News Headlines

Black or African American?

This from an op-ed in today's New York Times: "It's time to retire the term African-American and go back to black."

"It's hard to understand why black Americans ever tried to use the term African-American to exclude people. The black American community's social and political power derives from its inclusiveness. Everyone who identifies as black has traditionally been welcomed, no matter their skin color or date of arrival. ... I've never minded not knowing who my ancestors are beyond a few generations."

This refrain is nothing new — but the writer's reasoning, which echoes what Farai wrote earlier about the rise of black ethnics, puts in a different light.

What do you think? What do you prefer to be called?



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

As my family never seem to make me forget; even during a recent conversation with one of them saying: "You are an African-American, embrace both sides." So that's what I am technically or as the NY Times Op-ed states, I am "explicitly African-American."

So the whole debate of whether I'm really "black" or not, which could be incredibly draining, I leave others to figure out while I enjoy life; though there's no doubt, I'm not "white."

Sent by Moji | 1:07 PM | 2-28-2008

There is an argument in the Richard Wright novel The Long Dream where two kids are going at it about race. One kid finally says basically you got one foot in America and one foot in Africa, you just in the middle of the ocean.
African American ??? no hyphen please has always been my thing; right after Black with a Capital B.

Sent by audiodramatist | 3:39 PM | 2-28-2008

I like both. I prefer 'African-American' in print, but 'black' works well for me during normal conversations.

Sent by Bill M | 3:48 PM | 2-28-2008

White people aren't called European Americans. I don't see why I should be called African American.

Sent by Jodahs | 5:22 PM | 2-28-2008

I like both.

Here's an article about Karen Bass, who was voted the next speaker of the California Assembly. She's the first African-American female to hold such post in the country.

Sent by kALW Country | 9:03 PM | 2-28-2008

We need to refer to ourselves as Black with a capital B. 'Black' encompasses our people around the world. There is both pride and struggle in the word Black. Although initially I favored the term African-American because of the cultural significance, it's now too small of term.

Sent by Joe | 9:18 PM | 2-28-2008

???A people who dem not know dem history [global emphasis added] are doomed to?????? time to come out ..out of the crayola crayon box. i must be one of the last few Graveyites or UNIA cadres remaining, i must.
???Africa for the Africans!???
i do not subscribe to either the adjective made noun so easily in the crayola crayon box, black nor the terminology African american. For me, it???s just strictly AFRICAN, no hyphen thank you and i am constantly correcting narrow minded folks of all colours and non colours that the power to define one???s self lies with the individual. That said, i think anyone within the diaspora of African descendant who has not made an effort nor can trace ???black??? [emphasis added] one???s family lineage to the tribal ethnic grouping or language grouping from which their descendants were enslaved from should be within their power to define to be called simply ???African???. This would allow any African within all three Americas [including Caribbean], the Pacific atolls, European nations, Middle Eastern nations or Asian ones to be universally linked to the mother continent Africa if they so choice. Given that African slaves were pulled from the western coastal regions of the continent as well as the eastern Horn region down through the southern region of Mocambique/Azania, there are former slavery, African descendants all through the Indian Ocean regions to the Asian Pacific and beyond who share a similar dilemma as former African slavery descendants with the Caribbean and the Americas.
This is why i reject the terminology ???African-American???. When one uses this term what are they really saying? Did all African descendants within ALL the Americas [north, central and south] agree on the term to reflect a universal for all such descendants with the three continental masses of the Americas? i think not given that there are more Africans within Brasil than in the us states and Canada combined. How do those African descendants of Panama, Mexico, Belize, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Haiti, Cuba, Grenada, Saint Kitts Nevis, Trinidad/Tobago, Nicaragua, etc. wish to be referred? Is it African [hyphen] American? Who came up with this terminology and for what purpose? Was it a consensus vote across the Americas? Is the defining terminology just for usage by the former slavery descendants within the carved out parcels of native american terrain called united states? If so, does this linkage to the euro-american ideal implies that the same former slavery descendants support and concur with the systemic destruction of Iraq, the nuclear bombing of the Japanese, the napalming of the peoples of Laos, VietNam, and Cambodia [some of you go and get you doughnuts and coffee or you hands and feet did by these very people], you condone the proxy wars in Africa ??? the Congo, Rwanda, Republic of South Africa, Namibia, Liberia, Somalia, you support puppet dictatorships in Africa, Asia and the Latin portion of the Americas, et al.? How is it that a peoples who are at first considered to be less than human on the nation???s founding documents, supposedly ???freed??? by a slave owning President named Lincoln in 1865 but have to march, fight and finally burn urban areas in 1965 [note: 100 years later] before they are given a mere 25 percent gain to achieving 100 percent of human rights? How many hundreds of years are those same peoples going to have to wait before they get the other 75 percent?

