stated. Sometimes folks have funny ideas.

But in re black, use of black in English to refer to, well, dark folks, predates the 1940s. I don’t know that we can know much about pre mid-19th century preferences. Certainly not too many choices back then.

In re Collounsbury: no bother, I’m used to it. The real full name is even worse.

Not long before the term black came into common usage as as an ethnic designation, I was a seven year old Anglo kid taking beginning piano lessons. One of the pieces I had to learn was Old Black Joe, and I never caught onto the fact that he was black. I just didn’t think of the word black as meaning the color of the man’s skin. I thought maybe he wore black clothes, or something like that.