Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Black or African American

Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud! I remember these lyrics very well because I used to sing them in 1968 when singer James Brown released this song along with an album titled the same.  I liked it because it had a nice beat, but mainly because it was referring to the color black as positive and beautiful; at least that is what I interpreted it as. It wasn’t used as a negative word or phrase like, “blackmail, blackface, blackball, the ugly black (whatever) or black (n-word).

The rest of the lyrics, I never memorized; lyrics that were a call to black people to take control of their destiny; lyrics that fell in line with the Black Power and Black is Beautiful movements; but I didn’t mind—the chorus was enough for my ten year old satisfaction.
Identifying oneself as black took a while for some people to adjust to. Some of the older people (and younger people, too) were still saying they were Colored or Negro. Because their skin was not actually black, they did not think they were black. I wonder if they thought white was a good description for Caucasians even though their skin is not actually white. Hmmm… Probably not, because white is the color of cleanliness, purity, and angels.

A few months ago, I was walking with two friends (both white), when one of them identified a man as black. I can’t remember what we were talking about—nothing unpleasant—and it “wasn’t” even one of those statements where the race of the person had nothing to do with the subject matter, so I didn’t give it a thought. However, she did. A couple seconds after she said it, she apologized to me and said that she meant to say African American.
Of course, I assured her that there was absolutely no offense taken and that I prefer using black than African American, anyway. Jokingly, I told her what I’ve told my children, that black is one syllable and Af-ri-can A-mer-i-can is seven syllables—it’s too long. (By the way, they don’t prefer one over the other.)

I’ll bet my friend is not the only person who has stumbled on this semantic brouhaha that has been added to the political correctness box during the last two or so decades. White people, brown people, Asians, and others probably aren’t sure of what to refer to us as because we have different preferences of how’d we like to be racially identified. Many are going with the current politically correct, African American which some black people dislike. I’ve heard them say, “I’m black and I’m American! I am of African descent, but I don’t relate to Africa.” On the other hand, I’ve heard, “I’m proud of my African heritage and want it to be known. No one complains when Italian Americans say, ‘I’m Italian American.’” And then there are those who don’t care which of the non-white, respectable labels they get.
It’s not just blacks who have the identification issue. As I was writing the paragraph above describing people by color, I didn’t and wouldn’t think of referring to Asians as yellow, which is what I was taught when I was a child in elementary school; that there are three races: black, white, and yellow, and that you had to fit into one of them. And nowadays, Oriental seems to be on the “do not use” list, too, as well as Indians or the archaic red race, which should be Native Americans. Black, white, and brown are okay, but not yellow and red. Somehow, I get it.

I’ve also learned that the “real” Indians who live in India or who are descendants of Indians are “not” to be called Asians­—but simply, Indians; and other people with roots in certain Western and Southern Asia countries are Middle Easterners.
I’m not even “going there” with the people who are the offspring of parents who are not the same race, ethnicity, or whatever the politically correct term is. That’s our nation’s current agenda, figuring out what to call them.

I’m not a stickler in this matter. Call me black or African American; it doesn’t matter. You can even call me colored or Negro if you want to hear me laugh; however, be prepared for a reciprocal response.
February is Black History Month. There are lots of opinions on whether there should still be a Black History Month. Whether it should or should not, I enjoy catching a PBS show about the plights and/or triumphs of my dominant ancestors, and of current events, too. If it remains, I hope it’ll continue to be called “Black” History Month.

February is also American Heart Month. Read my post titled, Take the Pill, and think about yourself and your loved ones.

This post, Black or African American, has the honor of being selected as a Post of the Week by Hilary at The Smitten Image. Visit her blog to enjoy the best "feels like you're there" nature photography.
Image found on Microsoft Office Photos
(spacing variations in the post are not intentional)


Judy Thomas said...

Words change and evolve, what is acceptable now will not be later. Speak with good heart and affection to others....

Tabor said...

I have a habit of saying a person is an Oriental and my daughter quickly corrects me and tells me they find that very offensive. I lived in Asia for a few years, but now try to remember the better word is Asian. I wonder whether your 'black' friends point out that 'so and so' is a white person when talking about someone. I also hated the word colored...as opposed to what...transparent?
We are all prejudice and I do try to be a beter person about his.

Mari said...

Very interesting post. I never thought about it being ok to be black or white, but not yellow or red. I guess what really matters is what's in your heart when you use any label.

yonca said...

I am agree with Mari. Being a good heart person is important for me.
It has been a while I haven't heard from you. How are you?

Unknown said...

Another great post Anita! It will be a wonderful day when we don't have to use labels on people and quantify them in some way. I expect the only way past this will be when we are all the same wonderful creamy cocoa color that is predicted for our future. Will it then be something else or will we finally be evolved enough to see each other as beautifully human? I'm hoping.

“When we see the Beloved in each person, it's like walking through a garden, watching flowers bloom all around us.”
― Ram Dass

Julie Magers Soulen Photography

Auntie sezzzzzz... said...

Thank you for addressing this topic! Thank you much. It is one of those *loaded* topics, is it not? What is the correct term...?

I did not say; "What is the Politically Correct Term" because I think the "PC Police" have gone wild. And I'm sick of them.

But you have the right to be referred to, with which ever term, you prefer.


Thank you for addressing this issue!

