Blogs > Liberty and Power > Black is Beautiful! Say it Loud!

Sep 19, 2004 5:25 pm

Black is Beautiful! Say it Loud!

Is the tide turning against the the hegemony of the term"African-American" back to the less"girlie man,""black?" I hope so. I have always avoided the term African-American and will hold out for"black" until the bitter end if necessary. Now, at least I have one ally. John McWhorter writes:

"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.

....the special value of"Black" is that it carries the same potent combination of pride, remembrance and regret that 'African-American' was designed for. Think of what James Brown meant with 'Say it loud, I'm Black and I'm proud.' And then imagine: 'Say it loud, I'm African-American and I'm proud.'"

McWhorter could have also pointed out the transparent inconsistency and indecisiveness of most who favor the term African-American. Repeatedly, I have noticed that they lapse back into black (and for no apparent reason). Make up your minds!

Most advocates of African-American over black also fail to follow through and be reasonably consistent when they draw contrasts. Instead of pairing African-American with European-American, for example, they invariably pair it with white. Why? I'd like to hear an answer that makes any sense.

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Jason Pappas - 9/20/2004

Thank you Aeon. That’s the point I was going to make but you said it perfectly.

I often argue (as a Devil’s advocate) that Asian doesn’t apply to the Pacific Rim. I believe the word Asia goes back to the Ancient Greek (doesn’t Plato use it in several dialogs?) During the Roman Empire, Asia was a province bordering the Aegean in present day Turkey. My ancestors came from that part of Asia Minor. Since that is where Asia starts, and that is what is referred to as Asia long before the Pacific Rim was known to exist to those who used the term, then that makes me an original Asian. Doesn’t it?

Of course, I don’t care about the term – the continent is two large and varied for the term to be of any use.

Jonathan Rick - 9/20/2004

I think this short essay, which I wrote for the Hamilton College Spectator in January 2004, might interest you.

Apropos of “Black History Month,” I noticed that most people refer to those with black skin tone as “African-Americans.” But the two are different; race does not always follow geography.

True, many Americans often retain elements of their ancestral ethnic culture, and people often have sentimental attachments to their racial backgrounds. But not all black people come from the African continent -- many are Haitians or Jamaicans, for instance -- and relatively few, in the context of today’s worldwide black population, actually grew up there.

Therefore, we should not interchange African-American (an American who grew up in Africa or who retains African customs and mores) with black (a person with black skin tone). Let Michael Jackson call himself whatever he wants -- self-identity is crucial -- but let’s call people what they are. In fact, let’s not even refer to people by their skin color tone; let’s just refer to people, of all colors, by their individual characteristics: a swimmer, a journalist, an entrepreneur.

Aeon J. Skoble - 9/20/2004

One conceptual problem with "African-American" is that while it's meant to be analogous to "Italian-American" or "Irish-American," it's not, as Africa is, well, a whole continent. Egyptians and South Africans, as well as Nigerians, are "Africans," so it's hardly a useful category. I've had the same objection to "Asian-American," which could refer to anyone from Turkey to Japan -- completely useless.

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