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Should I Say "Black" or "African American"?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The terms “black” or “Black” and “African American” are both frequently used to refer to Americans with African ancestry. There is some confusion over which term is appropriate, which can be distressing to people who wish to avoid causing offense, and the matter is further complicated by divisions within the community of Americans of African ancestry about which term to use. If possible, the best way to answer the question of which term to use is to ask the person to whom you are referring about his or her term of preference.

It is much easier to outline the terms which are no longer considered appropriate; colored and negro, for example, are generally considered offensive by Americans of African ancestry. Although organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the United Negro College Fund use these outdated terms, the inclusion of these offensive terms reflects the age of the organization, not permission to use outdated racial slang. These organizations have struggled over their names, ultimately deciding to keep the outdated terminology for name recognition purposes. “Mulatto” or “mulatta” in reference to a biracial individual is also offensive.

Use of the term “black” dates to the 1960s and 1970s and the civil rights movement. The Black Power movement advocated strongly for the use of “black” to replace the outdated “negro,” and many Americans of African ancestry started to embrace the term. Others preferred “Afro American,” an early blending of “African” and “American.” In the 1980s, “African American” began to see common usage, and the term quickly became very popular.

The argument for saying “black” is that it is a term which refers purely to skin color, recognizing the fact that people from Africa come in a variety of shades and hues. Using “black” also allows people to distinguish between Americans with slave ancestors, who may not have a close connection with Africa, and recent immigrants from Africa. This term also includes Americans of slave ancestry who immigrated from the Caribbean, as these individuals may feel more closely connected to places like Haiti or Jamaica than Africa.

People may also prefer to use “black” because it encompasses people who are biracial, allowing people who self-identify as black to use the term, even if their ancestry is mixed. Others use the term as a matter of pride, celebrating their skin color and their cultural identity. The term also allows users to connect with other people with similar heritage all over the world, much like “white” connects people with light skin, and “brown” connects people with a variety of skin tones.

In favor of “African American” is the long-established custom in the United States of referring to people with ethnic ancestry as “Ethnicity American,” as in “Japanese American,” “German American,” or “Greek American.” The term is meant to recognize the African ancestry of all Americans with African heritage, whether they immigrated from Ghana last week or are descended from slaves brought to America in the 1500s. Some people prefer this usage because it includes a nod of respect to their ethnic heritage.

If you aren't sure about which term is appropriate, it is probably safest to use “African American,” because most people understand that people are trying to be respectful when they use this term. You may be gently corrected by someone who prefers to be referred to as “black,” but he or she will usually understand that your intentions in saying "African American" were good.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon1003955 — On Oct 14, 2020

I am a little surprised on this forum so many people seem to not know history. When

the whites first traded with the coastal communities in Africa it was a common practice for the African chiefs to sell slaves from their raids on other tribal groups,

which had gone on for hundreds of years.

The chiefs were very keen to get western goods, especially guns, as it allowed them to expand their territories, grow wealthy and eliminate rival tribes. So it is Africans themselves who first stole these people, degraded them, robbed them of their identities and traded them for foreign goods.

What happened to them after this when they became slaves in America, the West Indies, and South America. It is terrible but it's not just a white issue. Africans themselves need to be held accountable for what they did and the barbaric trade they enabled. There are still slaves in Africa today that can be bought and sold

Read Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. Some of her articles give a better understanding.

By anon993745 — On Dec 10, 2015

This is one of the most complex topics found within any nation that is primarily composed of multiple generations of immigrants coming from all over the world (including, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, etc.). There's a need to acknowledge the immigration, native assimilations, and/or kidnappings that led to the arrival of previous generations, while, simultaneously maintaining an awareness of our current commonalities within our larger, national society. Few people of any nation know the origins of all of their ancestors, going back six or more generations.

Those of us who have had family members living within our current nation for many generations are often a complex mixture of ethnicities, religions, and races. At earlier times in American history, Germans, Irish, Polish, and other impoverished Caucasians who arrived on American soil were treated with antipathy and hatred, regardless of the color of their skin. Usually, it was their religion and/or accents which made their cultural/ethnic/racial origins overt enough for them to be discriminated against.

With enough generations of intermarriage between ethnicities/races, the lines between them become so blurred as to be completely meaningless. I happen to have ancestors from several western and northern European nations, in addition to a great-great-great-great grandmother who was full Cherokee. Looking at me, no one can see my Native American heritage, nor clearly identify which Caucasian nations my ancestors originated from, nor when they arrived on USA soil.

As I have no doubt that some of them had slaves, at some point or other (as they all came from the southern parts of the USA, prior to branching out across the USA), it's possible that I may have some African genetic roots that I'm not aware of, as well. On top of all of that, I converted to Judaism, several years ago. So, no one can accurately "describe" my ethnic/racial lineage, simply by observing me in any given setting. Yet, if I'm forced to fill in some sort of racial/ethnic "box", I'll either put multi-racial or Caucasian down, depending on my mood - knowing it really doesn't matter, in my case, as I'm an American blended from both native and immigrant roots that I'm long separated from. While I'm not racially/ethnically Jewish, I'm culturally and religiously Jewish, as well, but no one really cares - not seriously - apart from those who are close to me.

I recall my maternal grandmother telling me about how her family (which was of major German heritage) had to lie and cover up their ethnic background, during both of the world wars, due to the constant fears of treasonous Germans, on U.S. soil. I'm uncertain what the exact circumstances were that led to my Cherokee ancestor marrying a southern, Caucasian man - whether it was a voluntary situation or a violent/forced family scenario. I'm unable to determine even whether she lived before or after the "Trail of Tears" occurred, nor which state(s) they lived in, while raising their family.