Auntie sezzzzzz... said...

And THANK YOU for visiting "Beauty That Moves" blog. And for saying that "Auntie" sent you.


InSeason Mom Cynthia said...

It doesn't matter to me either. Judy Thomas expressed how I feel, "words change and evolve, what is acceptable now will not be later."

Linda Hensley said...

I'll call people whatever they want to be called, but some people also make that something of a power thing to make me squirm. In my head, I call black people brown because they mostly are brown, and middle easterners light brown, Indians are Indians unless they're Indians from India. It can all make me nuts, especially since I'm a mutt and don't have a clearly defined group :)

Jenny said...

You know what? I wouldn't have known this. I am pretty much color blind...however, I always see cruelty and nastiness in people.

I don't know if I've ever made the color distinction...I'd be more likely to say, "Don't you like her pink dress?"

Hilary said...

I don't know what it is about differences in skin colour that makes people so uncomfortable. I've known people who in describing someone, will use "black" but lean in and whisper it as if it's wrong of them to say it. I tend to use "black" and never African American.. probably because I'm Canadian. ;)

I definitely grew up with lingo such as coloured, Negro and Negroid and like Tabor, I wondered if I might be referred to as light, white, Caucasion. I was also very aware that Crayola considered "Flesh" colour to be a pale kind of peachy beige and not any of the many other lovely shades that could be considered skin tone.

I never really gave any thought to acceptably using black, white and brown but not red and yellow. Maybe because of other connotations those colours dredge up when used to describe people - red/communist yellow/cowardly.

As always, Anita. You write a fine, thought-provoking post.

Rebecca S. said...

I heard recently that with all the racial intermarriage, the current generation no longer really sees 'colour' in others. They have to be taught those differences to make distinctions. It is good for the history of Black people, and Asian, and Indian, and First Nations (as we call them in Canada) to continue to be shown and taught, however, so that our children can see how evil it is to treat others according to their skin colour. I always find it fascinating how some people like Sam Cooke and Jesse Owens seemed able to transcend those boundaries between races. And just for the record, my Granny boycotted a certain Vancouver hotel due to their exclusion policies back in the 30's, 40's and 50's.
People sure can be funny, but not ha ha, as my good Granny used to say.

Shelly said...

This is a wonderful and thought provoking post. I like how you think. What's on the inside is so much richer than what's on the outside.

Abby said...

I had to think about what term I normally use, when necessary. I use "black" on the rare occasion that I feel I need to use any term. The only one that comes to mind now is to bring this post up to my husband a la, "one of my blog friends, who is black, blogged about different references for black people..."
I do recall someone referring to a "colored" family down the street that really took me by surprise. Like Rebecca mentioned, though, I think the current trend is to get away from putting people in color categories, but it is good for history

Shalet Jimmy said...

Racial discrimination exists everywhere. You know India, people unnecessary makes a divide calling North Indians and South Indians. I am a South Indian and have never considered North India absolutely alien to my place for we are Indians. I remember a function when a minister called one of the Superstars of India as ' the Super star of South India' as the minister was from North . You know in South India actors reigns. Irked by it, the actor corrected the minister and said there is only one India and we all are Indians. The response got a huge applause.I have never been outside my country But I never felt any kind of inhibition when I got opportunities with people outside my country than my own, People should keep themselves away from calling their race superior and belittling others....

It was a wonderful post....:D

Maria said...

I have three friends who are black and roll their eyes if I say African American. My daughter has several black friends and she refers to them as African Americans and they seem good with that, so I wonder if it is a generational thing?

It can be tricky.

Buckeroomama said...

I think sometimes people use terms loosely without malice or negative intention of any kind. Sometimes people taken offence where none was intended and then there are others who are overly careful about their choice of words to the point that it seems that they bend backwards just to be politically correct and end up sounding 'not natural.'

Marie said...

How about just an American???? There's no need to verify black, yellow, white or any color in between, is there?

Hilary said...

Excellent post.....I have thought along these same lines many times.In the end, they are all just words. It is, as someone else suggested, really what's in your heart that matters. I remember working in an emergency situation as a nurse. A black man had been burned. As the skin on his torso peeled off in layers, I realized that under than very THIN THIN layer, we were just the same.
We were human.

Daryl said...

Hilary is right .. we're all human

and the other Hilary gave you a well deserved POTW .. congrats!

joeh said...

Thank you! THis name thing is so sillly. I am White, though I can get pretty dark in the summer. I don't want to be called a Euro-American. What about "Black People" who are not Americans. Are they African-English, or African-German? It is nutty!

We have some negatives too: White-lightening, White-out, White-winged oops, thats right-winged...well anyway I'm sure there are a few negatives..white-washed.
Congratulations on your POTW!

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful indeed! I tend to say black as I live in Sweden and the Africans here tend to be from Africa and are not African Americans at all.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Congratulations on your POTW! I'm glad Hilary sent me here. This is a really thoughtful and soul-searching post.
You might have just inspired a blog post of my own. Thank you!

Jenny said...

I just never get this.

I would never have thought to use either word.

I just checked a book out of the library and I made it through ONE CHAPTER.

It was like this, "Sue, a white woman, came to the door. Anne, a black woman, answered."

What the heck?

I suspect though if someone described me they would say, 'That fat white woman with the weird colored hair.'