Some Blacks Insist: ‘I’m Not African-American’

Jesse Washington, Associated Press, February 4, 2012

The labels used to describe Americans of African descent mark the movement of a people from the slave house to the White House. Today, many are resisting this progression by holding on to a name from the past: “black.”

For this group—some descended from U.S. slaves, some immigrants with a separate history—“African-American” is not the sign of progress hailed when the term was popularized in the late 1980s. Instead, it’s a misleading connection to a distant culture.

The debate has waxed and waned since African-American went mainstream, and gained new significance after the son of a black Kenyan and a white American moved into the White House. {snip}


“I prefer to be called black,” said Shawn Smith, an accountant from Houston. “How I really feel is, I’m American.”

“I don’t like African-American. It denotes something else to me than who I am,” said Smith, whose parents are from Mississippi and North Carolina. “I can’t recall any of them telling me anything about Africa. They told me a whole lot about where they grew up in Macomb County and Shelby, N.C.”

Gibre George, an entrepreneur from Miami, started a Facebook page called “Don’t Call Me African-American” on a whim. It now has about 300 “likes.”

“We respect our African heritage, but that term is not really us,” George said. “We’re several generations down the line. If anyone were to ship us back to Africa, we’d be like fish out of water.”


Joan Morgan, a writer born in Jamaica who moved to New York City as a girl, remembers the first time she publicly corrected someone about the term: at a book signing, when she was introduced as African-American and her family members in the front rows were appalled and hurt.

“That act of calling me African-American completely erased their history and the sacrifice and contributions it took to make me an author,” said Morgan, a longtime U.S. citizen who calls herself Black-Caribbean American. (Some insist Black should be capitalized.)


In Latin, a forerunner of the English language, the color black is “niger.” In 1619, the first African captives in America were described as “negars,” which became the epithet still used by some today.

The Spanish word “negro” means black. That was the label applied by white Americans for centuries.

{snip}  “Colored” seemed better, until the civil rights movement insisted on Negro, with a capital N.

Then, in the 1960s, “black” came back—as an expression of pride, a strategy to defy oppression.

“Every time black had been mentioned since slavery, it was bad,” says Mary Frances Berry, a University of Pennsylvania history professor and former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Reclaiming the word “was a grass-roots move, and it was oppositional. It was like, ‘In your face.’“

Afro-American was briefly in vogue in the 1970s, and lingers today in the names of some newspapers and university departments. But it was soon overshadowed by African-American, which first sprouted among the black intelligentsia.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is widely credited with taking African-American mainstream in 1988, before his second presidential run.


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  • Anonymous

    any group of people that is so consumed with what they should be called, is probably not a group that is contributing much to society. people that contribute worry about what they’re doing & achieving, not about what they are being called & whether or not hyphens are being used.

  • Anonymous

    Author Ben Richburg wrote about his experience when going to seek his “ancestral homeland” in Africa . . . He was surprised to learn (as many others who travel to the “Dark Continent” find out) that his “people” were sold into slavery by their own kind and that many successful, wealthy slave traders were free blacks . . .
    The last straw came when he was being recruited to serve in one of his “tribe’s” internecine wars. 
    At this time, he finally realized that he was better off because his ancestors were shipped off to the Americas . . . He had the honesty to write about his experiences in a truthful manner . . .
    So much for that fabrication of the slave trade in “Roots” . . .

    • Anonymous

      His book, “Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa” is worth reading:

    • Zorro

      He learned everything he needed to know about Slavery in Africa. All that is conveniently absent in American  History Text books, today.

    • Rocky Mountain

      Keith B. Richburg “Out of America – A Black Man Confronts Africa” Basic Books, 1997.  There’s also another Black guy whose name is Eddy L. Harris  “Native Stranger”, 2003) who took a similar trip roughly at the same time maybe a few years later.

  • “If anyone were to ship us back to Africa, we’d be like fish out of water.”   Yeah because they totally fit in with Western Civilization and have adapted accordingly!

  • Evidence of cultural identity crisis.
    (Note this problem does not exist in Africa.)

    • Rocky Mountain

      Probably not strictly true because Africa isn’t one big happy family but made up of hundreds if not thousands of ethnic groups and languages.  Just like the Irish and other lower class European groups didn’t immediately get along with existing whites here when they immigrated, the different ethnic and cultural groups in Africa clash on a regular basis.

  • Shorter AP:  We’re about to change what Official America must call that particular race of people.  Soon, “African-American” will itself be a racial slur.

    • Anonymous

      Like all our previous names for their group.

    • Rocky Mountain

      Interesting how the “N-word” simply derives from “black”.  As you say, soon we will have to say something like the “A-A-word”  LOL

  • Anonymous

    1960s – Negro
    1970s – Afro-American
    1980s – Black
    1990s – Black American
    2000s – African American
    Next  ???  I predict they will want to be called African-Egyptian-Americans De Elegance.

