Cultural identity has long been a topic of discussion in America. For Black Americans who descended from slaves, that identity was always chosen for them. From terms like “negro” to “colored”, Black Americans have often been labeled by the majority.

So let’s take a look at the timeline of ethnic labels in America

1800s- “Negro” was deemed to be the proper English-language term for people of black African origin.

1890 Census: Blacks were asked to choose among four ethnic labels: black, mulatto, quadroon and octoroon, depending upon the degree of white blood in their ancestry.

1970s- “Afro-American” garners popularity before later being overshadowed by African-American.

1988- Reverend Jesse Jackson held a press conference with the agenda that Black people should be referred to as African-American citing, “To be called African-Americans has cultural integrity. It puts us in our proper historical context. Every ethnic group in this country has a reference to some land base, some historical cultural base. African- Americans have hit that level of cultural maturity.”

1989- In a survey that year conducted by ABC and The Washington Post, 66 percent said they preferred the term Black, 22 preferred African-American, 10 percent liked both terms and 2 percent had no opinion.

2000- the Census Bureau for the first time allowed respondents to check a box that carried the heading African-American next to the term Black

2010- the US Census Bureau included “Negro” on the US Census, citing older African-Americans still identify themselves this way.

2011: In a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 42 percent of respondents said they preferred black, 35 percent said African-American, 13 percent said it doesn’t make any difference, and 7 percent chose “some other term.”

2014- US Army removed the term Negro” from new regulations that described Black or African-American personnel

Slate changes it’s standard from African-American to black American

African-American Identity

Around the time of Reverend Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign he also campaigned for black Americans to adapt the term “African-American” as an identifier.

“Every ethnic group in this country has a reference to some land base, some historical cultural base. African-Americans have hit that level of cultural maturity.”

President Barack Obama weighed in on his choice to identify as African-American, citing his Kenyan background:

“Some of the patterns of struggle and degradation that blacks here in the United States experienced aren’t that different from the colonial experience in the Caribbean or the African continent. For me, the term African-American really does fit. I’m African, I trace half of my heritage to Africa directly and I’m American.”

Identifying as Black-American

The African diaspora has been in America since at least the 1500s. In relation to cultures that are millenia years old, Black Americans are still very new on the scene and defining who they are. And more and more people are concluding that the ‘African American’ label is incorrect. These Black American writers weighed in on why they choose to identify as Black over African-American:

Brionna Renee

“Being black in America does not make you African-American. Being black and African-American are not mutually inclusive descriptors that hold true for every person of color.”

Shahida Muhammad

“I have never been offended by the use of ‘African American,’ but personally there a few reasons I don’t particularly like the term. I have used it in my writing when making efforts to be politically correct, or as an alternative reference to Black people. Yet I have always viewed it as just that: a politically correct alternative to Black. Never something I whole-heartedly embraced. I have checked it on applications, but never used it to self-identify in real-life. It has always felt forced, redundant, and quite frankly, inaccurate. Using the term ‘African American’ feels like using Kente cloth made in China trying desperately to authenticate myself. In theory I know where I’m from, but in actuality I wasn’t made there.”

ReNina Sunshine Minter

“He is from Nigeria. From what I hear, it’s a beautiful country full of culture, pride, and history. He came to this country almost 20 years ago and became an American citizen along the way. He is very proud to be African-American. And I am proud for him. But our story is not the same. He arrived in this country by choice and on a plane. My people arrived in an involuntary manner via boat ride.”

John McWhorter

“It’s time we descendants of slaves brought to the United States let go of the term “African American” and go back to calling ourselves Black — with a capital B.

Modern America is home now to millions of immigrants who were born in Africa. Their cultures and identities are split between Africa and the United States. They have last names like Onwughalu and Senkofa. They speak languages like Wolof, Twi, Yoruba and Hausa, and speak English with an accent. They were raised on African cuisine, music, dance and dress styles, customs and family dynamics. Their children often speak or at least understand their parents’ native language.

