I’m not African-American, I’m Black.

February 3, 2010 at 5:53 PM | Posted in Don't be a Dummy, Education, Helter Skelter | 34 Comments

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Latoya Radway.

“African-American is a bogus, PC, made-up term.” “That is not a race. Your ancestry is from   Africa, and now you live in  America. Okay, so you were brought over, either your family was brought over in the slave trade, or you were born here and your family immigrated here, or whatever. But that is not a race.”
-Glenn Beck

While I hate the source I agree with the statement above. African American ughh!!! Oh how I hate the term. I am Black and proud. We can debate the origin of race and it being a social construct but that is another argument for another time.

For lack of a better term, people of darker melanin are Black. I have long had this debate in many an African-American studies class or during one of our spirited debates in good ole Kardon Apartments.  My feelings on this term has not changed but has intensified over the years.  This term had real relevance post-slavery when many Blacks had a direct lineage from Africa as their parents or grandparents were born on the continent.  Now, it has turned into an empty attempt by those who want to have a link to somewhere.  The term African-American sprang up during the Black is beautiful/Black pride era of the 1970-1980’s.  I wholeheartedly agree Black is beautiful but this new PC term “African-American” is not.  African American is not a race it is a nationality.  I know and understand the dynamics of the slave trade and how many Blacks came to be Americans but that does not change the fact that for good or bad we are here now.  I am sorry that the only link you have to a country is one that enslaved an entire race but you are BLACK plain and simple.

While the need to belong and identify is a real feeling, “African Americans” in this country have little in common with Blacks who live in Africa except for skin color. They may have more in common with their White neighbor from two houses down, who attends the same church, speak the same language and attend the same schools.  I have never understood how I could be African-American in this great ole country.

I have friends whose parents were born in Africa. Their nationality is African-American and race Black and may belong to any one of the many ethnic groups in Africa. I knew a boy who I went to high school with, who was White but his parents were born in South Africa. He said to me “I am African-American but I am unable to say that because people would say I am not Black.” Let’s stop with this African-American thing please (even though I think white people use it more than anyone I know). You are an American who happens to be Black, just like the South African guy is an African that happens to be White.

My parents were born on the beautiful island of Jamaica bup! bup! (Sorry I digress) where they are Black. They cannot come to America and become African-American. As their child my ethnicity is Jamaican-American and my race is Black. I am very aware how my ancestors got to the island of Jamaica but that does not change my link to the island and the culture that comes with it.  I enjoy eating plantains, ackee, oxtail and any other animal that is put in front of me with some curry seasoning.  That is my Jamaican side.  I also enjoy eating Mc Donald’s, baked macaroni and cheese and chicken (I couldn’t bring myself to say fried).  That is my American side.   So what would I be under this whole classification system that we have in America?  African-Jamaican-American, Jamaican-African-American, or just to make it complicated African-Jamaican-Caribbean-American (all these hyphens are giving me a headache).  The point I am trying to make is that Black people come from many different countries so the term African-American cannot adequately or accurately describe us.  I say ‘us’ because we are one race though our ethnic and nationality backgrounds may differ.  You do not see white people saying on their census forms that they are Irish American.  They are white, nothing more nothing less.  Yes, I know their history is different but nonetheless it’s important to recognize that since Day 1 of the damn Mayflower landing on Plymouth Rock, they identify as White and American. Whites claim their stake in America as Americans and so should we.  They are no more Americans then we are so we should not allow a hyphen to be added to our “race” as if we are somehow diluted Americans.

I finish with a piece of a conversation that I had with my friend Dash (thanks for the guest blog)

Dash’s thoughts:

“I say the exact same thing! What would Caribbean-Americans be called? Your mother’s Jamaican, now she changes her location, so magically she’s “African-American”. It makes NO sense! Her (and your) reference country and culture is Jamaica not Africa. When you really think about it, African-American is denoting your nationality NOT your race as evidenced with the White African boy. At the same token if you say you’re Jamaican that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re black. I’ve seen too many Chinese-Jamaicans White-Jamaicans just as I seen many White-Panamanians, Chinese-Panamanians etc. to be that stupid. It’s just foolish. It’s misleading and obsolete. The world is just too big and too diverse for these narrow “classifications” of people. So how do you identify a person directly from a country in Africa? African-American right? But the so-called “African-Americans” in America have been generations upon generations removed from the country they identify in their hyphen. It is clearly not the same. We obviously see that your lineage is from Africa, as you are black, so why is the formality needed? No one ever said calling me black was an insult. That’s what I am. I’m fine with my black-ness. Are you?”