The reality is, that within the USA, many people are multi-racial without knowing it and/or admitting it. It takes a great deal of time, money, and energy to thoroughly and accurately research the facts about one's ethnic/religious/racial heritage and even the so-called "facts" may be lies, put into play to cover up dark or uncomfortable family secrets, including adoptions, illegitimate children, kidnapped offspring, incestuous links, untimely/criminal deaths, rape-related births, extra-marital affairs, long-term institutionalizations (in workhouses, psychiatric asylums, TB sanitariums, blind/deaf/developmental disability special schools, etc.), foster children, imprisonments, and so much more. So, one's facial features, skin color, accent, current religious practices, and so much more are unlikely in highly immigrant-supportive nations, like the USA, to tell the onlooker much of anything of importance about the ancestry of the person they are viewing/talking to.

Many adopted and foster children have no idea what their own parents' ethnic/racial/religious roots were, let along relatives from more distant generations. A friend of mine has a mother who is ethnically Korean, but was born and raised in Japan, before immigrating to the USA. Meanwhile, her father's family came from multiple European nations. When people look at her, they know she has some sort of oriental background blended with Caucasian features, but it's all truly meaningless, when there are so many different layers of movement between nations and cultures/sub-cultures over generations, along with inter-marriage between cultures, races, religions, and ethnicities.

While this subject technically is quite meaningless, based on the huge amount of inaccuracies that most individuals have about their own ethnic/racial lineages, let alone those of others (due to the general lack of interest in exploring geneaological data, amongst a well-known long-term history of societal "cover ups" of ethnic/racial/religious facts), some people treat the entire subject with deadly earnestness. They are so intense about it, generally, because they hold some belief that one or more ethnic/racial groups are, inherently, superior or inferior, to others which is entirely ridiculous and bigoted.

Racial, religious, and ethnic origins wouldn't matter on the large scale, if the vast majority were equally comfortable with all ethnic, racial, and religious groups, which is tough to be, considering how many there are in the entire world.

As an RN and certified teacher, I've provided health care and educational opportunities to individuals of all ages, ethnicities, races, religions, language skills, literacy skills, educational levels, ability levels, socio-economic backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, and family/living situations, because that's what it means to be an "American RN" and/or "American Teacher". Being an American means being prepared to interact with people who may be fairly familiar with conventional assimilated American customs, language, and traditions, right along with engaging with those for whom all of these dimensions of American lifestyles are unfamiliar.

I believe that all who consider themselves to be genuinely "Americans" need to be equally prepared to interact with both natives and immigrants of diverse backgrounds and experiences. That's what the USA has always been and always will be - an immigrant and native-blended nation that continues to mix, merge, learn, and explore new lifestyles/foods/customs/beliefs/etc. in a way that makes our country unique - as the first "democratic-based" nation on the planet. To be an "American" means to be willing to blend and mix with people whose religious beliefs, accents, facial features, skin tones, family ancestry links, educational exposures, income levels, skin/eye/hair colors, and lifestyles are both similar to and different from one's own.

I believe that those who are unwilling to tolerate the diversity inherent within this nation are not now Americans, regardless of what their passports and/or birth certificates may say. Their narrow-mindedness makes this the wrong country for them and they need to move to a place where they can feel more comfortable - if any other nation is willing to take them, that is. It's far better to be an ex-pat than to be a fake American or American in name only, in my experience.

By anon977955 — On Nov 14, 2014

When people say that "other" word more freely than they do "black", there's a problem. It's not okay for a white person to use that "other" word in absolutely any context. Just say "black" because it's respectful and what black people prefer, or when in absolute doubt, ask what is okay.

By jessiwan — On Sep 08, 2014

I think that "black" is probably more accurate than "African American", because all black people are, well, black, however only some of them are from Africa.

I think it's all in the tone and how you say it. If you are polite and respectful and let's say you call them black, they probably won't get offended even though they prefer "African American".

By anon357375 — On Dec 03, 2013

I think the labels should be used appropriately. Americans with legitimate ties to Africa are African-American. People with very dark skin can just be called black. It's not a description of nationality, but of skin color, which to me is fine.

I self identify as white, Caucasian, American, Greek, Greek-American etc. But if you call yourself African-American without any ties to Africa, it is about as descriptive as saying I am European-American.

It doesn't tell you anything about what language I speak, what religion I am, what culture my family identifies with, etc.

I even further identify as Cretan, as my father's family is from Crete. I have been there, and I love everything about it. Even within countries as small as Greece, they subdivide.

I think black is the most appropriate term when you don't know anything about a person's ancestry. I would prefer someone who doesn't know me to describe me as white as opposed to European-American.

Political correctness gets in the way of communication.

By anon355375 — On Nov 15, 2013

I'm white in color and never been out of the USA, but I guess I'll demand to be referred to as British American because I can trace my family back to the Mayflower.

By anon354805 — On Nov 11, 2013

Brown-skinned people come from and live everywhere. There is no way to look at someone and definitively know if he/she is American, Jamaican, Dominican, British, Haitian, or African. "Person of color" is acceptable. People have also adopted the term "brown people."

By anon346710 — On Aug 30, 2013

The so-called African-Americans are really Hebrew Israelites and not Africans because long ago before the trans Atlantic slave trade, the Hebrew Israelites were fleeing from the Romans and there were others of different tribes fleeing to other parts of the world and the ones went to the continent of Africa were the ones who we know today as black Americans.

By anon346464 — On Aug 28, 2013

African Americans: Born in Africa and has become an American citizen through proper procedures.

Black Americans: Born in America by an African or Hebrew slave captured on the continent of Africa. Or, descendants of African or Hebrew heritage who were born in America.

