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Why not stop using the term "African American"?

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#1 Rov Judicata

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 01:25 AM

"African American", as it is used today, is a deeply flawed term.

Setting aside the rather obvious point that every American is, to some extent, an "African American", we don't use the term to mean somebody descending from Africa. Rather, it simply means "black". White people born in South Africa are considered "Caucasian"; conversely, somebody who's eight generations removed from Africa and lives in the US is an "African American". That makes absolutely no sense.

What really drove the home point for me was a recent incident in a class, where we were discussing Europe. A girl literally said, "European African Americans..." and nobody really pointed out how nonsensical the phrase is, because we all know she meant 'black'. What should she have said? European Africans? African Europeans? Since we mean black, why not say black? I realize I may be stepping into hot water here, but "African American" seems a fairly problematic term. Why keep it?
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#2 Lord of the Sword

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 01:27 AM

^

Because it's the politically correct thing to do in this country. That's the main reason I try not to use that term myself.
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#3 RommieSG

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 01:29 AM

Oh, what a slippery slope we traverse here.

White people, black people, yellow people, red people. People have been taking offense to these statements for years upon years. Which is why we had to use the PC-Correct terms, such as Native Americans, African Americans, Caucasian, and many others.

Sometimes politically correct terminology, was even more offensive than what we were using before. It's far more labeling.

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#4 Rov Judicata

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 01:36 AM

^

If not using black is the problem, we can adjust for that. I find that odd, though, since there's the "Democratic Black Caucus", comprised of black people. There's also the "National Association for the Advancement of Colored People", and the "United Negro College Fund", which are all mainstream organizations. Earlier this year (or late last year?) the Democrats even held a "Black and Brown Issues Debate"; that was the one where Al Sharpton infamously sucker punched Dean over the lack of color in Vermont's cabinet. I really don't think the lack of other "useable" terms is an issue....
St. Louis must be destroyed!

Me: "I have a job and five credit cards and am looking into signing a two year lease.  THAT MAKES ME OLD."
Josh: "I don't have a job, I have ONE credit card, I'm stuck in a lease and I'm 28! My mom's basement IS ONE BAD DECISION AWAY!"
~~ Josh, winning the argument.

"Congress . . . shall include every idiot, lunatic, insane person, and person non compos mentis[.]" ~1 U.S.C. 1, selectively quoted for accuracy.

#5 RommieSG

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 01:41 AM

And also, Black People can call each other Black People, with no repurcussions. Just look at the comedy routines of Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. They're also able to call each other the ill-fated 'N' word, as if it were nothing.

But if a white person were to call a black person the 'N' word, you'd better prepare for some retaliation.

I've never been able to figure that out.

I just want to state that I do not use racial slurs. I have friends of many creeds, and I have never disrespected them. We're all human, after all.

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#6 Vapor Trails

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 02:07 AM

You know, personally I am fed up beyond belief with this hypersensitive "political correctness." I am absolutely frigging sick and tired of it.  :angry:

What-do I have to walk on eggshells every time I deal with people?! It's amazing how adults have to act like little children sometimes. "Mommy, he called me a bad name!!" That's what some of this crap sounds like to me.  :sarcasm:

I remember using the term "Negro" in a story I wrote, and I pointed the story out to a couple of people to read. These people told me that the word "Negro" was politically incorrect.

Now, I wasn't angry with these particular folks at all-in fact, I respect them a lot. But I was very puzzled.  I happen to be Hispanic. "Negro" is Spanish for "black." Hispanics use this word all the time. We have no problems with it. But used in an English context, the red flags of political incorrectness pop up. Why the double standard?!

It seems stupid to me, quite frankly. "Negro" is NOT "n*gger", despite the similarity in spelling.

Sure-some folks have done dumb things to hurt people based on race-but this is going WAAAY too far. Where do we draw the line?

It's sad that adults can't ACT like adults.

:smirk:

Edited by Digital Man, 09 October 2004 - 02:15 AM.