Related: Dude, the whole concept of race is made-up :rolls eyes and walks away:
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    I should have a more eloquent way to discuss my thoughts, but one escapes me at the moment.

  2. As a first generation baby, I love it.

    I have issues with the word black because it was generated out of foul mouths but the message is clear. We are where we are from, not what you call us. As a West Indian, I don’t even think the word “Black” encompasses the beauty of my people, their land and their struggle but if America uses it for lack of a better term then so be it. I don’t mind when people use the term “black” but I do have a problem when people become complacent with it and its roots. “Black” has nothing to do with nationality but everything to do with social construction, which we all play a role in. The other issue I have with “Black” is that it’s based on perception. My cousin with the same roots may not be considered “black” because she can pass for “White.” Therein lies the trickery. So in an effort to avoid all the color complexes, social constructs, expectations, and perception – we state who we are by explaining where we are from…St. Kitts and Nevis, part of the African diaspora. For those, who can’t trace their roots back besides the typical “we’re all from Africa” knowledge, then they are American, even if America doesn’t want them. More so than that, they are Black in America because those are the ideals that America has set forth. You can call me Black, but I’m so much more.

  3. Couldn’t agree more with your opinion

  4. Dash can probably commiserate with me about the amount of times people have asked me whether I am Black because of my Hispanic origins (both of my parents are from Central-America), despite my dark skin. I also fight the urge to scream or begin a rather long lecture. Toya, you merely mention the issue of race as a social construct but I truly believe that it is the heart of the discussion. My “Latina-ness” represents a large part of my culture, heritage, and upbringing. Black is often relegated to American blacks and ignores the smells of fritura and empanada in my house, the sounds of Frankie Negron in my hounds, and the pollera that adorns our homes. What the hell is Black, anyway? How can we operationalize it and decide who is Black or not? While African-American certainly does not cut it (and certainly neither does Negro, US Census), we must look at the incapacity of the current options.

  5. Whoa check Toya out with the guest blog. Very nicely put ladies. I definitely agree with your sentiments and do feel a slight sting when anyone calls me African American.

  6. […] Related: I’m not African-American, I’m Black. […]

  7. as a afro-euro-cari-merican man i was always told by my folks that i wasn’t african-american. shit, i don’t think they even called me american. when it was time to fill out SAT’s and things of that nature i just checked them all off. cause until i submit my DNA to some lab. i have no clue where i am from.

    • I check ‘Other’ and write in what I identify as. Most of the time I don’t even fill that part out because they’re just trying to fill a quota and I’m nobody’s quota. :shreds sheet into confetti,throws desk across room, breaks pencil, drop kicks professor, pulls fire alarm:

  8. 2 Things:
    1. I blame Jesse Jackson’s ass for this African-American stuff.

    2. Completely agree with all that has been said..Even Africans that come to this country are baffled by the term African-American..my family members who come here are completely disturbed & confused as to why blacks in this country refer to themselves as African-American…White people are white, whether they’re Italian, Polish, Irish, Greek, etc..and it should be no different for blacks.

    • Exactly. Don’t understand why people can’t get it through their skulls that Black people, just like White people come from anywhere and we ARE everywhere. Why is this phenomenon so damn hard to fathom?

  9. I completely agree with you on the notion that in terms of our nationality we are not African- American because no part of our culture is African. Nationalities describe ones culture and the nation they are/were a citizen of; so while we are American, our culture differs from “white” American’s. Race and nationality are two separate things which they need to more often separate on these ridiculous characterization forms we fill out.

    So what I pose is what is the term to be used (for the sake of labels)?? “Progeny of enslaved Africans in America over 400yrs ago – American??”

    So then one may pose we are merely black American, black does not describe ones culture just their race neither does white they are both colors that describe ones phenotypic appearance. And as stated before they need to be separated.

    Since our society as a whole is hung up on labels, what do you feel is the proper nationality a descendant of Africans born and raised in America who’s culture differs to that of an Irish American, Chinese American, African American, Italian American, or those “white” Americans who have different cultural background than “black” Americans etc.

    And yes for all intensive purposes evidence of the first human being is from Africa therefore indicates the entire human species are descendants of Africa but I am speaking of those of us who are not so far removed from Africa compared to the rest of the world.