There has to be a distinction and this is the only logical definition. I use Black American because my ancestors were brought from Africa, but I was born in America and not Africa. It is not disowning Africans. It is merely to make the distinction.

By anon344891 — On Aug 13, 2013

Pedro hits the nail on the head! Most peoples' "African-American heritage" is either academic/conjectural pretense or delusional sentimentality (unless you're a first, second, or third generation immigrant).

Two shining exceptions: The living African dialects, folkways and cuisine of the Bayous (see "Beasts of the Southern Wild") and of the Sea Islands (see Vertamae Grosvenor, raised speaking Gullah, not English, in South Carolina!)

And check out Arthur George Gaston, born in rural 1892 Alabama, whose impulse and insight was for his people to subsume and supersede the Black Power Movement with "Green Power"! (the title of his 1968 autobiography, detailing his life in segregation-era Birmingham, and his rise from po' black to millionaire and civil rights leader in the dirty, dirty South)!

By anon343324 — On Jul 29, 2013

I’m black, African, from Mozambique. I assume all of the people participating in the forum are American. So, I ask: what African heritage do you have, my black “brothers”? You know nothing about the African continent, which is so vast and diverse. Most of what you learn about in school is slavery, and nothing more. If you came in Mozambique, you would be tourists, looking at my people as if you were looking at Chinese people. You wouldn’t eat our traditional food; you would go to McDonald's. You know absolutely nothing about our music, literature, etc. In fact, you think the African continent makes the same music, the same literature, all the people dress the same, etc.

You have no African heritage; your culture is American. You are American. And you are, of course, black. That's why I don´t understand this discussion. It's typically American. Pedro M.

By anon341330 — On Jul 10, 2013

African Americans are Americans whose ancestors were slaves of Americans. Africa became the continent of choice for kidnapping. The former citizen, on a national level, down to the most basic of all membership, that of ones own family was no more. Their personal "identity" was deliberately erased, and a slave was born. That is all that was allowed the "American" slave and their future "free" children who became the American citizens of today.

By anon341112 — On Jul 08, 2013

Do not call someone what they are not. Never assume someone will appreciate a label they do not claim or subscribe to just because they appear a certain way or a certain color. Do away with "Census Bureau" thinking so this nation can make progress and we can work together.

By anon338618 — On Jun 16, 2013

Whites were enslaved by the Barbary Pirates, and many others, well before this "I'm black, I need to be pitied!" came into effect. Get over yourself, please?

By anon329329 — On Apr 09, 2013

I refer to real African Americans from Africa as such. The ones here since slavery I refer to as American blacks. They are so far removed from Africa that they are not African.

By anon328706 — On Apr 05, 2013

I find the use of the term "African-American" by blacks born in America quite strange. Are they so ashamed of being black that they have to look for an excuse not to use the word black? If not, why don't they call themselves Americans? After all, that's where they were born and what they are, just plain, simple, good old Americans.

I don't hear white Americans referring to themselves as "White Americans."

If what I have read is indeed true that South Africa (Sterkfontein caves) has been scientifically proven to be the "cradle of humanity" and that man moved from there and inhabited land all over the world, does that mean that the English are "African-English," the Germans "African-Germans," the Chinese "African-Chinese," The Swiss "African-Swiss," the French "African-French," etc., etc.? Confused!

By anon326103 — On Mar 20, 2013

Arabs have been born in Africa in countries like Egypt, Libya, Algeria, among others. In spite of the above, this does not make them Africans and they remain Arabs.

Because you were born in America and feel no connection to Africa, it does not strip you off your African heritage. That is why the term Africa American is preferable. It shows your origins in Africa.

It is immaterial to know the country, because the names of African countries such as Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria were born of political interest among Europeans who divided Africa in 1884. It is also immaterial if white people do not call themselves European Americans. We must not expect them to identify before we can identify. We can set the pace.

Besides, their history in America is written and they know the countries or tribes in Europe where they descended from, unlike Black history in America that is unwritten. Again, white America will do anything to help Europe just as they did in 1945 through the Marshal Plan all as a result of cultural links. In this regard, they do not need to coin themselves European Americans before you know that they descended from Europe. They have inferred from their conduct this aspect several times.

So African people, get up from your sleep and embrace your heritage and do not think born and bred in a foreign land will ever change you from that heritage. Jews remain Jews regardless of where they are born. Being American is just a political term and has nothing to do with your heritage.

By anon324115 — On Mar 08, 2013

@anon36977: So you admit that others define who you are based on skin (not character) as in your first comment, and call those who think like that 'ignorant' in the second comment?

It's true you can't prevent someone from calling you something, but you can teach them who you are by example (character). If they choose to disrespect you by not referring to you how you like, move away from them. They obviously don't take the time to respect your, so instead of falling into the trap of disrespecting them, just leave.

These things will take time, but require conscious effort on our behalf and on the behalf of others as well.

By anon324110 — On Mar 08, 2013

Haiti, the Caribbean and a whole bunch of other countries constitute America. The U.S. arrogantly applies this to their own nation with no regard to the existence of anyone else in the hemisphere except when they need workers, resources or land. Obama may not be, but Poitier and also Native Americans (remember them?) were enslaved.

Slavery still doesn't mean we have to uphold all the pain and forget all the good things we've done. I am not "black". This term causes confusion and makes people refer to their skin all the time. Not everyone is going to make an educated distinction that "black" means "culture". Some say they'd never use "negro" and prefer "black". It is the same thing in a different language. You may think you sound new, but those who speak Spanish see no difference. There is too much going on for me to be "black". I am more than a skin tone. I am American of African and Native descent. Above all, I am human. There is only one race. We should start with ourselves and getting people to respect us the way we want to be seen.

