I recently read an article online where people were debating the use of the term African-American vs. black to describe people whose ancestors came from Africa. People seemed to be split down the middle. Some were adamant that we should call ourselves African-American because our ancestors came from Africa, while others felt that even though their ancestors were brought to this country hundreds of years ago, they were born here and so were their parents, grand-parents, and great-grand-parents, so that makes them American.
I am literally African-American because my father is from Sierra Leona and my mother is American, but I was raised in Ohio with my mother and no knowledge of my father’s culture. Imagine black people with two American black parents.
I understand why black people would want to connect to their African heritage since it was stolen from them during slavery. I can also understand people not feeling comfortable calling themselves African. They don’t feel any more African than they do Native American because one great-great-grandparent was Cherokee.
I think that what you choose to call yourself is a personal choice. I sometimes use the term African-American for lack of a better term, but I have no problem calling myself black.
In general, I hate the whole hyphenating process, African-American, Asian-American, etc. For those of us who were born in this country, why can’t we just be American? By looking at a person you can clearly see that they have African or Asian ancestry so why does it have to be pointed out? People I know from England call themselves English regardless of their race. The same for people I’ve met from France, Colombia, Brazil, Canada, and many other places. Why is it that only in America do we have to attach an ethnic qualifier to our nationality?
What is also disturbing to me is that it’s only people of color who have to do this. White Americans don’t refer to themselves as German-Americans, English-Americans, Dutch-Americans, or whatever according to where their ancestors came from. Racial/ethnic qualifiers imply that certain groups of people are less American than others and it negates our shared American culture.
Also using the term African-American in this country is problematic because many black people in this country come from or have recent ancestors who come from places like Jamaica, Guyana, or Haiti and they have their own national ties. The same for black Latinos who may come from The Dominican Republic, Colombia, Honduras, Puerto Rico, or any other Latin American country.
Describing certain Americans with an ethnic qualifier it implies that they should be, think, and act a certain way because of their ethnic background. This creates racial stereotypes. I grew up in the Midwest in the 80s watching MTV and American Bandstand. I had Duran Duran and Boy George posters on my wall like many other (white) American teenagers. My blackness doesn’t negate my American-ness.
Ethnic/racial qualifiers also become useless with people who are biracial or multiracial. For example, I had a friend in high school who had a white mother and a father who was black and Filipino. Should she call herself African-American? Asian-American? (She never picked one race and always explained her ethnic background if anyone asked.)
At the end of the day we, unfortunately, live in a country that is divided by race. My hope is that future generations will be able to just call themselves American. I know it’s a long shot, but I can still dream.