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omtatsat's avatar

Why does CNN call Colin Powell an African American?

Asked by omtatsat (1229points) 1 month ago

He is from Jamaica. Jamaica has got nothing to do with Africa

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51 Answers

filmfann's avatar

When slaves were brought to America, some ended up in Jamaica.

omtatsat's avatar

@filmfann So he is from a slave heritage then?

filmfann's avatar

@omtatsat I am not certain, but his genealogy is from Africa.

JLeslie's avatar

Because the US obsessed for years about calling Black people African Americans. His family was likely from Africa before Jamaica, or part of his family anyway.

It would make more sense to call him a Jamaican-American and a Black man. Actually, usually Black people from the islands differentiate themselves from Black people who have been in the US for generations. The thing, they are Black in terms of how people “see” them, and so since the term African American was used synonymously with Black for over 20 years, well that’s why.

I’ve always taken issue with it. I know plenty of people from Africa who are white.

As far as slavery, it’s likely he had some slavery in his family. Most Black Africans originally brought to the Americas were slaves. I don’t know his actual family story though. He’s very light skinned, I assume he is a big mix like so many Jamaicans.

omtatsat's avatar

Yes. It sounds like complete discrimination

Dutchess_III's avatar

It’s not.

kritiper's avatar

Black people, like white people, tan. Mexicans tan, too. If a black man is light skinned, it may be because he/she didn’t get out in the sun very much.

janbb's avatar

@kritiper “If a black man is light skinned, it may be because he/she didn’t get out in the sun very much.”

It’s actually much more likely that his enslaved mother was raped by a white man at some point in the past.

gondwanalon's avatar

He identified as black. Indirectly we all came from Africa.

Irukandji's avatar

They might be following the lead of the official website for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

filmfann's avatar

Powell himself said “The McKoys and the Powells both had bloodlines common among Jamaicans, including African, English, Irish, Scotch, and probably Arawak Indian. My father’s side even added a Jewish strain from a Broomfield ancestor.”
So why not refer to him as a Jewish American, Scottish American, or American Indian American? He identified as African black.

JLeslie's avatar

@kritiper Of course they can tan, but he’s very light. He’s part Scottish I googled a little.

Edit: oh @filmfann answered it more completely. I just noticed.

An employee of mine was Jamaican and part Scottish part Black African and something else. The islands are often have people of very mixed decent. Other parts of the Americas mixed more than the US. Partly because they were more ok with it culturally, and also as @janbb said there were rapes too, but that happened in the US more I think than other places, but I’m not sure, I guess maybe that happened everywhere. Make a baby another free slave or slave to sell.

My girlfriend is the darkest in her family, her family story is she is descended from a raped slave. I don’t know if it is family lore or fact. Her uncle lived as a white doctor he was so fair. Her mother used to send her to the neighbor to do her hair when she was little, because her mom had “white” hair and didn’t know what to do with her daughter’s hair.

jca2's avatar

I think of that word as a trend. When I was little, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the common term was “negro.” Then the popular term became “black.” “Black man,” “black people,” etc. Then in the past 15 years or so, the accepted term became “African American.”

Since my father is from Mexico, I guess I could be called a “Mexican American.”

I have a good friend from Jamaica, and she and her father have what we might refer to as negro features but their skin is really pale, whiter than mine, and mine is really white. She has a lot of freckles.

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Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Colin Powell is not from Jamaica. He was born in New York City, NY, US. His parents are both Jamaican-Scottish, who immigrated to the US before he was born.

This is a perfect case as to why these labels need to go away. Does it really matter?

janbb's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer It will matter until it doesn’t any more but we’re not there yet.

rockfan's avatar

Strange that you’re fixating on this issue. My main problem is that CNN is over praising him like crazy. Colin Powell helped lie us into an illegal war that killed thousands of soldiers. I understand that you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to treat him like a saint.

I imagine when Dick Cheney dies they’re going to over praise him as well with the argument “Hey, at least he wasn’t Trump.”

Demosthenes's avatar

Because “African American” is a euphemism for “black” in the United States. It’s not meant to be ethnically precise. Sometimes it doesn’t make much sense, but that’s how it’s used.

kritiper's avatar

@rockfan Colin Powell was a soldier, and a damn good one. He didn’t try to make policy because it wasn’t his job. His job was to do his duty, for his country, and for his commander in chief, which he did.

rockfan's avatar

@kritiper

Your comment doesn’t really address any of the substantive claims I mentioned.

LostInParadise's avatar

@Demosthenes , I know the term is used as a euphemism, but I think that it is demeaning. We are all African American, because Africa is where our species evolved. If a black person immigrates from Europe or Asia, they should be considered as immigrants from those places. The term black is perfectly fine, because what sets them apart is the color of their skin, and not a whole lot else, which is why racism is so absurd

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@janbb I think that we ARE there; the older generation just doesn’t realize it yet.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer It doesn’t matter, but the OP lives in Switzerland and is trying to understand the use of the term in the US.

