I Am So Sick Of The Term African-American

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I will just link to, and copy from a post I wrote in May of 2005.

While recently reading an article about the first black president, William Jefferson Clinton, I became a little bugged by his usage of the term, African-American. I thought to myself, if Bill Clinton is the first black president and we are now supposed to call black people African-American, why do we not call Clinton the first African-American president?

Blacks in this country have undergone a number of name changes over the years. Most of the old photographs and video of the segregated south show signs with the words whites and colored written on them. Now that really did not make sense. Colored could have meant anything. Of course we all know that colored meant black, but it still seemed like a stupid label. Later on, it became acceptable to use the term black to describe someone of African descent. Although it is not politically correct today to call someone black, most black people are okay with it. In fact they are quite proud to be black.

But where did the term African-American originate and when did it become politically correct to hyphenate someone who is a natural born American citizen? I can understand why a first generation African immigrant would call himself African-American. That makes sense. It just seems wrong though to hyphenate a group of people who were born in this country and are as equally a citizen as anyone else. What is so odd is that some black people in America are not even 50% descended from Africa. Although I am one quarter Italian, you would not call me Italian-American would you? Yet you would call the very European looking Vanessa Williams, African American. And what about Tiger Woods? How does he still get to be called African-American? Wouldn’t it be just as correct to label him an Asian American?

The term Native-American is another one that doesn’t make sense to me. Is not everyone who was born in the North American continent a Native American? That would also make Tiger Woods a Native American, in addition to being an African-American and an Asian American. You say that the term Native American is reserved for those who are members of the tribes that inhabited this land before the evil Europeans came along, but did those people actually originate on this continent? Did their ancestors not cross the Bering Straight a few thousand years ago?

Forgive me for all of this foolishness, but it just seems silly that we have to label people like we do. Why don’t we just end all of this nonsense and stop using all of these labels. America is most definitely a melting pot. Regardless of what skin color you are, or where your parents came from, we are all equally American. I love the story of how Bear Bryant used USC running back Sam Cunningham to integrate Southeastern football. After Cunningham had run all over Bama’s “skinny white boys”, the Bear brought Cunningham into the Alabama locker room and said, “this is a football player”. He didn’t say, “This is a really good African-American football player." He said, “This is a football player." Later in the 70’s when the team was fully integrated, a sportswriter asked him how many black players he had on the team. The Bear said, “ We don’t have any black players, we only have football players”.

Why can’t we just call people American? I still think everyone should be proud of their culture and try to preserve it to a certain extent, but in the end we are all American, regardless of where our ancestors originated from or how they got here. I am sorry, but you will never hear me identify an American with a hyphen. I guess that makes me politically incorrect. Oh well.


Tim W. said...

This is a good post, Glen. I agree with several of your points.

I went to college with a black lady who used to refer to herself and other American blacks as "Africans."

This usage irked me a bit because my friend Liz (as well as several generations of her family tree) were born 'n' bred in the good ol' USA, just like me (Liz was from Hollywood, for heaven's sake).

I've known several people who were born in Africa and eventually became American citizens...are these folks the only orthodox "African-Americans"? I dunno. Or, instead, should this term be used for those who maintain dual citizenship between an African country and the USA?

Second, unless I'm missing something, here, not all black people hail from Africa. Therefore, the moniker "African" or "African-American" can be terribly misleading and inappropriate at times.

Finally, I like what you said in your closing paragraph about recommending that folks celebrate their cultures but, at least speaking for America and American citizens, let's "join hands," as it were, and refer to ourselves as plain ol' Americans.

I myself am a 'garden variety' American, ethnically speaking. I've got German, English, French, and Dutch running through my veins. However, I consider myself to be simply an American citizen.


P.S. I realize, in retrospect, that the "African-American" designation truly isn't so much about nationalism as it is about race. This is another can o' worms entirely.

Rustmeister said...

How about this one:

The term "Native American" once referred to settlers who came to North America before the Revolutionary War. Anyone who came afterwards were called immigrants.

I do see most uses of these terms to be a divider. It's almost like they are "conditional" Americans, which, of course, is wrong.

For the record, I'm Euro-American.

Glen Dean said...

I guess I am just a regular mutt. Reminds me of an episode of "The Wonder Years".

Nick said...

When I was running track at U of Louisiana-Lafayette, there was a tennis player dating one of the gals on our track team. He was a white guy born and lived in South Africa until he was recruited to UL-L for a tennis scholarship.

If he were to become an American citizen, wouldn't he have the right to call himself an African-American? Wouldn't that cause a whole bunch of confusion with American born blacks who call themsleves African-Americans?

Glen Dean said...

Your right. A lot of people made fun of Teresa Heinz Kerry calling herself an African-American. But you know she was right, even if she was a nutjob.

Nick said...


romablog said...

For what it's worth, here's Malcolm X's statement on the subject and his argument against a couple other terms- including 'American'(some say Malcolm X coined the phrase 'African American'):