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#7 QueenTiye

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 03:09 AM

"African-American" as a designation is one that African-Americans came up with to self-identify, in an effort to correct the sense of displacement that came with slavery.  African-Americans are sometimes very sensitive to the fact that they cannot proudly point to their family tree and say "we came from here on such and such a date."  The exact locales of where from Africa we were taken having mostly been lost is actually a sore point.  And, beyond that, the fact thatgenerations of blacks in this country grew up looking down on anything African, and believing that slavery did the backward heathen africans a favor by Christianizing them, etc... is one that also still causes pain.  In response, black people have coined the term African-American to reclaim that identity positively without losing the American identity.

Technically, West Indians, or Carribean Americans should be called African-American, and they often are. However, the process of slavery in the Carribean was significantly different from what it was here in the US, with the result that Carribean Americans have a strong sense of identity with their birth places that is inherently an "African" identity of sorts, as they form the majority populations on these islands.  They therefore do not have the same identity issues that blacks born in America do.  

Then, of course, there are the recent immigrants from Africa - who are still called African.  Whites from Africa should be called African, but I tend to think that they call themselves by the country in Africa that they come from.

In any event, as I've been doing here, I think the term "black" is more ubiquitous of meaning "any black person" by racial identification, while African-American really does mean an American black who decended from Africa - in general usage, I think it means an American born in America.  In fact - I'm sure of it - when speaking about folks in the neighborhood, there is a distinction between immigrants from the Carribean, and the next generation, who are considered African-American.

The racial thinking underlying the dichotomy of black people being the only ones considered African American is far from "politically correct" - it stems from the racial politics of America, is a direct response to it, and cannot be changed by decree - these are deep rooted attitudes that most people simply take for granted, like the air they breathe.

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#8 QueenTiye

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 03:21 AM

Hotspur Rovinski, on Oct 9 2004, 02:36 AM, said:

^

If not using black is the problem, we can adjust for that. I find that odd, though, since there's the "Democratic Black Caucus", comprised of black people. There's also the "National Association for the Advancement of Colored People", and the "United Negro College Fund", which are all mainstream organizations. Earlier this year (or late last year?) the Democrats even held a "Black and Brown Issues Debate"; that was the one where Al Sharpton infamously sucker punched Dean over the lack of color in Vermont's cabinet. I really don't think the lack of other "useable" terms is an issue....

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


The word "Black" is not offensive, so far as I know.  It just has become, in common usage, proper to use in some contexts and not in others, where the more formal "African-American" is the common usage.  The history of labels attached to black people in America is reflected in the names of the institutions you reference.  The NAACP grew out of a time when "Colored" was still the common phrase.  And, while "colored" has become practically a slur these days, the usage "people of color" is still acceptable, and broader than just African Americans.  Various institutions called "Black" are likely outgrowths of the sixties, when "Black" became popularized as a positive term.  It displaced "colored" at least partially because "colored" was seen as a self-negating avoidance of blackness.  "Say it loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" was not just a song - it was an ideology of the day.

While people may be frustrated with the pc feel of the whole name game in the African-American community, I think that most African-Americans expect, and hope for indulgence from the world at large on this subject, because the work of sorting out our identity positively has been a challenging one...

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#9 Robert Hewitt Wolfe

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 03:50 AM

I can't express this issue any more eloquently than Handmaiden, but my 2 cents:

I have a simple rule.  I try not to use labels at all.  If I must use a label, I try to use the one the leaders of that particular community have chosen.  So for example (using my own ethnic/religious heritage), Irish instead of Potato Eaters.  Catholic instead of Papist.  If tomorrow, the Irish were to declare they'd like to be refered to as Celts or Gaels or Hibernians, I'd go with that, but I wouldn't use those terms now because, as labels, they're outdated.

The African-American community in the US has politely asked to be refered to as "African-American."  This reflects their continental origin instead of their skin color, the same way Irish-American expresses my cultural heritage as opposed to "Pasty White Boy," which is based on my appearance.  

So if a community asks to be addressed a certain way, why not comply with this simple request?  It's just common courtesy, really.  Why's that so hard?