Or white people could just be Americans like us and celebrate their roots like anyone else would.

By anon323963 — On Mar 07, 2013

Are you serious? All of this is ridiculous. Black is a term created as a racist agenda to place whites on top and people of darker tones underneath. It was not a term that began in the Civil Rights movement. However, during the Civil Rights movement it was used as a symbol of pride because it's when the prophet Elijah Mohammad and nation of Islam suggested we turn every term whites use as a negative against us into a positive.

The truth is, we are Moors. Europe settled this land under the "Treaty of Morocco" given permission to come here by Africa itself. Why do you think Washington D.C. looks like Egypt and many cities along the Mississippi have Egyptian names. Could it be because that's part of the Nile river? We were here first.

Europeans thought the world was flat until Moors led the Spanish to the West Indies. We were never called black when in Africa, or even when we were Native Americans. And yes, again, we were here first. Black is a racist term designed by a racist agenda. As for African American, that's saying we never existed on this land previously.

The history books have lied. It's "His" story, and Moors have been written out. Do the research. It's time to finally find your rightful place.

By anon322057 — On Feb 25, 2013

I consider myself a Black American, maybe because my parents were born and bred in Alabama and hit 1960 as a 21 and 23 year old couple, so negro, nigger and colored were considered insults.

My dad's grandfather was a Jew who claimed to be Irish, My mom's family was mixed up with the Chickasaw tribe. That's as far as I can trace back is 1900 when my grandfather was born.

I can't identify myself as an African America because I can't trace any of my ancestors to any country in Africa. I leave that title to those who can and live in the Americas. I will not get upset if someone of another race calls me black. I know it's a color and not a race, but the same goes for White. I read in an earlier post that Sidney Poitier's ancestors were not slaves, yes they were. Slave ships dropped off slaves to these islands on their way to America.

By niveaa45 — On Jan 10, 2013

The answer is in the Bible. You should call or consider yourselves Jews. The Bible clearly states that he will plant a seed in Abram, and that seed will be taken to a land that is not theirs and that they will be known as bywords, such as black, African American, the n word, colored. All those are used to describe you, but none of them are actually a country or tells you what your tribe is. Africa has many countries: Egypt, Israel, Nigeria, Kenya, so to say that you are from Africa the continent is not saying where you are from.

By anon311824 — On Jan 04, 2013

What if you're not in America (happens) and not in Africa either? And there is a situation where you need to give testimonial to the police (for an example), how to you say black if black is so offensive? And you don't know what is the origin of the person.

By anon311731 — On Jan 03, 2013

Join the group, 'No, you are not Black,' if you have African roots and would want to do away with this idea of identifying people according to color.

By anon311180 — On Dec 30, 2012

All terms are not good. It's better to call them Americans, because they are, and everyone knows today that blacks built America more than any other race. They suffered for it with some jerks whipping them hard on the backs.

The whites until now are called Americans, yet they are mostly from Europe. I believe if blacks in America are to be called African Americans, then should whites in America be called European or White Americans. It is all racism to give more names to Blacks in America. The whites feel like it is not worthy to call Blacks just "Americans" because they still have that savage character of racism in them.

I think our color can tell we are blacks. There is no need of reminding the blacks in America that they are blacks. Who does not know that Obama is black? That tells enough that he has an African background, but the idiots still refer to him as a Black American. Come on, we see and know.

By anon311072 — On Dec 29, 2012

I say I'm African American because "black" and "negro" are descriptions of color, not ethnic background. African American describes the continent from which my ancestors came from. To not identify yourself with a land mass, means that you belong nowhere, a vagabond. African Americans that prefer to call themselves "black" or "negro" are lost in the mind. To me they prefer to remain in a state of lost consciousness, and let others describe who they are.

Whites or European Americans named us black and negro to disassociate us from the lands from which we came. Strip us of our history and we can forever be controlled and remain loyal to people and a country that has no love for us. If we knew our history and land connection, we would begin to have a sense of pride because now we have a connection to something. I refuse to call myself "black" or "negro" because it is disrespectful.

By anon310508 — On Dec 24, 2012

Believe what you must, say what you want. The facts clearly show that the early remains of the first humans came from Africa. This fact is undeniably correct, bottom line.

Blacks (dark skinned, brown skinned or any other tanned man or woman) in America (those who have not traced their heritage to direct descendants of Africa) who walk around accepting whatever someone refers to them as are are asleep at the wheel.

When people talk about the dark and the light, the dark is the shadows you hide behind that keep your mind in a prison to the point that you accept whatever is "told" to you because the homework is too complex to get into, or for whatever reason, you have ties to the untruths. The light is what happens when you start to uncover truths and facts for yourself. When you see the light, you may receive a slight tingle up the back of your neck; your heart will start to beat at a rapid pace as the same as if you've forgotten to breathe from the notion of uncovering some deep dark mystery that you do not want to believe. Some may even experience a slight ringing in the ears or migraines.

These are your recessed and dormant memories that are buried deep within your consciousness that tie into your bloodline. But please, don't take any of what I have to heart, just start uncovering details about your bloodline and the truth will find you. You won't have to search for it.

By anon309109 — On Dec 14, 2012

According to everything I have read, the oldest bones of a modern human being were those of a woman in Africa. So, it stands to reason that man/woman as we know them, originated in African. Why are others not referred to African-Asians, African-Irish, African-Mexicans, African-French, etc.?

When a young lady referred to me as African-American, I rejected it. She asked, "Well what are you"? I replied, "American. And if you must add race, then Black American". Presently, there are six generations in my family of Americans born and living in America -- yes, living.