Living descendants of slaves in America neither knew their African ancestors nor even have elder relatives who knew them. Most of us worship in Christian churches. Our cuisine is more southern U.S. than Senegalese. Starting with ragtime and jazz, we gave America intoxicating musical beats based on African conceptions of rhythm, but with melody and harmony based on Western traditions.”

Foreign-Born Blacks Enter the Naming Debate

Foreign-born Blacks are also divided on the issue of naming. Back in 2004, The New York Times reported on the issue and didn’t find a singular standard.

“Some immigrants and their children prefer to be called African or Nigerian-American or Jamaican-American, depending on their countries of origin. Other people prefer the term black, which seems to include everyone, regardless of nationality.”

Angelique Shofar, the Liberian-born host of a weekly radio program in Washington called “Africa Meets Africa,” prefers to call herself an African, even though she has lived in the United States for 28 of her 39 years.

Phillip J. Brutus, the first Haitian-born state legislator in Florida, favors the term Black because it includes foreign-born immigrants and Black Americans. Brutus lives in Miami, where more than a third of the Blacks are foreign born. “African-American has become the politically correct term to use, but I still say Black,” Brutus said. “I say I’m Black and American. That’s what’s most accurate. I think, by and large, Black is more encompassing.”

Labeling Makes an Economic Difference

In 2014, The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology published the results of a study conducted by Emory University’s Erika Hall which identifies significant difference of public perception based on which of the widely acceptable terms — Black or African American — is applied. The result? White people favored “African-American over black.”

Essentially we gave half of our white American participants an application for that read that a person was Chicago it had their address and the only difference between the two application forms we randomly assigned people to is that one had race listed as ‘African American’ and the other had race listed as ‘black.’ We noticed that white Americans rated the black applicant as having lower status as being less educated, having a lower income and less likely to be in a managerial position.

Labeling Shapes Sympathy in Crime

Hall also tested a theory with the high profile case of Trayvon Martin and noted that the term “African-American” did not illicit much sympathy because of the assumption of a higher socioeconomic status:

With the Trayvon Martin study that we did, we evaluated a black or African American victim and this changes things totally around. Because if that victim is perceived to be low socioeconomic status or disadvantaged or needed help then you’re more likely to have empathy for that victim than an African American victim which is perceived to be higher socioeconomic status and not in need of that help. When Trayvon Matrin was described as a black teenager then people were more favorable to his case than when he was described as an African American teenager. Furthermore they were more likely to say that Zimmerman was guilty when Trayvon Martin was described as a black teenager than when he was described as an African American teenager.

Just “American”

Of course you have some folks who want to drop the “African” part altogether and solely identify as “American” like Whoopi Goldberg and Raven Symone.

Although the idea of removing a race/ethnicity identifier isn’t shared by many Black Americans, the reasoning behind it this stems from the extensive generational ties Black Americans share to the country. America, as we know it was built on the backs of Black Americans for more than three centuries. Let’s not forget the additional 100 years of legal segregation and blatant institutionalized racism which proceeded immediately after the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

Where do you stand on this issue? How do you choose to identify?

Source

Rinny

Texan by birth, Los Angeleno by situation. Lover of Tame Impala and Shoegaze music. Comedian by trade. Macaroni and Cheese connoisseur by appetite.

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120 Comments on "I’m Not African American. I’m Black."

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Lola

The last part of your statement is not based in fact and has been thoroughly debunked from science to culture.

Ava Monroe

E1B1A is my and the Israeli Hebrew DNA and the generational curses MY forefather Moses spoke about in Deuteronomy 28 apply to my people, so I’m sorry to of bust your scientific bubble, bet you believe we evolved from apes righttttt? so no need to even try convincing you about the fact that I’m an Israelite.

