Black vs. African American: Do You Have a Preference?
If and when anyone asks me what I am—in reference to my racial or ethnic background—I always answer black. I never made a conscious choice to choose the label of black over African American, I just say what feels natural and like an appropriate description considering I have no immediate ties to or specific knowledge of my African ancestry, which is as diverse country to country as the seven continents themselves.
But just because I personally choose to use the word black doesn’t mean I take issue with being referred to as an African American woman. If someone were to ask me if that’s what I was, I would answer yes and go on about my day, but it appears I may be in the minority with that outlook. The semantic debate over the interchangeability of the terms black and African American is rearing its head once again, and members of the community who want to be labeled as black are being quite vocal about that preference.
Eurweb.com recently did a write up on 38-year-old Gibre George, a man in Miami who started a Facebook page titled “Don’t Call Me African-American” to openly state his opinion. Turns out, he’s hardly alone. About 1,900 people have liked his page, and nearly the same number are talking about it. The about statement for the page states, “If you have to call me African then you have to call everyone African,” and in an interview with the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Gibre said the term African American “just doesn’t sit well with a younger generation of black people.”
“We respect our African heritage, but that term is not really us. We’re several generations down the line. If anyone were to ship us back to Africa, we’d be like fish out of water.”
“Africa was a long time ago. Are we always going to be tethered to Africa? Spiritually I’m American. When the war starts, I’m fighting for America.”
Gibre’s last point brings up another label of preference that some black/African Americans prefer, which is simply American. I’ve never been a fan of simply calling myself American. I get the point of erasing racial identity and enthusing solidarity as united citizens of the United States, but my ethnicity has always been more important to me than my nationality—maybe that’s why “black” tends to do it for me nine times out of 10.
I get the idea of being heavily removed from our African heritage, but being disconnected doesn’t mean you can just disassociate with what your ethnic makeup truly is. It’s unfortunate that due to our history in this country, we’re not able to call ourselves sixth generation Italian Americans or ninth generation German Americans like many white people do, but that doesn’t mean that some of us do not have that same type of lineage as African Americans though we’re not aware of the specifics.
The strong aversion to the term African American seems to do less with the term not being applicable and more with concern about how that label is intrinsically linked to our slave past and whether identifying as such makes us less American in others eyes.