By anon307364 — On Dec 04, 2012

I think we all (Black, White, Asian, etc.) feel frustrated because race is a complicated issue. It's intangible and socially constructed; there are no biological facts. There is about 1 percent separating humans (genes) so we are all very similar biologically and in general.

I think we all want to be acknowledged for the very important aspects of our people: nationality, ethnicity, language, culture, etc. So, these factors make a big difference among people within continents. Think of Africa, Europe, Asia, etc. So, if we can describe our ethnicities, then I'd bet we would feel better about ourselves.

For example, my ancestors were from Africa, captured, enslaved, and dropped off in USA and that's where my family generations began. In my family, there are also White (European) Americans. This is a familiar occurrence with many descendants of American slaves. So what do I call myself? African-American? Black American? Colored? Ghetto? Ha. Just kidding! It's so bad today that I just say, I'm a descendant of American slavery. Thank you. Maybe non-descendants of American slavery can say my nationality is American but my ethnicity is: Haitian, Jamaican, West African, etc. Look at Sidney Poitier. He is not a descendant of American slavery (Bahamas) and neither is President Obama.

It's a sad fact that some modern Black people have to trace back to slavery to distinguish which country their ancestors were dropped off in (slavery makes me so sad), but that's our history.

And what about White people? I bet they get tired of just being called White. They should say their ethnicity too (British, Russian, etc.).

Sorry for the long post. I just empathize with everyone's frustrations.

By cranial33 — On Dec 02, 2012

The question was settled for me years ago, living in Alabama, when it came up in a mixed group and my friend declared: "Honey, we're just Black!"

The question was clarified for me in 2003, living in Colorado, when I overheard one store employee declare to another about a co-worker: "He's not even Black! He's from Uganda or somewhere!"

So it seems clear that being "complicated" (Anon/post5) is chosen by some, not chosen by others: this is the racism of racist expectations, a phenomenon finally made clear to me as "generational" by Obama in 2008, putting into perspective the racism of Rev. Wright.

My home, Birmingham Alabama, is today the most racist city in the country, where most Blacks are still consistently spiteful, angry, or seethingly silent toward, I don't know, "whitish-Americans"? Also toward Asians, Latinos, and African immigrants (like Obama, and I quote: "He's not really Black!"). But never at Publix Supermarkets! Blacks there speak, respond to courtesy, laugh, say you're welcome, like I'm a regular human being! And not in Atlanta, ever! Complicated?

Finally, God bless Anon/post33, who lovingly honors her elders and family heritage by preserving "colored" in her personal vocabulary! We are a passing generation who remember the fond and familial use of this word in the Dirty South, where, as a black Baltimore poet explained to me, white and colored "rub elbows", unlike in the North.

Purging language is a form of cultural obliteration: I was a teen working in a Alabama clock factory "across the tracks" in 1979, moving parts for assembly lines full of black working moms who frankly treated me as one of their own.

The neighborhood Carver School had been closed and their kids bussed away for some years. I shall never forget one mom's intimate expression of wistful regret that her little boy, in fifth grade, had lost his "arrahs" (the alphabet letter between Q and S), as if recognizing that the price of the positive outcomes of the desegregation movement would include the disappearance of the linguistics and folkways of her traditional community, and eventually of the community itself.

By anon300542 — On Oct 30, 2012

So any American whose ancestors are from Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, South Africa, etc. are African-Americans, eh?

By anon299837 — On Oct 26, 2012

Everybody has a point, but African-American, Ethiopian, Negro and colored are all names the European masters could think of. Technically, Maroon is the correct term for a brown complexion.

African people in general named everything in their village from God-trees and names of their own tribes. I know gangs in the U.S who have all these names like the Mardi Gras rebels, but nobody ever does anything positive likely to protect their Identity.

What I'm saying is black people in the USA can pretty much call themselves what they want and name themselves what they want; that's how unique their roots are. They just would have to believe it themselves.

Exampled: I am Jango C. from the Osejango tribe. We speak English now because our root tongue was destroyed by the European Americans.

By anon298831 — On Oct 22, 2012

@solomonh: As you mentioned with Hispanic, Latino, Mexican and Chicano, are ethnic groups, so how is it "black" is referred to as an ethnic group? It is not; it is a color. I do not use the terms Black, African American, Negro, Colored or Afro-American, I am of African/European,descendants, and I am of African/European traditions. I am not just a color or a heritage. I am a person with ideas and I am human. Everything else is an analysis.

By anon293226 — On Sep 24, 2012

I know I'll get slammed, but in my heart I will always be Colored. It is the term always used lovingly in our home. My great-grandmother said it every day, and I'm not changing up for outside strangers.

Sure, to avoid conflict, I always say black or African American, but I'm just mouthing the words when I say it. Those words don't really describe me. I am and always will be Colored. It is not offensive, period. Not everyone is black like a set of tires. Even the darkest "black", is not black.

The colors in the race come in many hues, like the colors of a rainbow -- colored! The term covers every shade and sounds more attractive and pretty than black.

So, if anyone must dump, pile on, slam me, etc., that's fine. I say thank you. It will never change my mind. Colored til the end, always and forever! Love it!

By anon292260 — On Sep 19, 2012

I say 'black'. Because we are not all 'African Americans'. African Americans (from what I know) means that your direct ancestors were Americans and their ancestors were from Africa. Yeah, we're all from Africa. But what about the Bahamians, or Haitians, or Jamaicans? I don't expect people to know exactly what I am, so I just prefer black American. Until we get a unified name, like the Asians, Latinos, and Caucasians do, then I guess I can settle for Black.

