Social Question

JLeslie's avatar

Have you been using the term African American for years and what about now?

Asked by JLeslie (59088points) 3 weeks ago

In America for the last 30 years or so the terms African American has become more popular and in many circles considered to be the politically correct term.

When I am speaking with a black person and for some reason in the conversation I need to use African Americans or black people, I just flat out usually ask them which term they prefer and use whatever they prefer. In the last 20 years almost everyone I have asked has answered that they either prefer black, or a casual “black is fine.”

Now, we have Black Lives Matter being used all over the country and the world and painted in HUGE letters on streets and walls, and so does that mean we all should be saying black now? Should it be black on government and employment forms?

I’m just looking for the right term to be considerate, and curious what others think about it all. This isn’t a big political or race debate. I wish we had more black jellies so we could hear their opinions, but I am interested in everyone’s thoughts on the matter.

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34 Answers

jca2's avatar

Good question, @JLeslie. Unfortunately I don’t know the answer either. I hesitate to say African American because it sounds so cumbersome. Traditionally, black people have not wanted to be called black in recent years but now with BLM,, it may be different. They will refer to white people as white people, so I am guessing if I can be called white then they can be called black. When I was little (70’s), they were considered “negro” but that’s out, too.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

My ex SIL and three of my mixed race nephews have always used “black” and I’ve followed suit.
If someone wishes to be called something different, then I can do that.

Cupcake's avatar

I grew up saying African American and now say Black. Also, make sure to capitalize Black when referring to the “race” of people. I take my cues from the people within the group to whom I am referring, particularly those within my family, close friend group and race experts.

Not to mention, African American generally came to refer to American descendants of slavery, which is not fitting for people from the Caribbean, some people of Black and Latinx background and people of more recent African ancestry (not American slavery). So the phrase African American has been problematic for a long time.

chyna's avatar

I’ve always said black, never have I used African American. I don’t worry about being politically correct or courteous.

zenvelo's avatar

I have regularly used both terms interchangeably.

”...considered to be the politically correct term.”

Please replace the words “politically correct” with the word “respectful”. “Politically correct” is a pejorative term used by conservatives to decry people who are working to respect others.

JLeslie's avatar

@Cupcake I had heard about capitalizing Black, but never was sure what was correct. So, we are supposed to capitalize White also I guess. It’s a little odd to me, but it was never odd to capitalize Asian, but I think of Asian as from the continent of, but it is also a race.

@zenvelo Ok, thanks for that advice. I did say above that I was just wanting to be considerate, or as you said respectful. I feel like asking the person is the easiest way to not screw it up. Things are constantly changing, and each person is in a different place at any given time.

chyna's avatar

@JLeslie How does that come up? “So which do you prefer to be called, Black or African American?”
How about calling me by my name.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Why is it necessary to use any term to specify one’s skin color? I worked with a woman from England, meaning she was not African-American (a conglomerate of location: continent and country).

Until we all move past referring to each other by skin color will better relations come to fruition. We are all of the same species. It is as simple as that. There is no such thing as “race”.

Nationality, sex, gender, culture, religion (or lack of) and there is a matter of opinion. These are the next steps.

Coolhandluke's avatar

If I’m white, why can’t they be black?

jca2's avatar

And if I’m white, why would they have to be Black?

JLeslie's avatar

@chyna Let’s say we are talking about a person at a workplace and we don’t know her name and I am trying to describe her so the person I am talking to knows who I mean, or some deep discussion about demographics in a city, it could be anything, and I am talking about it with a black person. I would ask them which term they prefer, because in my experience I am told by White people the best term is African American, but pretty much all of the Black people I know use Black. There is always that chance that someone has different rules for inside the group than outside of the group, so I just usually ask.

@Pied_Pfeffer Usually, it is a non issue as you said, but take for instance I am telling my husband about something my friend did last night, not the red head, or the blonde, it was the Black girl, so I just go ahead and say the Black girl. To me hair color is the same as skin color. He doesn’t know any of their names, and can barely keep people straight, but he would have the visual to help him remember who I was talking about.

Or, I was at a lab last week and a black woman had helped me, I don’t know her name. At one point I was back in the waiting room again, and I wasn’t sure if she had forgotten about me. I had seen two black employees, two white employees, during the time I was there. When one of the other employees came out to the waiting room I asked her if she could mention to the woman who had helped me that I was ready. She asked me who had helped me, and I said I didn’t know her name, she was black and in one of the rooms on the left. Just trying to narrow it down for her. I don’t see why that should be a big deal. They were all women that I had seen, all in the same color scrubs, if it had been a man, I would have said it was a man, anything to help her know who it might be. Gender, height, hair color, skin, color, clothing, hair style, all just descriptors to help in those sort of situations. It really doesn’t come up much as you said, but there are times that it does.

