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Shall We Call Ourselves 'African American'?

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Advocates for the term "African American" (with or with a hyphen) are the most vocal and object in the strongest terms and reasons as to why the term "Black American" is not proper for "What Shall We Call Ourselves?"

First, they say it is disrespectful and disempowering to label the cultural identity of any person by use of a single homogenous color, particularly if this label is historically connected with negative, social and cultural connotations. To uphold the color coding system of ethnicity maintains an offensive hierarchical system of a perceived cultural supremacy and dominance.

Second, historically, the miscellaneous use of the label ‘Black’ reflects its contemporary use as a means to denote a specific socio-cultural and political context.

Third, "Black" is recognized as a colloquial term fashioned as a reactionary concept to derogatory racial epithets in the 1960’s. Fourth, just as "colored" and "negro" were acceptable terms of reference in their time, 'black' must also be recognized for the socially loaded term that it is--i.e. being linked to the words negro, negre, nigra and the highly offensive "N"-word.

As one academician said: "African American is preferred and only the most conservative people use the term 'Black American'. Whereas advocates say the word 'African' specifically relates to the indigenous people of the African Continent and their descendants in the Diaspora--in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, Peru, Colombia, the Antilles, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Uruguay, others question whether "African American" is an appropriate term. In fact, most dark-skinned people born in--or who have Ancestors who came from--non-African countries (e.g. Jamaica, Grenada, and even European countries such as Britain and France) strongly prefer to simply be called Americans.

Those who oppose using the term "African American" say the following.

First, since it was frequently used by Whites throughout the USA in the 19th century in a demeaning way, it is not spared from being " socially loaded."

Second, all peoples of the world are originally from Africa and to call everybody from Africa as Africans would be to include Europeans. For example, many Europeans in South Africa believe they too are "indigenous" Africans--a word to which they fit the 17th century etymological meaning: "born or produced in a particular place--a native." Third, there is no "purity" in using the term "African American" to reflect Africa as the true home of dark-skinned Americans, because the name “Africa” is not of African origin but rather is of European origin.

What is now known as “Africa” was originally termed by its original indigenous people as “Alkebu- Lan." Thus, to the ancient Greeks the Aegean Sea (between Greece and Turkey) divided the world into Europe and Asia. Egypt was considered part of Asia until 150 AD when the geographer Ptolemy recognized a third continent which he called Lybia (now Africa). The Carthaginians called Carthage (located in the mid North coast of Lybia) by a word which the Romans wrote as “Africa.”

Gradually, the term “Africa” spread to encompass the entire third continent.

Lybia remains, however, the section Northwest of Egypt and Northeast of Tunisia (the modern name of the original Africa). Nevertheless, the phrase African- American was not appropriated by the Black community until the early 1970s.

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