Lola
It is amazing how much you pulled from one sentence! Ham is not the forefather of the “African” race. That has been debunked and is rooted in Biological Determinism aka Scientific Racism. Now in regards to E1B1A if you take it as fact and face value, then I would be in that group and I would have dominate gene pool in that area. Why? Because both of my parents hail from that ancestry. Deut. 28 speaks about being cursed if you do not obey God’s law. Now I believe the Messiah has come, so I have someone who has overcome… Read more »
Ava Monroe

So YOU say, and WANT to believe, makes me wonder, or you Jewish? well if so debunked what Revelations 2:9 and 3:9 has to say about you

Ava Monroe

All sound like a bunch of lost sheep that will soon be lead to slaughter so confused as to what they are as a people, Be a color, be a state be a state and a continent how about read your bible and see if ya got any people in there who are called by the color of their skin

Lola

LOL, that is a very simple way of saying what I said. Love it!

Lola

It is easy to learn. There are so many Nigerians here and been here for decades. As well before it was a country those from that region have been here for during inception. Also just because you don’t know what COUNTRY your ancestors come from doesn’t mean you should deny the origin of your ancestors from the CONTINENT of Africa.

Lola
There is historical inaccuracy in this opinion piece. African Americans or Blacks in this country self identified as African for most of this countries inception. Don’t believe me? I cite the African Methodist Church aka AME Church. This term “black” or Negro (more so black than Negro) is a 20th Century creation by the Biological Determinists among others. You also left out those of us, that identify ourselves rightly so as American of ____ descent. I am an American, but I know where my ancestors came from so I am an American of Nigerian descent. Europeans mainly call themselves American… Read more »
Ava Monroe

I knew it seed of Ham, all my life I was told that your own people sold you into slavery, now I know you are NOT of our people and your forefathers knew it that’s why they had no problem selling us, the prophecy had to be fulfilled

You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the LORD will drive you.

Deuteronomy 28:37 If you’re wise, then
you will know

Dee
Well, i find it quite contradictory for black people on her to be offended when Black people who do not associate with American or African cultures are telling you that they don’t identify as African American. Its dismissive to simply respond that “there are other more pressing issues to debate”. You sound like a white man telling black people, “what about black on black crime” in response to police brutality. The human brain has the capacity to have more than one discussion. News: NOT EVERY BLACK PERSON IS AMERICAN. BLACK people do not only come from two places (America or… Read more »
Miss T

I’m just curious, what part of my comment is crazy?

inspirelead
I have always hated the label “African American” as a general term for anyone with brown skin in America. It has never made any sense to me. All human races originated from Africa but beyond that, the color of my skin does not mean that my immediate ancestors are from Africa. My great grandmother said that we are Blackfoot Indian and on the other side of my family, we have Indian heritage too. Anyone with pigment in their skin could be a combination of different cultures, considering that American as we know it began with Europeans invading and subsequently taking… Read more »
Miss T

I’m just curious, what part of my comment do you consider crazy?

JackpotJoy
Dont mind her! Thats what I did I have no African slaves in my family and my people are from the Caribbean. The vast majority of people who identify as ‘black’ American/Caribbean and Latina did not have their ancestors dropped off on slave ships from West Africa, and if they did it was mainly African men that were mixing with the indigenous women not the other way around you ask yourself how 100+ million slaves could be packed on a ship inumane conditions for months and survive it? As well as being beaten brutally. That is a lie to let… Read more »
fromanotherplanet

“Thats what I did I have no African slaves in my family and my people are from the Caribbean.”

And where did the black people from the Caribbean come from????? LOL This thread is a mess. I am cackling. I cannot.

Cosita
I self identify as black for race and American for nationality. I fit the profile of what is labeled as AA but I don’t identify as such. Anyone who says that is denying my heritage can get over it. As I have said before my feeling is saying “African” alone does not automatically make one”black”. Not Everyone over there is black. I went to North Africa and saw very few black people where I was and those people are just as much Africans. Ttechnically they are considered Caucasian But I don’t rec calling them white. Someone did that to an… Read more »
Cosita

White people do use those terms. Where I live they even have their own social clubs and associations like French-American, Slavic American so on. And these people are generations removed from the old country. I have been to the Slavic Club. They eat good. Know how to party.