Recently, I did a Q about ignoring race might be doing damage after I saw a group interview lead by Oprah. A Black friend of mine agreed with the statement that ignoring or erasing race is problematic. I can look for the Q so you can see the clip if you are interested. It’s hard to know what to do anymore.

Lot’s of people take pride in their national heritage, they don’t want it to disappear. We can be equal and different. The differences are what make us the same sometimes. Especially in America. 1 in 7 of us are foreign born. If you expand to people who are children of people who are foreign born the percentage is even higher.

Your coworker is English, and I would not need to know for any reason she was Black, if that is what you mean, that she is Black. Just throwing that in for no reason wouldn’t make sense to me either. My realtor in Nashville is Swedish, but she is Asian, adopted from South Korea. She told us without prompting she was Swedish during our first meeting. For some reason she liked to share that about herself. Maybe she heard my husband’s accent, I don’t remember the conversation we were having.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@JLeslie “To me the hair color is the same as skin color.” I don’t find this to be true. And does it really matter which party member you are referring to? Doesn’t your husband have dark hair? Do you call him Black?

In the waiting room, it makes me wonder why the woman who initially assisted needed to be referenced by the perceived “race” (and why it is no longer capitalized).

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer When I’m the minority I’ve been referred to as the White girl, or the American. So what? I am White and American. To answer your question, my husband might not know the names of all the people at a party.

My husband has black hair. So, he could be the one who has black hair, or black curly hair, or olive skin and black hair, medium build, 5’10”. If there are two men with black hair and one is Black or if one is pale White like me then how do you clarify which man with black hair if they are all dressed the same?

Mentioning skin color is only taboo in my mind if we are going to say that skin color carries some sort of positive or negative connotation.

Mentioning skin color for no apparent reason can be questionable. There I would agree with you. Like your coworker. It doesn’t matter her race. I don’t know her, I’m not trying to picture her if you are telling me about the amazing project she put together, or the funny thing she did yesterday. Just like we wouldn’t bother to say she is brunette or skinny or tall.

kritiper's avatar

I have used the term ever since finding out that it was politically correct to do so. But now I find that it isn’t exactly correct.
“African Americans” were not born in Africa. They were born in the United States. They are, accurately, black Americans, which is how I refer to them now. Just like white Americans, bronze Americans, red Americans, brown Americans, alabaster Americans.
It gets a little crazy trying to find accurate color names for people, like myself: What am I? Will people of color describe me accurately as a Scotch-Irish Anglo Native American? I very much doubt it.
Better to just refer to all of us as Americans.

kritiper's avatar

They call me white, I call them black. Nothing special, no offense intended. It is what it is.

PaisleyFaye's avatar

I’ve always used the term black, nothing wrong with that at all.Your most likely to see African American on Job Applications for Nationality descriptions.

gondwanalon's avatar

Black is beautiful.

PaisleyFaye's avatar

@gondwanalon Looks Up ^ Yes Black is Beautiful!!

Cupcake's avatar

This article is about the Associated Press’s decision to capitalize Black when referring to race. At this time, white is not capitalized and, apparently, a formal decision about that is forthcoming.

jca2's avatar

When I write, I’m either capitalizing both or neither, not one but not the other.

kritiper's avatar

I just looked up “black” and “white” in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th. ed., and it said that “black,” when referring to a black person, can be capitalized or not, but “white,” when referring to a white person, made no mention of capitalizations.

raum's avatar

Grew up using it. Stopped using it as much around twenty years ago.

Worked in West Oakland and noticed than many of our families crossed out “African American” on their forms and wrote in “black” or even “negro”.

Amusingly enough, my residual use of the term is usually when I’m interacting with non-POC.

Jonsblond's avatar

I say black because that’s what my black friends say.

JLeslie's avatar

I feel like neither black nor white should be capitalized, but I see the rationale behind capitalizing Black. I wonder how Black people feel about it? I’m all for doing whatever the group themselves prefer. I guess it’s human nature to want to feel part of a group, but I’m not very wired that way.

I think the conflict in my mind is if I’m just describing someone’s features, it’s not really about the person being in a certain group. It’s admittedly complicated. I don’t think of my friends from the islands as Black, I think of them as Puerto Rican, Jamaican, and they happen to also be black like some of my friends from the islands are white, Chinese, etc.