    • Agreed. If we are to complain about socially constructed and PC terms and labels, then race altogether needs to be thrown out the door. But since we live in a society that labels and see we ourselves obviously utilize these lables (otherwise we wouldnt be having this discussion), let’s make clear distinctions between race and ethnicity and race and nationality. One cannot substitute their race for their nationality nor their ethnicity. I’m black, American and and African American and have no issues with either. The problem arises when others attempt to label you or better yet tell you how you should label and define yourself.

  10. You know I hate to be a stick in the mud or whatever but actually, Malcolm X was the first person that I know of to use the term Afro-American. According to him, recognizing that our ancestry is from Africa but we were less than 1/2 a citizen in the Americas, led to the creation of the term. If I remember correctly, correct me if I am wrong, the term was also meant to connect with other people of African descent throughout the diaspora.

    The term was changed from Negro to Afro then to Black, and finally African American due to the times for one. But, also because we had a serious identity crisis. If you go to the southern states you will still see casualties of it and they are young folks.

    Now, I understand both sides but there are a lot of ignorant people in this world. I have no problem with people saying that I am Black, but when you get around some white person that doesn’t understand that Black is not my skin tone per se but a reference to my race. Then to make matters worse, try to crack a joke about how dark a person is when your complexion is brown, is downright stupid. So, I tell them to just say African American before we go there.

    I use to think and feel the same way about a lot of things, even about the dreaded “N” word. Until I went to southern US and was called in the 21st century a “colored”. Yeah, couldn’t do much because I outnumbered. I had to fight that fight from a different approach and without fisticuffs.

    Ya know? Peace

  11. However how can you depict or even limit the American descendants of the oppressed to just slavery alone. You must remember America never accepted the descendants of the oppressed for the most part and that why for years those who proposed to be “leaders” in the american minority community sought to find something to identify with herein you Have Africa because atleast we know that we have distant ancestors from there. (Which is crazy because for some we have more recent ancestors from other places; say India/ or China; but still use the term; Its the slave thing “hypodescent” so they can claim as many slaves as possible) And the logic behind this is that even though we might have other ancestors it is overlooked for the sake of solidarity and a common culture which if you ask me me has little to nothing to do with Africa.

    The label is an attempt to instill a little pride in a people who have no real home; you get me; Puerto Ricans, Jamicans, Panamanians, etc. I’m not sure but they all have pride about there country and there common culture as well (atleast it seems that way to me). The sad thing to me is the Label African-American is a psychological way to say you guys are just children of slaves.” Its like a constant reminder oh! your moms used to be this or dad used to do that. When in reality they overcame hardship and oppression through the help of others who may not look the same on the outside but had a heart to fight against the injustices.

    And it also demeans our accomplishments here by indirectly crediting Africa for everything we do; WE DID THIS. WE DEVELOPED and became something OUT of NOTHING. WE were fighters the descendants of the oppressed (which crosses various ancestral lines). To box this American minority community in; is to limit your thinking to politics. This is beyond politics this is about real people. And the labels continue to present an identity problem because kats don’t accept that they are truly out of touch with most if not anything African or anything else; the only thing most of them can relate to and will probably always relate to is the Hybrid culture and sub cultures they have here. Peace to you all though and one love to all my nations stop isolating and start intergrating. One love to all my NY Puerto Rocks, and Americans of all shades minority and majority; Asians, Africans, Polynesians, everybody we all connected. Cause GOD made us (we didn’t come from no single cell organisms)

  12. Thank you so much for your post. I have been trying to say the same thing for years, but no one wants to listen. Good to know that I am not the ‘lone ranger.’ Could not have said it better myself!

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  14. I’ve always been comfortable with being called an American. Being Black isn’t something that gets missed by people when they look at me. My ancestors formed their own culture in almost 4 centuries ago, before there even an America and while it may not seem as exotic as let’s say a Caribbean or Latin variety (which it is if their wasn’t such an arrogance in this country towards anything home grown..LOL) it is something I am proud of and I won’t give credit for their diligence, legacy, invention, innovation, tradition, and since of community to a continent they had/have no tangible connection to other than flesh. Great piece by the way. It reminds me of why I have the nerve to be American and Black at the same time and proud of it.

    • *DEAD* at “exotic” the only thing exotic is the language, I guess. LOL. We Latin and Caribbean and non-American brown and black peoples had the same history with the slave trade etc. except the conquerers/conquistadores/colonizers who ran the slave ships only spoke a different language. The conquistadores brought African slaves with them, and the indigenous people were already there, so there developed the mixed ancestry we all share. A fantastic book which I will most likely post is “A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present.” Long but great read.