Think about how you wish to be called and why?
???Black??? let us keep the colour descriptive as the adjective modifying nouns as it should. It can reposit itself next to brown and down the row from orange in the crayola crayon box. But as for me, i wish to be linked to my mother continent Africa and its 7000 plus years ???BLACK??? [emphasis added] to Kemet history. You can called me ???KMT??? for short though???

PS Jodahs-- the folks without the melanin of european descendants are always quick to say - am i irish, i am italian, i an english, scot, welsh, french, german, norwegian, etc. and all of these are tied to nation-states with other words, land. black ties no African descendants to nothing except my friend a row in the crayon box.

Sent by K MJUMBE | 11:50 PM | 2-28-2008

I personally prefer the term "black". I feel the issue stems from what others outside of our community are comfortable with. For example; my white mother asked me the same question a few months ago and I couldn't answer her. She asked because she is a grant writer and wanted to know how to put it in a grant.
Another issue that should be addressed is foreign born African Americans from Jamaica and Africa and beyond. My roomate is from Kenya and would not mind being called African American simply because she is actually from Africa. However, she notes that no matter what she will be treated the same, if not more harshly, whether she sees herself as black or not.

In short: Does it really matter what we are called as long as we are teated respectfully?

Sent by Johanna Wojciechowski | 1:29 PM | 2-29-2008

'The All-American skin game' Is this something we do every 20yrs or so? INCREDIBLE; after a few hundred years the truest Americans are still graffling & begging the question of identity. Amazing....makes you wanna holla throw up both your hands!

Anywaaay! Shouldn't someone from Kenya be a Kenyan American, instead of African-American... ala Italian American? Japanese American, Korean-American instead of Asian American? THE only reasons for these terms are political; and they're mostly inaccurate, inconsistent, incomplete and in the end....reductionism.

But on a lighter note:

'Say it loud I'm ______________ and I'm proud!

Fill in the blank then decide....I'll go with James.

PS: Negro is the most accurate of all.

Sent by Jon J | 6:20 PM | 2-29-2008

Black works fine with me.

Sent by BC Planning | 11:32 AM | 3-2-2008

I like Black (capitalized). It represents an ethnic group with shared norms, speech patterns, religion and values (or a history that includes much of that shared experience). It is only because those who control English usage have said that Black is not to be capitalizedas it represents a color, like white, we had to find something that could be capitalized--African American (of which I was never a fan). What bugs me about the Big-B Little-b thing is that if we can add EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) into the lexicon because cook Rachel Ray used it endlessly in a television show, we can add Black as a proper noun to describe an ethnic group.


Now, before heads get sweaty, we don't all walk in lock step, but if as studies show 85% of people of Black African ancestry in the US are ethnically and "racially" mixed, 85% mind you, it would seem that to be Black one would need this mixed ancestry and we could get over it.

Sent by Lalita | 11:14 AM | 3-3-2008

"THE only reasons for these terms are political; and they're mostly inaccurate, inconsistent, incomplete and in the end....reductionism."


I am neither against either term, nor am I a big fan of them. For me, I can go with either one. But why is Black so much better?

Sent by T. Rogers | 1:39 PM | 3-3-2008

"I've never minded not knowing who my ancestors are beyond a few generations."

That sums up why the term African American is my choice, unlike the author of that statement, I would like to connect to my ancestors.

Sent by DJ Black Adam | 5:47 PM | 3-4-2008

I absolutely despise the term African American. My parents and their family, etc. are all from Jamaica. I am closer to my Cuban, Irish, Chinese ancestors than I am my African ancestors. Futhermore, I don't find to term to be inclusive at all in its use and for those who don't directly view themselves in terms of the American slavery, we are excluded. I would rather be called black or just American.

Sent by L. Dennis | 11:34 AM | 3-31-2008