I still can’t get used to the term brown, which is used a lot these days. Is that capitalized? I would guess not. I never use it. I find it very odd liberals and Democrats use it so much.

I also very rarely use “people of color.” I usually say the country or continent people are from if for some reason it’s pertinent, but then that would get me back to square one—which would be using African American. See, you can’t think about it too much, it’s like chicken and egg. I understand why Black people don’t really identify with Africa, it’s probably similar to me identifying more as Jewish than Latvian. That’s my guess.

Cupcake's avatar

My friends and family (who are Black) have been reminding people online to capitalize Black.

I think that people don’t think enough about what they really are talking about. Is it skin color? Is it a group of people? Are they all American? Are they descendants of slaves? Are they Hispanic? Is it a catch-all phrase?

With the Black Lives Matter movement, there is definately a push to use “Black” when referring to Black people and not water down what you’re saying by using people of color or black/brown. For example, Black people are disproportionately impacted by COVID. So say Black, not people of color. Or say Black and Indigenous.

The same with making a survey. What do you want to know abut race? Is it a proxy for something? Are you only surveying Americans? Do you need to know about ethnicity? Will you just be lumping in all non-white people together?

Frankly, I think most people don’t think deeply enough about it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Cupcake Just to make sure I understand, are you saying you think people should think more deeply about, or are you saying people don’t think deeply about it and maybe that’s good?

Are they using brown to mean Black people? I wasn’t aware of that. I guess maybe biracial, like the “browning of America.” Although, I think of one of my friends who is black, and she is the darkest person in her family. Her uncle worked as a white doctor over 50 years ago, he slid under the radar. Her family story handed down is they were a mix because the white slave owner made a lot of babies with his slaves..

I don’t think of my husband as brown, but I guess he is by how the term is used. He’s white on the census. I feel like on the census race shouldn’t be a thing. Would Black people be ok with it being an ethnic category instead? Imagine if white was no longer on the census. I wonder how these white supremacists horrible people would react to that?

Race and skin color really doesn’t come up in normal conversation much, but I just don’t want to hurt any feelings or offend anyone.

kritiper's avatar

@Cupcake and @JLeslie So you would capitalize “Black” but you don’t (or won’t) capitalize “White?”

JLeslie's avatar

@kritiper I will do whatever is the writing standard of the time. I don’t think of white as an ethnic group, so I can see the argument for not capitalizing it. The capital B isn’t about skin color to me, to me skin color is little b, and capital B is a shared cultural experience, but again, I will use the capital when writing if that is what is deemed the most respectful or the standard. White for me is just skin color or race, that’s it, not a cultural group. White people in America come from so many different backgrounds, it is so varied.

kritiper's avatar

@JLeslie Because of that, some may call you a racist, others may not.
Their call; not mine, not yours.

JLeslie's avatar

@kritiper How do you figure? I just leave it up to the group. If it were up to me I’d go all lower case, but (some) Black people seem to want to identify culturally as a group. It is racism that generally forces a group together or causes people to identify in a group. The haters give them no choice.

Take being Jewish. A lot of Jewish people aren’t religious and don’t identify strongly with the religion, but once they become aware the antisemites will always see them as Jewish and be willing to kill them just for being born Jewish, the identity is something they can’t shed even if they want to.

kritiper's avatar

@JLeslie Because you choose to capitalize “Black” and not “white.”
Equality is just that: Equal.

JLeslie's avatar

@kritiper I am not choosing, I’m letting the group choose. I’ll follow whatever Black people prefer. It’s up to them.

If you think of Black people as a cultural group, then it’s logical to capitalize. That’s up to them. Do they want that designation? Do they feel it? Identify with it? This varies among Black people, we won’t even get a consensus, but maybe a majority one way or the other.

I don’t see white people as a cultural group at all.

Cupcake's avatar

@JLeslie I think people should think more deeply about race, including the terms and phrases they use and why.

@kritiper I capitalize Black when referring to the group of people. I do not capitalize white. This follows the AP style. It would be absurd to call that racist. Perhaps look into contemporary definitions of racism.

jca2's avatar

To me, it’s a description. I’m white, he’s black, I’m tall, she’s taller, they’re green eyed, he’s heavier, I’m blonde, she’s brunette. So as a description, I’ll use all lower case. If someone edits something I do and says capitalize “black” then I’ll deal with it when it happens.

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