By anon286055 — On Aug 19, 2012

The reason why I never associate myself with Africa is because I know nothing of Africa, and neither does any other black American I know. All I know from Africa is what I was taught in school, never from a family member who received the tribal history past down starting from the original village that we came from.

Africa is just a continent, but every African ethnicity has its own history. How can you attach yourself to something that is virtually impossible to trace your tribal roots to? I personally don't think the ancestors of the slaves who were dropped off to the many islands aren't like us, just for the simple fact they had the opportunity to keep their African roots. When slavery was abolished, we didn't have the luxury to wave the masters farewell as they went back to their own countries.

We still have racism because we were lower level humans in their eyes. Since then, we've had to make our own heritage and the reason I call myself Black is because it was black people running for freedom to the west and north, it was a black fist raised in the face of fascism at the Olympics in Munich, it was Black people fighting for my rights here in our new homeland, it was black warriors dressed in black bearing shotguns and rifles, standing tall and forcefully for black people to ensure that we won't stand for the crap any more and making our ancestors proud that we were able to do what they always wanted to do. That's my history, and "Black”-American is my heritage.

By Havahveg — On Jun 23, 2012

Black is a color, and Africa is a continent and America is a country. Hmm. So I believe both black, or African American would be rude ..

If you want the truth, they are Israelites of the Tribe of Judah, one of the 12 tribes of Israel.

By anon274590 — On Jun 12, 2012

I was writing something for a book review which deals very honestly with slavery (which I thought was helpful for the readers), and was wondering "Do I say 'black or African American?' and stumbled upon this post.

There is a Gallup Poll about this (from a while ago) which shows there is not a huge preference, so the default is to say "African American" as a sign of respect/courtesy. But -- as I can see above and the poll confirms -- it's a sign of courtesy but a lot of folks know it's incorrect. A friend of mine has dark skin, but is from the Dominican Republic. Another friend of mine is from Africa, but she's white. So, theoretically, she's "African American."

More and more, as we actually turn into a mixed race society, we'll have a tough time with this. I think, as one respondent said above, you kind of have to self-identify. And, we're getting to the point - honestly - where just like you don't guess someone is pregnant, because you could get in a heap of trouble. You also might not be able to guess (nor should you) someone's race anymore. We've got a whole lot going on in this nation.

By anon265443 — On May 01, 2012

Of course I don't think anyone should be called a derogatory name, but black, african american, or negro just don't offend me, but I'm older. I just wonder if anybody has the answer to my original question? That was what happened in africa that caused us to be the most hated race in history?

By anon263304 — On Apr 23, 2012

“Should I use Black or African American” you write. The term Negro and colored are considered offensive by Americans of African decent. You also mention that Mulatto is considered offensive. While that may or may not be true, you ignore the fact that Latin Americans have experienced just the opposite.

People of Spanish ancestry now have to adopt hispanic and latino, both very offensive when you consider that the media treats it as a race. Latin Americans are of all races: white, black, Asians, and Native Americans, the same as North Americans.

The term hispanic does not exist outside of the US. The term latino gets its roots from the Mexican American gangs in East LA. You mention Japanese Americans, German Americans and Greek Americans, but leave out the largest ethnic minority in the US Spanish Americans. Why? Quite frankly, the term Negro is only offensive in America and we all know why. It is the proper term for a race like Caucasians and Mongoloid.

So until the media stops using stereotypes and labels and starts using Latin Americans or Spanish Americans, you will be disrespecting a part of American culture.

I do thank you for the article, as I personally believe that it is important to respect all who live in our great country

By anon262454 — On Apr 19, 2012

For the sake of history (i.e. historical writing/documentation), especially at this point in time, it is necessary -- to an extent -- to categorize, particularly when discussing a group of people who, though diverse, share in common a certain set of predicaments.

It would be utterly delightful if we were at a point in time when social constructions such as ethnicity and race did not matter, but they are still highly relevant today.

Asserting that we should ignore matters such as skin color or ethnic identity, especially in this post-9/11 era, is too simplistic and naive.

By anon262382 — On Apr 19, 2012

So-called negros, blacks, colored and african americans are misnamed. Your true nationality has been hidden in masonic secrets. Your true nationality is Moorish American. You have a flag, treaty and the Americas are your lands. Refer to the the treaty of peace and friendship of 1787. Look up Moorish Americans, Taj Tarik Bey Noble Drew Ali, Moorish Science Temple of America and Hakim Bey for starters.

I could go on but it's too deep to explain here. Just do some research from what I wrote and follow the trails from there. Peace!

By anon262088 — On Apr 18, 2012

My apologies if this point was already covered.

In the US, we use the phrase African-American to identify a "black" person in a politically correct fashion. However, we do so without any regard to whether the person is an American. It's a euphemism for "black person", and quite honestly, really stupid.

I am a white person, and have no issue being described as such. At the same time, I am not insensitive to what is being attempted with new ways to characterize people. African-American just doesn't work in any way for me.

By anon261241 — On Apr 14, 2012

Black American is better to say, because some of us are hybrids, mixed, which means we are not full blooded Africans, and many blacks now days aren't just black. That's impossible. We live in a mixed raced world. I'm of Siksikha, Jomon and Libyian descent, so I just put black to make things easier, but some black people don't like the term African-American. I'm fine with just being called black.

By anon259550 — On Apr 06, 2012

Both terms are pretty ambiguous. Most "blacks" are brown and non have African culture (besides break dancing and the banjo). Puerto Ricans have more African culture because they were not forced to give up all their culture during slavery.

Speaking of PR, since they are Americans too, and the majority of them are of African descent, why are they not considered the same?