    I wish they spent as much time teaching their kids to walk on the sidewalk instead of the middle of the street. 

    • Anonymous

      Henry Louis Gates JR suggested Neo-Nubians but it never caught on because blacks don’t like him.

      • Rocky Mountain

        Maybe they just don’t know what a “Nubian” is, as I suppose the majority of white people wouldn’t either.  A “newbie an…”  what?

        • Anonymous

          In 2267, Trelane asked Captain Kirk if Lieutenant Uhura was “a Nubian prize, taken on one of your raids of conquest…?

  • These people are still trying to figure out what they want to be called?

  • Anonymous

    You can be White and be African American.

    • Rocky Mountain

      Great point and I have joked that if we all did actually come from the original Rift Valley group we’re all brothers anyway.  I know at least four white people who grew up in Africa but were essentially displaced when black political power arose.

  • Anonymous

    Blacks have to keep changing what they’re call because whatever new name they use will eventually pick up all the associates of the last name they used.

    You can change the name but the behavior is timeless and universal. Or as Shakespeare said, “A rose by any other name…”

  • Oil Can Harry

    Back in the ’80s I saw Rev. Jesse Jerkson blathering on TV about how blacks would win a ton of respect from other races if they were referred to as “African Americans”.

    So how’s that working out?   

  • I know it has nothing to do w/ the topic at hand, but it say’s in the article that Latin is a “fore-runner” of English, but nothing can be further from the truth. English is a branch of the Germanic family of language. Latin is another branch that lead to many others including Italian, French, Spanish, and Romanian. English is not a Latin language.

    • Anonymous

       English was a purely Germanic language until William the Conqueror conquered England in 1066. The Norman Conquest superimposed French  (derived from Latin) on English. The lexical stock of English is a hodgepodge as a result.

    • Anonymous

       I got in an argument with someone at a bar once about this very topic; he really thought English came from Latin. I said, no, English came from German (for lack of an easier way of putting it), and that French and Spanish came from Latin.

      • Rocky Mountain

        How’d the argument turn out?

  • Anonymous

    In my own experience with Blacks it seems it’s those that are the most put together and least apt to play into the grievance game that chafe against the “African-American” label.

    • Rocky Mountain

      And I know at least one Black person who is openly contemptuous of the very weird naming conventions that have really come on in the past 10-15 years.

  • Anonymous

    Is “African-American” supposed to be about skin color or heritage or what?
    The actress Charlize Theron was born in South Africa and is now an American citizen – is she African-American?

    Steve Nash, of the NBA, is also from South Africa. Is he counted among the 80% of the league that is “African-American”? Oh, wait – I guess he would be “African-Candian”, right? But he’s white…

    A person in the US with black skin who is 300 years removed from Africa and would be hard-pressed to find it on a map is classified as “African-American” but musician Dave Matthews – born in South Africa – is simply “white”.

    Sade, the singer, was born in Nigeria and grew up in the UK. Would she be introduced as “African-American” in the US?

    The actor Hugo Weaving is from Nigeria. I guess he’s just “white”.

    Why aren’t we endlessly reminded of  the fact that the first heart translplant was performed by an African? Because he was white…… Could he have checked “African-American” on his college application in the US?

    Where are the “African-Canadians”, the “African-British” or the “African-Irish”, etc.?

    I call them black for the same reason they call me white. It’s just simpler that way.

    • Anonymous

      The MSM call the creature known as Seal “English”.

  • Anonymous

    Quite an existential dilemma.  It must be very difficult for little Quantavonius, and L’ Queena not to know what they are.  How can a thing not know what it is?

  • Rocky Mountain

    The guy from Houston didn’t feel like that and I would have to believe that’s the way things should be heading, making it easier for everyone in the long run if all Black people came to feel the same way.

  • They insist because they hate the “refugees” from Ghana, Sudan, DRC and in particular Somalia.

    Blacks can’t even stand other blacks.

    • I don’t think such resentment equates to “hatred” in a fundamental sense.  Afro-Americans were happy to riot through Crown Heights in the ’90s over the death of a young Black Caribbean immigrant in an accident with a Lubavitcher motorcade: the unrest that followed lead to many assaults and resulted in the murder of one Orthodox Jew and one Italian-American (whose suit and beard may have lead him being mistaken for a Jew). The reaction by Afro-Americans to the Abner Louima case was another example of Black’s willingness to unify against other communities.

      Day-to-day, however, there are many reasons for them to resent the refugee presense: they make use of the already overstretched public aid programs when they are resettled in major cities (partially explaining the drive to resettle the refugees in White areas) and the foreign Blacks themselves are extremely clannish.

  • Anonymous

    Negro always works. It is technically correct, so those who choose to be offended should not be controlling the dialogue.