  15. […] Related: I’m not African-American, I’m Black Related: Dude, the whole concept of “race” is made-up :rolls eyes and walks away: […]

  16. i know im late but…..”We can obviously see your ancestry is african, as you are black”… don’t tell some dominican people that….::smirk:::
    i just got beat up last night for telling a man he was from africa.. how else could be you be black!!!.. he almost shot me…

  17. […] planet that embodies a stereotype, however these people are not the representative of their group. There are others. There are alternatives. That is the problem. There’s no balance. No population of any people is a monolith and it is […]

  18. […] us otherwise. We are tied in ways many do not even know, and what ties us together is greater than what separates us. Haitians greatly influenced New Orleans culture. In 1709 after the Haitian Revolution that ended […]

  19. […] I’m not African-American, I’m Black Related: My Girl Crush Related: Dude, the whole concept of race is made-up :rolls eyes and walks […]

  20. […] I’m not African-American, I’m Black Related: My Girl Crush Related: Dude, the whole concept of race is made-up :rolls eyes and walks […]

  21. […] Black History Month: Africans in Latin America Related: Black Americans DO have a culture Related: I’m not African-American, I’m Black. Related: My Girl […]

  22. .
    Someone desperately NEEDS to inform
    our society that NEITHER ‘Hispanic’ (Latino)
    NOR ‘African-American’ (AA) are “RACES”. =D
    The ‘Hispanics’ (Latinos) are a ‘CULTURE’ and
    ‘African-American’ (AA) is an ‘ETHNIC’ group —
    NEITHER of these two (2) groups are “RACES”.

    Related Link:

    More Links:


  23. Really? Glenn Beck is who you quote? He’s an idiot. Listen, black people and half-black/half-white people born in America who have African ancestry ARE AFRICAN AMERICAN. During slavery, as you know, our tribal identities, culture and language were stripped from us. All we know is that we come from the continent of Africa, therefore we call ourselves African Americans as a tribute to our ancestral homeland and as a reminder that we were more than slaves. We also wanted to define ourselves for ourselves instead of going by the names the white man gave us. First the white man called us n*g*rs than negroes then coloreds. During the 60s we started calling ourselves black, but that wasn’t good enough. We then came up with Afro-American in the 70s and from 80s then on we agreed on a name that expressed our pride in our homeland. That name is African American. It was never meant to denote a “race” but to identify a culture, namely that of people of African descent born in America. That’s why Africans that immigrate over here are NOT African Americans. They have a country and a cultural identity. They are Nigerians, Ghanans, Senegalese, etc. I am a black woman from America, my ancestors came from Africa, and I am proud to call myself an African American. That this term is somehow PC is ridiculous, and Glenn Beck, a white man whom I can assure you has no significant knowledge of the history of the black man in America is not allowed to define us. Now I have a question for white people: is Caucasian a made up, PC term? Caucasia is neither a country nor a continent, discuss among yourselves.

  24. i am not African American or black because my skin is not black and i not from Africa i am an American plus i don’t look like no African other than my brown skin color

    • That was a seriously deep and educated answer. Thank you for that.

  25. One should expand their mind beyond the present before considering the orgins of a term to describe, or define a race or class of people.

  26. I would rather use a national identification than a word for a colour (Black)
    White is not a national identification either. The term would be Caucasian.
    It would be wise to research history to find out the true identification our
    the people from Africa that were slave traded around this would including
    the Islands.

  27. Caucasian is not a national identifier…it is a race. Just like black. A Black man can come from the US, Canada, Cuba, the UK, etc. Just same as a white man. In Cuba they have native Cubans who are black as midnight and also native Cubans who could pass for a Cali beach surfer. (Light hair, light eyes, very light skin). I have brown eyes, tanned skin and dark brown hair…..my background is the south of France. (I’m Caucasian and I live in North America. Race is not where you came from, that is part of your heritage and nationality. One of my best friend was born and breed in Africa (many generations) went to school in Japan for 4 years but otherwise lived the first 36 years of his life in Africa. Now he just moved to Canada. What race is he? (Have not told you yet). He is a white man who proudly insists he is African. Yes, Glenn Beck is a offensive, but he is not wrong. The term African American did not exist 50 years ago because it is not a race…..it’s a statment of mixed nationality.

  28. As a Panamanian American this is something I’ve been trying to explain to people (mostly white), so I couldn’t have said it better myself. As I explained it just the other day to a friend, “African-American is a culture not a race.” he then said people of color. I told him at we’re all people of color, but our cultural experiences are different. I will be passing this blog along!

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