Calling one African American takes away from what people worked so hard in this country for: to be considered an equal component of this great nation, not segregated into an "Other" status. The average "black's" family lineage can be traced back generations, yet whites with only three generations are considered just American. So I find the term African American offensive. It just says you are not an American.

If every American took a DNA test, I think the results would be so startling that race would be eliminated from the census books. Who isn't mixed in the US? And how can anyone claim anything?

I say just say brown American. That actually is the correct term. Hell, American sounds even better.

By anon244246 — On Jan 31, 2012

My husband calls me Morenita which means a little brown. I hate it when people call me black. I always say I'm not black, that my shirt (or whatever I can see nearby) is black. I am American. That is a good enough answer but some people press.

I know that they can see other races within me but I don't feel I owe it to them to explain. However, if I had to choose, between Black-American, AfroAmerican,and AfricanAmerican, I would rather be called Afro-American, because to say African-American gives the impression that I have recently, as in the last one or two generations emigrated from Africa. To say black is just wrong. I have never seen a Black person.

Afro-american confirms a distant African ancestry which we all have in various degrees so that's redundant, but nonetheless, the more accurate of the three. They all brings us full circle to my first, truest response: I am American.

By anon236570 — On Dec 24, 2011

Many people, including myself, like to differentiate between black and Black. Personally, "black" is racial (i.e. a black Puerto Rican) while Black is cultural. I relate more to Black because it is my ethnicity. It indicates that my people went through struggles that are not the same as someone from an African country. Also, i feel that Black keeps the history alive, since there is a distinction between myself and an immigrant from Ghana. However, it's still inherently ignorant. I mean, think about it: Chinese-American, Greek-American, Polish-American, African-American. Which one of these is not like the other?

By anon162741 — On Mar 24, 2011

@anon45659: The term "mulatto" comes from the same root as the word "mule," and it connotes a person who is socially and racially impotent, just as a mule is impotent. The term implies that two beings who should not have mixed have had a child, and that child is neither "horse" nor "donkey." The term is really, really offensive when you think about it.

By anon159711 — On Mar 13, 2011

What so-called black people (beside Indians, dark native americans, etc) have in common is their African ancestry. The color of the skin is the only cultural and physical attribute of African people of African descent.

I think the use of expressions like African, African-American or Afro-brazilians to be more appropriate in a formal setting. It carries more weight in formal settings than calling people black, white, red, yellow, brown, etc. It denotes better the ethnicity and the place of origin of the people in question.

Like the terms European or Japanese do (still sometimes people use "white" to designate a Caucasian or a person of European descent). Also, as mentioned above, there's a significant number of people (especially Indian) with "black" skins but which are not of African descent but with very dark skins.

The words black, white, red, yellow are already rough approximation of the real color of the skins of the people it designates. So yes, in a formal setting, I think, African people should use a more appropriate term than 'black' to designate themselves and their origin as the African-American did. Analyzer99

By anon147507 — On Jan 29, 2011

Which is appropriate term for black person who is not an American (e.g. citizen of United Kingdom)?

By anon147180 — On Jan 28, 2011

Most people I know refer to themselves as Black. I have never heard anyone of black heritage say "you know that African American boy I was talking to..." If a person is from Africa, in my experience, people call that person African.

I think the term Black is a cultural category as much as a racial one. Even though we are blending in ways, there are still a lot of cultural differences among Black people, Mexicans, Chinese, Whites, Filipinos. These are terms that clarify what community a person is from. We still self-segregate to an extent.

We are still in the process of repairing the legacy of racial caste in the U.S. We have made a lot of progress, but we still can't see each other as just Americans. Maybe some day, the different communities will be referred to in terms of the landscape instead of race.

By anon127101 — On Nov 15, 2010

African-American is the term that is to be embraced. Only by living, and assimilating, in a continuously racialized society would a people expect themselves or others to be considered merely as "black" people.

For one to be "black" is to be given an over simplified description of his or her person. Is it true that every Italian American, Irish American, Chinese American are recently migrated and now naturalized citizens of the U.S.? No, it is false.

What has become of the people who have descended from far away over time? They will come to consider themselves members of their present or most recent society and may still make reference to their lineage. The reference to lineage is accessible to all who may reasonably identify with it. There never was and still is no such thing as a "race" of people, if so, it would have one participant. The human race.

The sciences of ethnicity and nationality are the reason for these terms to still properly exist today. In order to clear some confusion: Hispanic is a reference to people of spanish speaking countries. Mexican is a reference to nationality or lineage. Notice that people from Puerto Rico, Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico are all Hispanic peoples of different nationalities, histories, cultures, etc.

The reason for much of the confusion is the colloquial, slang, layman terms, impediments, and a plethora of matters complicate our speech and is most often the culprit in confusion of this topic and many others. For example, a piece of work considered to be well written is noted for its clarity, and not grammar, and therefore is generally noticeable, while to be well spoken is extremely subject to phonetics, dialect, and general education of the audience.

Just food for thought: "Race" was created to divide wealth, much like a caste system. Also, note the fact that "race" has still profitability in all places of its existence today as the main reason for its present usage. "Race" is a major marketing device whether commercially or personally.

Think of how many of musical lyricists (not just hip hop) use racial epithets as a means of marketing, product associations, and controversial notoriety as an example of its profitable usage. If not clear enough, it can be very noticeable in face to face dealing in the housing market. Why? That answer would be relative as to why there are so many illiterate, uneducated, ill equipped people living in a day and age where mankind is increasingly lessening our, preconceived, limitations.