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#10 Robert Hewitt Wolfe

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 03:56 AM

Hotspur Rovinski, on Oct 9 2004, 06:25 AM, said:

"A girl literally said, "European African Americans..." and nobody really pointed out how nonsensical the phrase is, because we all know she meant 'black'. What should she have said? European Africans? African Europeans? Since we mean black, why not say black?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


In Europe (or at least the UK), in my experience, people of African descent are generally refered to by their specific national or regional origin.  So Kenyan.  Nigerian.  Ghanan.  Sudanese.  This is a bit easier there since, by and large, Europeans of African descent are able to trace their specific national origin, which, unfortunately in the US, is very often not the case.

Europeans please correct me if I'm mistaken.

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#11 Robert Hewitt Wolfe

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 04:09 AM

Handmaiden07, on Oct 9 2004, 08:09 AM, said:

African-Americans are sometimes very sensitive to the fact that they cannot proudly point to their family tree and say "we came from here on such and such a date." 

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Just FYI, my wife just mentioned that she saw an article in PEOPLE that said there are new genetic tests which can give you an idea of your nationality/ies of origin.  Offered (for profit of course) by a company called African Ancestry.  

There's a story about it here:  http://abcnews.go.co...040723_208.html

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#12 BR48

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 04:59 AM

Thanks Handmaiden.  That was very enlightening.

#13 LaughingVulcan

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 10:05 AM

I think what the fear is, in part, having oneself called into question for using a term not currently in vogue.  Because there have been many labels that were (rightly or wrongly) accepted as correct at various points, it is far from impossible to have someone of an older generation who uses terminology which is (now) considered gauche or worse.  In short, while all this PC stuff may be tired, if it weren't a sensitive issue it wouldn't be an issue.

One poll at infoplease, for example, shows a breakdown of preferred terminology:  http://www.infopleas...a/A0762158.html
Now this poll is just something I googled, but I believe it shows the diversity of opinion that is out there concerning terminology.  And how easy it might be to accidentally offend without intention.

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#14 MuseZack

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 10:10 AM

What everyone is looking for is a specific term that covers Americans who are descended from enslaved Africans who were brought to America during the antebellum period.  All of the terms currently in use are inexact, for the reasons listed above.  "Black" is an incredibly broad term, African American could refer to Charlize Theron or Teresa Heinz Kerry, etc. etc.  But I always subscribe to the view that when in doubt, people should be called by the term they prefer.
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#15 Avalon

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 11:04 AM

Robert Hewitt Wolfe, on Oct 9 2004, 04:50 AM, said:

So if a community asks to be addressed a certain way, why not comply with this simple request?  It's just common courtesy, really.  Why's that so hard?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



Thing is, I don't always know how a person wants to be addressed.  Hell, I'm half Japanese, half American (my dad always said he was "Heinz 57"  ;)  ) -- some days I don't know how to refer to myself.  I've taken to lumping describing myself as "Asian American" by default -- and always out of earshot of my husband, who gets furious when American citizens describe themselves as any sort of "Blank-American".  "We're all Americans, period!" he snaps, and I have to agree with his point.  (It's actually a very good point.  Unfortunately, he doesn't get my own point about needing a connection to others who share a particular heritage...bah...loggerheads.)

Anyway, I'm rambling here.  Sorry.  What I'm trying to say is, we don't always know how to refer to people who have, say, that lovely brown or golden or tawny skin -- not all black people are African Americans.  (Especially black people who live in Europe, as Rov points out!   ;)  )  We don't always know what people prefer to be called.*   We may have never met them, much less have any idea what nationality they are or what their ideology is.  So how do we know how to refer to people then?  Sometimes we just need a way of describing a person, no disrespect intended.




