Why "black" and "african-american" in same paragraph?

In the current PC climate, the term "African-American is supposed to be used instead of “black”. Why then are the two still used interchangeably in the news articles?

If you search the net or read the news, you will see thousands of examples of this. A news article will talk about some issue involving african-americans, then a sentence or two later will refer to them as black.

My question is, why go to all the trouble to use a cumbersome, 7-syllable term to describe the race of a certain group, then in the next breath, call them black?


“This site is the cyberspace partner of THE BLACK COLLEGIAN Magazine, serving the career and self-development interests of African-American collegians throughout America since 1970.”
Source: http://www.black-collegian.com/
“The need for African American history is well demonstrated… Of the Black students, those with…”
Source: http://blackquest.com/

“The Development Fund for Black Students in Science and Technology (DFBSST) is an endowment fund which provides scholarships to African-American undergraduate students”
Source: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/dlhinson/dfbsst.htm

Who said African American is supposed to replace the term black?

AFAIK, the terms are used interchangeably, because they are interchangeable. Why use both at the same time? It makes the prose flow better. It is called style.

I for one always opposed the supposed interchangability of the terms. I use the term ‘black’ simply because I have no idea if the person is of African or Carribean descent. Most of the darker-skinned persons I know are from the Bahamas or Barbados, and are closer to being British than African.

Here’s a good example of what I was talking about. Cecil is talking about black holes, and since there is really only one way to say “black hole” the language gets kind of stale, so he just makes up a phrase:

Was just listening to NPR, some show about something to do with race. The man being interviewed kept talking about “African-Americans” vs whites. So it’s okay to refer to one group by their skin color but not another? Why not “African-Americans” vs “Caucasian-Americans” or “European-Americans”?

Let me let you in on a little secret tarpal - It is okay :). Contrary to popular belief, it is not a requirement to use African-american instead of black. Indeed, most black people I know ( and on brief canvas of this board, I believe a majority here as well ) prefer and/or more frequently use black as a descriptor. Similarly most Amerindians prefer “Indian” to “Native American”. The idea that there is some PC police mandating these terms is a myth.

The reason the term African-american was introduced ( and I believe tomndeb has a cite for this somewhere ) was originally as an attempt to even the playing field. The folks who coined it a few decades ago were from eastern “rust-belt” states where european ethnicity was taken seriously and terms like “Polish-american”, “Irish-american”, “German-American”, “Ruthenian-American”, etc., were widely used as identifiers. Unfortunately it was a little misguided, because most of the rest of the country doesn’t use those terms and it was taken to be some sort of attempt to distinguish themselves from other americans. But I well remember my youth in places like western Pennsylvania or even NYC, when on PBS or even regular stations, you’d get little community service-type blurbs focusing on some ethnic community or other, ending with some little urchin brightly chirping, “I am proud to be Ukrainian-american!”.

The hyphenated term itself arose in the huge immigration booms, mostly from poorer regions like southern, central, and eastern Europe, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These groups arrived en masse, settled semi-communally, and often assimilated slowly, resulting in maintainence of very strong ethnic identification. An excellent example of this at work, long before some black people adopted the hyphenated form, of the controversy over organized German-American support for Germany in WW I.

Of course the final message in all of this, is call people what they prefer. If someone tells you they prefer to be called African-American, it is only polite to do so. Calling someone black doesn’t make you a racist and if someone calls you one for that, you can mark them down as an idiot. But if you call someone black, are gently corrected and asked to refer to them as African-American, and you then stubbornly refuse - You’re an asshole ;).

Disclaimer: I am of course not accusing you of any of the above. It was just an example I use based on past discussions on this topic :).

  • Tamerlane

Because each group gets to choose its own label. And others should honor that choice.

Besides, “African American” is more specific than “White,” which can refer to people whose ancestors came from any number of places. Which was probably perfectly relevant to the discussion you heard.

One must also watch out for such inanities as referring to a Canadian who is black as “an African American.” I think I once saw the term applied to Nelson Mandela.

Am I remembering correctly that Charlize Theron (she’s from South Africa) did an SNL monologue that was based on her being “an African American”?

The two are not interchangeable, and I will not allow “Afrian American” to be used in my magazine unless it’s within a quote. I know black people who are neither African nor American, and I know white people who are African Americans.

It’s a well-meant but silly and inaccurate phrase.