Black or African American – Which One Are We?

26 May

Seth: I, like many people who can identify themselves as both Black and African-American, use the terms interchangeably. I find it strange that people would have a problem with either term; they both seem benign to me.

“African-American” is a term that enables us to identify with both our present, and past conditions. While most of us can not trace our ancestry through a family tree to Africa, we know from history that the vast majority of us come from a people forced from Africa to this hemisphere. Today we are Americans, and proud of it. And just like German-Americans or Italian-Americans, we would like to claim our heritage as a part of our consciousness. However, unlike these and other ethnic groups when we were brought here, our European captors forcibly removed as much of Africa from us as they could. So in whatever ways we can, we reclaim our heritage. The term “African-American” is one such way.

Those of us who use and/or prefer the term know exactly what it represents. We don’t mean for it to be all-inclusive of people of color. Neither do we purport that it recognizes our multi-ethnic nature. But it does highlight a part of us that many have sought to put in the dark. And that’s why I proudly call myself an African-American


Ray: During my undergraduate studies at Temple University, there went on a series of debates concerning rather or not black people should be categorized as “Black” or “African American”.

I must admit, I had never even given thought to the subject until it was debated on campus. My first thought was that I didn’t care if someone wanted to say that I was Black or African American. But during the heated debates that took place at different programs on campus, I decided that it was best if I actually formed an opinion on the subject.

When I thought about it, it appeared as if the answer was simple. I was not born in Africa, therefore I am not an African American. I thought that the construction of political geography had secured my nationality as one of a United States of America citizen. In fact, political boundaries are what define the world’s nationality, simply by definition of the word nationality.

I am well aware that my ancestors are from the continent of Africa. In fact, everyone’s ancestors are from the Great continent. Even as such, that has nothing to do with my nationality. Thus, I consider myself to be an American. If any more clarification was needed for certain individuals or for some paper work that requests such information, I would further classify myself as being Black in America.

But still, I ferociously defend my right to call myself an American with no further explanation needed. If you were born here or became in American after being born in a foreign land, I still consider you an American before anything else. You pay taxes into the same system that I pay taxes to. You live under the same laws that I abide by. The Constitution is as much a part of my life as it is yours and our armed forces our fighting and dying for every American around the world.

Furthermore, to call myself an African American would be a great contradiction. I would have to be either African or American. Even still, what is an African? There is no nation of Africa which adds to how preposterous the classification of “African American” really is, unless it is used to suggest that one is an American from Africa.

On a final thought, my aunt Saletta agrees with me on the topic but her philosophy has an interesting twist. She put forth the thought that by calling someone an African American, you are somehow displacing them from their qualifications of being an American. In her eyes, it gives people an opportunity to connect Blacks in America with all of the problems associated with Africa. To defend her perspective, she adds “If they’re going to call Black people African Americans, then they need to call all American’s ‘African Americans’ because everyone’s roots begin in Africa anyways.”

I agree with her. And because we will never resort to calling everyone in America an African American, there is no need for me to claim the title myself. I am an American and I want nothing more than to enjoy all of the benefits of being a citizen of this great country. However, it is important to note that my aunt and I have a fairly decent understanding of the history of nations. No matter what you call yourself, it would behoove you to dig deeper into your own ancestry so that you can see the bigger picture… we are all relatives in one way or another. Only then will you understand how insignificant racial classifications truly are, and how crucial it is for nation to stand united in order to pass the test of time.


One Response to “Black or African American – Which One Are We?”

  1. m dot May 27, 2008 at 6:21 pm #

    for the simple fact that every white person i have come across cringes or goes into a hysterical fit when i refer to them as “european”-american, i have stopped referring to myself as an “african”-american, which in itself is a tragedy, because check me out negotiating my self-identification with the response to identification from a white non-self. (self-check moment complete)

    in addition, i feel Black (always caps, even when i’m not using caps) is more pan-diasporan even though some in the diaspora loathe the association because of Black roots originating in africa (shout out to all my dominicanos still trying to “purify the race”… hmmm when in that case race = nationality. again, an issue.)

    so i’m Black. if you call me Black (with caps) we’ve got no problems. i even prefer to be called a Negro rather than a “colored” person or even “person of color” which is just the new millennium colored person, and think about that. what do you mean “colored?” was i once uncolored and then provided with pigmentation? was i not always this color? and am i just a color? Black (with caps) is more than a color. it carries with it a legacy, a heritage and culture as diverse as there are shades of Black (ask anyone trying to create a black suit by purchasing separates).

    anyway… i’m a Negro and i’m Black and if you’re going to call me an african american, just don’t. i prefer afro caribbean american, but doing all that is on me extra “ra ra” days.

    m dot

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