African and American?

I don’t particularly like the term “African-American.”  My reasons have nothing to do with racism and before you go off half-cocked and accuse me of political incorrectness, let me say that I’m talking about the term itself, not the people to whom it refers.  I don’t like the term because it perpetuates an incorrect assumption.  It’s usually used to refer to blacks (i.e., persons of Negro race) who can trace their decent to emigres from Africa (either forced or willing) in many cases hundreds of years ago.  If that seems reasonable, it isn’t applied consistently.

For example, I can trace my heritage back through Wales (on my father’s side) and Germany (on my mother’s side).  But I’m not “Welsh-American,” nor do I consider myself “German-American.”  To me, a German-American would be someone who travels to the United States from Germany, settles down, gets a job, and takes US citizenship.  That person’s children would be American (only).   Likewise for a Welsh-American.  Similarly, an “African-American” would be a first-generation African who becomes an American citizen.

I like to use the example of President Barack Obama.  He’s much more of a real “African-American” than most.  His father was an African (from Kenya) who came to the US to study (though he seems to have done other things as well), fathered a child by a white woman (a US citizen), and left after Barack, Jr. was born.  Barack Obama, Sr. never obtained US citizenship so he wasn’t really African-American, but the boy who grew up to be President is a lot closer than the vast majority of those we call African-American in the US today.

But we use the term “African-American” to refer to all blacks.  That’s unrealistic and it doesn’t apply.  Many blacks, if not most, were born in the US and have never been to Africa.  They aren’t “African-American.”  They’re just plain American.  They’re just as much American as anyone else born in the USA, and to single them out because of their heritage is at best unnecessary, and at worst, discriminatory.  If I can’t call myself German-American, why should we refer to others born in the US as “African-American?”  We’re using the power of language–a very powerful tool and one that should be used with care and concern–to continue a segregation event that was started many years ago, and I suggest it should be terminated.  What do you think?

  1. #1 by Judy on September 21, 2011 - 2:54 PM

    I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Do you know how the term “African American” developed? Was it out of the community to whom it refers, meaning it is a type of self-identifier? I’m not sure, but I thought that was the case. I know many who prefer to be called “Black” because that was the self-identifier in a world of “Whites” who used the word Negro or nigger.

    I personally don’t like the term “American” because there are 3 Americas: North, Central, and South. But for some reason the United States is the one that is “American” and that doesn’t make any sense to me.

    • #2 by rogerfloyd on September 21, 2011 - 3:57 PM

      Judy, thanks for your comments. I suspect you’re right, the term probably developed from the community to which it refers. But the origin has been so long lost that it stands alone now, and seems so out of place in our society anymore. “Black” is marginally better; at least it’s more nearly accurate. I, too, have wondered about “American.” Why, I’ve always wondered, did the United States appropriate the term “American?” Best wishes. See you Sunday.

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