* (Hell, it was only a few years ago that I found out that some other Asians found the term "Oriental" to be derogatory in some way, and it was no longer acceptable.  I felt kinda left out, since I never got the memo...  :p  )

#16 Vapor Trails

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 11:26 AM

HM writes:

Quote

The word "Black" is not offensive, so far as I know. It just has become, in common usage, proper to use in some contexts and not in others, where the more formal "African-American" is the common usage. The history of labels attached to black people in America is reflected in the names of the institutions you reference. The NAACP grew out of a time when "Colored" was still the common phrase. And, while "colored" has become practically a slur these days, the usage "people of color" is still acceptable, and broader than just African Americans. Various institutions called "Black" are likely outgrowths of the sixties, when "Black" became popularized as a positive term. It displaced "colored" at least partially because "colored" was seen as a self-negating avoidance of blackness. "Say it loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" was not just a song - it was an ideology of the day.

While people may be frustrated with the pc feel of the whole name game in the African-American community, I think that most African-Americans expect, and hope for indulgence from the world at large on this subject, because the work of sorting out our identity positively has been a challenging one...

I am all for respect-but by the same token, where do you cross the line into hypersensitivity? That is something I have VERY little patience for, and I simply won't tolerate it.

Again-here's an interesting double standard: black and Negro are the SAME THING. The only difference is the language. "Negro" is the Spanish version. Based on my understanding of the name sensitivity issue, it would not surprise me if certain black folks would find Hispanics' use of the word Negro to be "politically incorrect." It would not matter that this was a different language altogether.

Does this sound far fetched? Maybe-but it would be naive to assume that there aren't black folks who would find this offensive.

I embrace all races. I have no problems with homosexual folks, either. And I happen to be a minority myself. But I seriously think that there are people who are too hypersensitive about certain things in life. Life is brutal enough-and I don't see why it needs to be made more difficult.

:eh:

Edited by Digital Man, 09 October 2004 - 11:29 AM.

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#17 Cardie

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 11:38 AM

I actually find the term "minority" to be just as inexact and vexing.  It is completely situational, and I find students making the same sorts of bloopers that they do with "African American European."  I've had students refer to black Africans suffering from AIDS as "minority victims" when they are very much the majority in their native countries.

These are attempts not to use hateful and hurtful labels against people who have been so hated and hurt by labeling.  Sure it gets convoluted and is not an exact science.  But it is done out of the desire to cause less harm, so I've never understood all the hostility that accrues to these terms.

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#18 Vapor Trails

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 11:44 AM

Cardie writes:

Quote

These are attempts not to use hateful and hurtful labels against people who have been so hated and hurt by labeling. Sure it gets convoluted and is not an exact science. But it is done out of the desire to cause less harm, so I've never understood all the hostility that accrues to these terms.

Yes-except the problem is that the very nature of "political correctness" being convoluted and inexact CAUSES harm. How? It makes people feel like they have to walk on eggshells.

How in the world can you live life like that?! If you have to spend every waking moment worrying about what offends whom, what kind of life are you living? What kind of interaction are you having with your fellow human beings?

A pretty damn stressful life, I'm afraid.

:unsure:

Edited by Digital Man, 09 October 2004 - 11:46 AM.

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#19 GoldenCoal

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 11:45 AM

To an extent, I think that labeling people based on skin color at all only hurts some equality issues. My High School was very diverse and no one really cared what color you were. I hardley even noticed. It took a semester for people (even me!) to realize that I was the only white person in my Calculus class. My college, however, isn't all that diverse and they try so hard to have everyone be tolerant that I actually feel like I've become less tolerant because of it, I actually notice what color a persons skin is.

   This may just be just me, but I know that I'm mostly German and Polish, but it doesn't really matter to me. My ancestors came here so long ago that I don't consider myself "German" or "Polish." Though, I suppose it's one of those "You don't know how much it means to you until you don't have it" sort of things.

   And... I think there was suppose to be a point in there somewhere, but I can't seem to figure out what it is. Maybe it's because I can't wrap my head around things like this.  :wacko: .

#20 Bad Wolf

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 11:47 AM

"minority", "people of color", "protected class"...they're all irritating to me.  I've had to deal with using these terms because of my employment law background.  I find them to be either inexact (women are not in the minority, homosexuals, women, older people, and disabled people are not people of color but are "protected") or potentially offensive.  And yet the law does distinguish (for the purpose of protection from discrimination)people based on these characteristics... :wacko:
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