Why Don't You Call Yourself African-American?

Of course I'd pick a picture of her sporting
her natural curls! Image from Essence

A Slave to Being Black

To label a Negro, devoid of rights
Call him Colored and bar him from entry
Remind the African-American
     of roots he'll never reclaim
Or misclassify him as Black
     when Black doesn't even exist...
Will you continue to diminish him
Chain him to petty expectation...
If a rose--by any other name--is still sweet,
Is a nigger, by another name, still a slave?

Am I an African-American?

Raven-Symoné received a lot of backlash after making the comment that she wasn't African-American last year (see the video clip here). Later she clarified her statement by pointing out that she never said she wasn't black and made it clear that her rejection of the term African-American was based on the fact that she grew up in Louisiana, not Africa (read the article here). I agreed with this sentiment long before I heard Raven-Symoné's interview--all the way back in 12th grade, when I lost points for referring to myself as black instead of African-American in a paper.

Race labeling in America is a weird and strange phenomenon. There's the obvious problem for people who are multiracial; a girl I went to high school with used to use eeny-meeny-miney-moe to check boxes on forms. Many people who are multiracial feel pressured to check "Black/African-American" for fear of being accused of passing or considered a sell-out. But that brings us to the question of why there is a label at all.

A History of Labels Refering to Black Folk

When Africans, from various tribes and countries from the continent of Africa (it's very important that people realize Africa is a continent, not a country) arrived in this country, they were labeled as slaves. By the late 1700s, the term nigger (referred to as the n-word from here on out) became common slang. It is thought that this word is from the latin niger, which means black (Niger is also a country in Africa, for those who don't know, but it wasn't called Niger until the 1950's). Another assumption is that the n-word developed out of the southern mispronunciation of Negro. Regardless of origin, it has always been used as a derogatory term (no, I do not agree with black people presently referring to themselves and their fellow blacks as the n-word or other variations, yes that may be a post later in the month) [1, 2]. The first politically correct term given for people of African descent in America was Negro. This term was used until the 1970s and Lyndon B. Johnson was the last president to publicly refer to blacks as Negroes [3]. During the Jim Crow South, the term "colored" was used to promote segregation. The level of offensive-ness of this term is dependent upon the person being spoken to. Many find the term colored to be both out-dated and offensive, due to its ties to the pre-civil rights era treatment of blacks in the US, while others simply find it out-dated. CNN made video on why the term colored is offensive which can be viewed here. Afro-American became popular in the 1970's, eventually phasing into today's politically correct term African-American.

Problems with the Labels

In terms of choosing a label, or identifying the most with a particular label, I choose black; everything I know about Africa I read in a book. I have no knowledge of who, when, or where my roots to Africa come from. This information is lost for most blacks with slave ancestors. Besides if I was born and raised in America, why should I have to check these sub-categories that imply I'm only partially American (this also goes for Asian-American, Indian-American, etc)? Whites don't have to say European-American, they're just American... Furthermore, the creation of these labels served to separate people. The purpose of a label is to categorize, and both "Black" and "African-American" are labels. Perhaps one day, I can be darker and you can be lighter, but instead of categorizing us this and that we can just be two people. The day that people stop categorizing people will be the day racism ends. 

Read the Follow-up Post


  1. "The Origin of The N-Word". Random House Dictionary; visited 2015
  2. Phil Middleton and David Pilgrim. "Nigger (the word) a Brief History". African American Registry; visited 2015
  3. "Negro (the word) a History". African American Registry; visited 2015
  4. Raven Symoné. Raven-Symoné: "I'm Tired of Being Labeled"". Oprah Winfrey Network, via YouTube. October 5, 2014
  5. Emilee Lindner. "Raven-Symoné Responds to Oprah Interview Backlash: 'I Never Said I Wasn't Black'". MTV News. October 28, 2014
  6. Nima Elbagir. "Why "Colored" is an Offensive Term". CNN. January 27, 2015

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  1. I agree sometimes, I don't want to be defined by my skin color. I just want to be an American...





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