Lola

Yes they get to comfortably identify with their families nation of origin outside of the US and no one thinks they are foreign or force them to be called white or European American.

Curls&StripedSweaters
Curls&StripedSweaters

Im black but im not that black.I am african american and my dad is from kenya.

liberianwoman

Is there a reason for my comment not being posted? I left comment on a few articles but never saw them post.

Angela

Oy. We should pick a name and be done with it. Black, African American, African– every time someone says, “I’m not that”.. A black fairy dies.JK- Seriously , we are the chumps of the world because we never get together as black people. White folks are white, colonized the world in the name of whiteness and we are still quibbling about a name. Do we deserve everything we get??

Ava Monroe

You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the LORD will drive you.

Deuteronomy 28:37

KnottyNatural

I get your perspective; however I identify as AA because I am racially of African descent but ethnically American.

Lola

There is no such thing as African race. Yes you are ethnically American. We all are who are naturalized or born.

naughtycorner

It is not your place to tell her how to identify that is the point.Personally I dont use the term AA but I respect those who do

Lola

It is my place, especially when it is society standard. Also I have to correct an error. Africa is a continent and not a country.

KnottyNatural

And I think you’re being disingenuous! You know good and well the term “African” points to the continent as most American black descendants of slaves do not know which country in African from which they descend.

Lola

So because a fraction of people don’t know what country they originate from, then I am supposed to negate my origin? No the whole world does not revolve around “African Americans”. It only seems disingenuous to you because you can’t see past your perspective. There are many of us out there that were born here and know the country their family came. In fact if I am speaking about Americans, then that is the majority. It is totally disingenuous and misleading of you to think that your perspective is king.

KnottyNatural

TO ME…my perspective is King… Again, to each her own.

KnottyNatural

Apart of the Negro racial group…You could call me Negro American and it would mean the same thing to me. I don’t find AA, Negro, or POC offensive.

Lola

I don’t subscribe to that socially constructed and convoluted construct.

KnottyNatural

Thankfully we can choose for ourselves.

liberianwoman

Sucking my damn teeth. As if we don’t have enough problems as it is,or far better things to debate on.

K_
personally, i prefer Black American because if not how does that distinguish me from people born in Africa ONLY in the sense that our upbringings were completely different culturally. Black Americans are unique in that sense we have no direct ancestor to trace us to anything except slavery and if you are lucky you may trace an ancestor pre slavery and but even then it stops ..no african ancestor we can identify for MOST not all. I also like the term because it as that one person mentioned in teh article it encompasses all. Nigerian, Congolese, Jamaican, Haitian or American… Read more »
zenny
This discussion is ignorant, ridiculous,sad and pathetic. I don’t have time for liberals and conservatives alike and these shenanigans. You can’t tell an African American from a Black American the only difference is one has slave descendants in the United States and the other one doesn’t. Both groups have different social dynamics so it makes sense that one doesn’t address a group as “black people” because that’s racist like lol you forget how genetically/socially diverse we all are and how many ethnicities. If someone doesn’t want to point out their slave descendent heratige that’s their personal issue but you are… Read more »
KosmoKhaos

I’ve always seen “African-American” as a term showing that we are the descendants of our African ancestors, whether we know our direct heritage or not. I also find the term acceptable because “African” is a broad term. Africa is a continent not a country. We don’t know where in Africa we came from while an immigrant from Africa will know and easily be able to trace their lineage. I think that Black and African-American can be used interchangeably. I mean, if you’re Black born in Europe it doesn’t make you European soooo…

LionAround

My father is from the Carribbean, my mother from South America and I was born in NYC. While sure I’m sure we can trace our ancestors to Africa that was far longer ago than has any relevance. No matter where I am or end up living in this world I am Black. And I am American. African isn’t something I can actively claim. I already have three countries of my own to rep, father’s, mother’s and mine.

fromanotherplanet

I am so over these race think pieces. Bye!

