Tuesday, December 11, 2007

African, African American or Black American

Another thing that popped into my mind as I was writing the previous blog entry, I came across an article a little ago about the term African American.

An African professor had recently became an American citizen. He was at a forum where the subject of race determination came up. I don't remember the entire story and, of course, now I can't find the article. In summary, he considered himself an African American. The others in the forum, mostly black people born and raised in America, did not agree with him.

In the 80s, there was a push by many of our black leaders at the time to use the term African American to describe ourselves, to give us a geography, to give us heritage. There has been some debate now as to who can technically use the term. I always thought that those of us that were born and raised here could use it as well as those that immigrated here from Africa and became legal citizens. Much like Koreans that become American citizens are Korean American, Japanese Japanese American, Mexicans Mexican American, and so on. However, according to this group anyway, that does not apply with Africans.

After thinking about this a bit, I figured that part of the reason for this discrepancy has to do with the fact that there are Africans who are of fair skin tone. Take a few actors, for instance. Charlize Theron was born and raised in South Africa. Her first language is Afrikaans. Daniel Bonjour is another white South African, born and raised.

So I guess the questions come: is the term African American about heritage or about color? Or did it start off as being about heritage but then transformed into being about race? Is the term only used for black people born and raised in America or can African immigrants use the term as well, albeit the fact that there is such a thing as a white African?


Music Snob said...

Not to dodge all of your thoughtful questions but similar to issues of gender and sexual preference I subscribe to the belief that people's race/ethnicity is self-identified. Especially since as you indicate race/ethnicity is largely socially constructed.

Not Your Average Male said...

You speak the truth! This subject is close to me -- my mother just became a citizen about 10 years ago.

I refer to myself as African-American because I was raised by two African immigrants in America, which I believe to be a suitable use of the term -- but how specifically can the term really be applied? Mexican-American (for example) is a very specific phrase. Africa is a continent -- which suggests to me that the term was intended to have more of a general meaning (just as the term Asian-American is sometimes used).

I had a white friend who was actually born in Kenya. If her birth certificate and passport say "Kenya" then who am I to call her anything but African or African-American?

The Girl From Park Heights said...

Good points and this one has irked me for awhile as it can be interpreted many ways.

It seems as if the term African American should apply to anyone of African descent who is now American, but like you mentioned there are white Africans, should there culture not be acknowledged in this because their skin in white. It stumps me, it really does.

I also think the term African American sprung up after black folks got tired of the typically negative connotations that come with black (dictionary defintions always describe it as something evil and awful). But I personally feel that black can also be beautiful, smooth, polished, pure, untouched and can be associated with goodness as well.

Because of that, I call myself a Black woman, plain and simple. Though I have no ills with the AA term.

Sigh, must be so much easier just being Caucasian. A better question is why is there their heritage/culture seemingly so much easier to define and categorize?


your friendly neighborhood skeptic said...

My head hurts. I think we should all just skip the nation of origin mumbo-jumbo and define ourselves by not our skin color but our favorite color and country where we are a citizen. For instance, I'm a Blue-American. See how easy that was?

Cat said...

Okay off track- that Daniel guy is a hottie.
Okay back to your post- I am so confused by the whole racial identity piece. I've taken classes about it and just came out more confused. Racial identity started as way to basically purpetuate (sp?) racism. We've been Negroid, Black, Afro American, African American, Black American... But in all that time we've been visually the same. And as a EEO Specialist, we look to the Complainant to make the distinction. If you look black but you identify as Asian, well okay then. The EEOC has no racial identity for Hispanics. If you are Latino and you've been discriminated against because of that it is due to your national origin not your race (b/c there is no HIspanic race under their definition). Further more, why are all the other groups called ASian American, AFricna american, Hispanic American, Indian American but whites are called Caucasian? Why not European American just to keep it uniform.
I'm in total agreement that Africans who are citizens here should be termed AFrican American. Makes sense. For us here, who have been here for centuries we are mostly made of so much else in terms of origin, why not have another name like Caucasians?
I don't know.

Anonymous said...

RIGHT ON!!! I don't care for the hyphen American thing. I am Cherokee, African, Scott, English, Irish decent. Who cares? I'm an American without an identity crisis. I don't need lengthy titles to make myself feel more special. Besides, can we honestly say that each decendant of African slaves is purely still African without any other race being mixed in? I hardly think so. To be American is to be a "mutt". And since so many people from other countries want to live here with us, we should be proud of being an American. We're very blessed to be born here rather than AFRICA where things are so very difficult for the REAL AFRICANS. JayeRo