North Texas Daily

Is it time to retire the term African American?

Is it time to retire the term African American?

Is it time to retire the term African American?
March 12
11:26 2020

Since transferring to UNT, I have been in awe with the state of Texas. As a Michigan native from the segregated Detroit area, I was shocked to see the amount of diversity on campus. I also love hearing people of my generation demonstrate their awareness on topics such as race, gender, sexual orientation and others. However, I loathe it at the same time. In between the conversations of race, I often roll my eyes each time I hear the use of the term “African American.” I am disappointed by the frequent use of this word which has become the politically correct (or incorrect) way to say “black” in our society.

Before “African American” was the go-to term for black people in this country, the term “Afro American” was utilized. In 1964, Malcolm X founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity to promote better relations between native Africans and those of African descent in this country. The term never caught as much attention as “African American” did. In 1988, Reverend Jesse Jackson began a movement to change the term “Black” to “African American” to symbolize black Americans’ historical connections to the continent. Although he had positive intentions, Jackson failed to recognize the implications of labeling all black people in this country African American.

So who exactly is African American? I’ve always assumed that an African American is someone who is a descendant of African slaves, has no cultural ties to Africa and has over 300+ years of heritage in America like myself. However, based on who I’ve heard the term applied to, an African American could be a black person who has at least one immigrant parent (African or not), any black person from any country who is not American or a white South African. The term has been applied to Senator Kamala Harris who has a father of Jamaican descent, Idris Elba and even Elon Musk who is a white South African.

The very loose using of this term erases the culture of black Americans who have cultural ties to specific countries. Famous Jamaican Americans like former Secretary of State Colin Powell, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and rapper Bobby Shmurda have publicly taken pride in their roots. The same goes for those who are immigrants or children of immigrants from African countries like U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, late rapper Nipsey Hussle and singer Tinashe. Each of the people mentioned have different ties to their respective ancestral homelands. Denying them of their specific roots is nothing more than an insult to them.

Referring to someone as an African American pushes the idea that Africa is a country and not a continent. When describing white people, most people don’t say “European Americans.” I have never heard someone describe a Mexican-American as a “Central American” or a Brazilian as a “South American.” Most Asian Americans are referred to as their specific country of origin or root (e.g., Indian American, Chinese American). So why don’t we have more respect in referencing the roots of black people? I’m not a hotep and I’m not asking to be referred to as “‘Murican Descendant of Kangs in West Afrika” either. As a Pan-Africanist, I simply believe that the most accurate term to cover all 41 million black people in this country is “black American” because it does not leave out any immigrant groups. I am looking forward to exploring more of my West African roots in an attempt to find my ancestral identity which was lost due to slavery.

Featured Illustration: Jae-Eun Suh

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Tommy DeJesus

Tommy DeJesus

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