Every society works on some sort system of classicism as is relativity to its economy. Just so happens "race", for a time, was an overt sign of a persons class status. Combined with the lack of progressive steps in education (both academically and socially) and perhaps more so the acceptance of regressive steps in modern education, and we are left aplomb with those willing to purchase the Brooklyn Bridge, sometimes willingly ignorant or plainly more susceptible to well, the "N" word (slang for negro)=negro=black which is not to be equated with a (self identified) African American who has bridged, many if not all, gaps in their personal or cultural history.

One needs only to be aware of persons such as Scipio Africanus Jones and others to realize just how stagnant social progress has become by "race".

Much like horoscopes, race needs to realized for the myth that it is, confusion that it has caused, and its warrant less effect on lives.

As the european has done, we (people of descents) will further assimilate, as a global society to referring to ourselves as only our national residence dictates.

The entire matter is most important for the youth as everyone needs a starting point to better the relationship they are to have with the world at large.

For adults, it would be best to travel if not to have done so already as it will become clear that world history needs to be given a complete, history.

Think of how many rappers use racial epithets as a means of marketing, product associations, and controversial notoriety as an example of its profitable usage. If not clear enough, it can be very noticeable in face to face dealing in the housing market.

By anon116130 — On Oct 05, 2010

I think the problem with the world today is that people love to categorize and put rules on everything -- to a fault.

I try not to use catchall phrases like "African American" or "Black American." I have dark skin and was born in America. When someone calls me African-American, I always correct them. When they ask me what I am, I say something like: "I'm American. My father was from Egypt and my mother was from Louisiana, USA. My mother's parents were both from Nigeria and that's as far as I have traced back on her side and I know very little about my father's background." It's more of a mouthful, but i think it paints a much more accurate picture. I think America (and the rest of the world) needs to get its head out of the sand and stop trying to organize people like library books.

By APGifts — On Feb 28, 2010

Contrary to common assumption -- the terms "Black" and "African-American" do not mean the same thing!

African-Americans and Black Americans: The key difference between these two groups: The African-Americans (AAs) are an ethnic group of people that is comprised only of:

The 'descendants of the survivors' of

the chattel-slavery system that took place on

the 'continental' United States of America

during the antebellum era of its history.

Most (70 percent-plus) -- although not all -- of the people who are born to two AA parents are found to have an ancestral "racial" lineage that includes varying amounts of African (45-55 percent), Amerindian (25 percent-plus) and also European (20-30 percent-plus) bloodlines that were both admixed into and "continually

remained" within the lineage of their families.

This means they are of the mixed race category that is referred to as "Multi-generational multiracially mixed," or as 'MGM-Mixed' racially-admixed ancestral lineae.

Thus, this incredibly unique ethnic group of people is actually not seen by most scientists and geneticists as being a 'Black' race group, or any sort of race group, at all -- but rather they are seen as actually being comprised of people who span across

the following "racial" categories and groups.

Multiracial: about 70 percent of the AAs -- example, Jayne Kennedy.

Black: about 20 percent of the AAs -- example, Oprah Winfrey

Biracial: About 5 percent of the AAs -- example, Jennifer Beals.

Amerindian or White: about 5 percent of the AAs -- example, Walter White.

The Black Americans (BAs) are a race

grouping of people that consists only of: he volitional immigrants who are from nations

that are found all over the world and who are both

fully of the black race group and who are also

not the descendants-of-the-survivors of the

chattel slavery system that was once found

on the continental United States of America.

As noted, the BAs are a race group and

are seen as being of a fully-Black lineage.

By anon49508 — On Oct 21, 2009

we are simply americans

By anon48715 — On Oct 14, 2009

Interesting anon45659, that you say Black Americans are too complicated. I'm sure you're familiar with our history then, and how descriptions of us have changed several times, since the inception of slavery. We started off as n----r. Since then, we've been called: colored, negro, black, afro-american, african-american -- not to mention the other negatively laced ones like jiggaboo, tar baby, the list goes on and on. It's no wonder you say we're complicated. Look at the labels we have been tagged with over literally hundreds of years of time! The "n" word was used directly against me as recently as 1993, simply because the person was ignorant and irritated at the world (hated everyone)! We are still subject to these degrading terms and it will never end! My skin color is much lighter than my African ancestors due to having a dark-skinned father and a light-skinned mother. We're complicated because of the adversity we have had to experience and the fact that we can and probably do have two or more races entwined in our genes! I not only have African heritage, but apparently I'm Irish too, and there's probably even a bit of Indian dashed in! How's that for complicated?

By anon45659 — On Sep 18, 2009

I didn't get it. Why is offensive to say mulatto(a)? I'm a mulatta from Brazil and I think it is just right, since my mom is white and father black. Black Americans are too complicated for me.

By solomonh — On Jul 28, 2009

anon - I agree in a way but I wouldn't say "If black people are that sensitive..." If white people had hundreds of years of slavery, racism, lynchings, etc., I think we would be "sensitive" too!

By anon36977 — On Jul 16, 2009

Good grief! No one refers to me in terms of my background. I'm identified only by the color of my skin and hair, occasionally my height, weight and eyes (and if I'm lucky, my smile). If black people are that sensitive of being referred to by their physical features it is only because they perceive someone is prejudging them without knowing who they really are, based on skin color. Only ignorant people would do that and you can't prevent someone's instant personal opinion no matter how you allow them to describe you. The sooner we realize we're all just people and no matter what race, we all experience the same range of feelings, thoughts, fears and hopes, the sooner we can get over this egg-shell walking.

By solomonh — On Jun 07, 2009

I worked in a predominately black school and never once heard anyone refer to themselves as "African American," child, teacher, or parent. I was taught to use "African American" but it seemed to just be a longer way of saying the same thing. I think maybe in certain professional situations, "African American" is better, but casually maybe black is better?

It's the same conundrum with Hispanic, Latino, Mexican, and Chicano.

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