Milos Mom

The beauty of it all is that you can chose to called whichever you like. I personal connect with African-American and I am quick to correct someone who uses any other wording.

Julia Odell

I’m the child of a non-citizen black African parent. I always cringe when I see forms with “White, African American, Asian American, etc” on them because what is my father supposed to check? He’s not African American and never will be. I’m a brown American with predominately African heritage.

Miss T
I am not African American, and have never embraced the term someone else chose. I’ve traced my lineage, So far I don’t have any direct African ancestors. Black people, please do your research! Has your “African” heritage been passed down in your family? Any, African stories? Traditions? Recipes? Most black people are indigenous to this country. Trace your lineage, do your research, just think about it people. Have you ever seen a slave ship, other than that same drawing thats been around for years. Research black “Indian” tribes as well. Is it really that hard to believe that we are… Read more »
maralondon
Yes but where does the term American come from, isn’t that aslo made up. If you actually do some research yourself you will find people who have had historical accounts from the days of slavery passed down to their families. There are many traditional stories from West Africa that are still around in the Caribbean for instance. The food some of us eat to music dance have their roots in Africa. When I was in America back in the late 90’s there was a touring exhibition of an old slave ship that had been dug up from the Atlantic ocean.… Read more »
Miss T
The term America may very well be made up, I don’t know. To be honest with you, I believe very little of what the history books have to say about “America”. Do I believe slavery existed? Yes. Do I believe everything that has been told about slavery in its entirety? No. And there are many reasons why, but I will just name a few, It was logistically impossible hundreds of years ago to travel the Atlantic for months back and forth carrying millions of slaves in those conditions, the technology simply wasn’t available during that time. There is no way… Read more »
theysleep

lordt!!! this article bringing out the crazies

cryssi

I view myself as black and African American.

My dad only views himself as black and says he wasn’t born in Africa and doesn’t know any ancestors on the continent. He says “I’m black and from Tunica, MS.”

I feel we are still figuring it out. We know we’re more than American, but we’re also not quite African. We don’t know where we fall exactly.

Ava Monroe

More precious than, gold or diamonds, we are the jewels of the earth. Shalom

Ava Monroe

Happy Hebrew

Ava Monroe
My hospital birth record classified me as Colored 57 years ago. Negro; Colored; Black; African American; Coon; Spook; Monkey; Darkie; the other N-word; etc. are nothing but the bywords that my forefather Moses spoke about in Deuteronomy 28. I am an Israelite, a jewel of the earth, The Most High portion, of a chosen people by the Most High God. I hate being classified as anything else, I have been trying to get the amount of signatures needed on my petition(like Jesse Jackson did when he tried to have us classified as African Americans, we’re given a choice on some… Read more »
fromanotherplanet

DEAD @ I am an Israelite. I am so done with this thread LOL!!!!! This is all teeew much. Teeew much.

rehs sllew

I always had a problem with the phrase African American. Caucasians in America are considered just that Caucasian or white, even though they are descendants from Europe. They are never considered European American.
Example, Rapper Pitfall is considered Cuban american, he was born in Miami to Cuban parents. Therefore an African American would be someone born in America to African born parents. I try explaining this to people all the time and no one is humble enough to actually listen

I am African American
I am African American

Well the difference between being Cuban American and African American is that Africa is a continent and Cuba is a nation. African American refers to a specific part of the diaspora. Most African Americans (black people in America) cannot use labels connected to specific nations. Lots of white people take great pride in being Italian American or Irish American…just like many Asian people use terms like Chinese American or Japanese America. Most Africans don’t just call themselves African (there are 54 nations), we hear lots of Nigerian American though!

Milos Mom

Respect people and refer to them as they wish. Stop trying to persuade people to think like you. There is no right or wrong with this topic.

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