Colin Powell is Jamaican-American even if he was born in the US with how we use the terms. We have fourth generation Italian-Americans proudly saying they are Italian. Some groups tend to hold on to their national heritage as part of their identity more than others. I have no idea how Powell looked at it, or how he identified himself, I’m not speaking for him, just speaking in general.

I don’t want to lose our connection to our varied cultures, so I don’t see identifying with national background as negative, but I’m with you that it should not “matter.”

Younger generations are less caught up about race, maybe nationality too?

There was a Q a few years ago regarding whether we need to always state “the first”. The first Black President, the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, the first female Vice President. Minorities seem to want the recognition. I’m not really sure though. I remember my husband saying he doesn’t even think about Obama’s race, and it seems for some people that is a very offensive thing to say. My husband just meant it wasn’t part of his equation when deciding who to vote for.

kritiper's avatar

@rockfan I sense you think too little of the man. It’s no wonder you can’t see the point of my comment.

rockfan's avatar

The defense “He was simply doing orders”, I think, is absolutely horrible.

For heaven sakes, liberal stand up comedians predicted that the invasion of Iraq would be the biggest military blunder in recent history. Because they simply looked at the facts.

https://youtu.be/3JCakTroF88

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@JLeslie I hear what you are saying and understand it. Either the person or the people doing the research think it may matter sharing the ancestry. But does it? The question is about ONE person. He was born and grew up in the USA. His skin color is not a concern. End of discussion.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer It’s not only white people pointing out his skin color in media.

If the media just simply mentioned Powell’s career and position it would be enough. They could add his parents migrated here from Jamaica, that’s part of the American story. They could leave out race altogether in my opinion, I completely agree with you.

I think the term African American came about because we don’t say White American we say Irish American or my family is Eastern European. African was about country or continent rather than race or skin color. I think it was to take the focus off of race, but it became synonymous with being Black anyway. People from the islands often make a point to say where they are from rather than be grouped with Black Americans who have been in the US for many generations.

I hear Black people saying they are insulted when white people say they don’t notice race. I mean seriously, WTH? It’s impossible right now.

There is an obvious push in parts of media to point out minorities in high positions and making big accomplishments. Whether it helps or hurts I’m not sure.

omtatsat's avatar

Well if he is of African descent then where is the proof? I have not found anything about his African ” heritage”.

Dutchess_III's avatar

We are all of “African descent.”

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@JLeslie Colin Powell is not African-American. HE is an American. He was born in this country and has lived here his entire life.

@Dutchess_III Does descent matter when talking about the accomplishments of one descendant?

jca2's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer: So many people who are black and who were born in this country and have lived here their entire life still call themselves African American, even though technically they are just “American.”

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@jca2 Yes, I understand that. Do you know why they prefer African-Americans vs. Black? Do they know where their ancestors came from?

I’ve worked with and met people who did not consider themselves “African-American”.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer I have been a questioning the term African American for over 20 years. You probably remember me telling the story of my white, blonde neighbor who is African American and that all my Black friends have always preferred the term Black.

Being born in America doesn’t eliminate being able to identify with more than one country or national heritage. My Nephew was born here, he is also Italian from his father and Mexican from his mother. Millions of born in American US citizens check off Hispanic as part of their identity.

Colin Powell I would call simply American or Jamaican-American. Now that BLACK LIVES MATTER has been painted in bold on streets I think we can officially say Black is an acceptable term and stop with the Supposedly PC African American that sometimes feels like a misnomer.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I don’t know where or why the term came to be. It’s like we use one term for 20 years and then, for some reason, it becomes inappropriate.

JLeslie's avatar

By the way I have a problem with the term LatinX also. Just use Latin. Why do we need to add an X?

Demosthenes's avatar

@JLeslie I hate “LatinX” and I am half-Latino. It’s an insult to any language with grammatical gender.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Never heard LatinX before. What does it mean?

Demosthenes's avatar

It’s supposed to be a gender-neutral alternative for Latino, which is in the masculine gender. But in Romance languages, when the gender is not known or not specified, the masculine is used by default. It’s a fallacy to conflate grammatical gender with human gender.

janbb's avatar

Getting back to African-American or Black, which the NY Times used to refer to Powell today, I believe it is up to the people in a subgroup to determine what they want to be called and I am willing to adapt to their nomenclature. And if an individual in that group wants to be called something else, I will try to use that term for them. Nomenclature changes with the times. I’ve used Negro and Afro-American and African-American and Black and people of color during my lifetime.

It’s not rocket scientist or something that the majority, who are not in that group, need to pass judgment on.

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb Totally agree. So, while most Black people seemed to prefer Black for the last 25 years, who the hell was pushing the term African American? I don’t know any Latín Americans who prefer LatinX, although I have heard some Latin American journalists use it, but I’m not sure I’ll include them as the average Latin American.

I remember on a Q here I said basically what you said, the group itself knows if they are offended or what they prefer, and one time one jelly replied that minorities don’t even always know what is best for themselves, and I was taken aback. The answer was saying leaders need to pave the way for better treatment, because minorities don’t even know enough to know they are being sidelined or harmed. I still find that answer shocking and thought provoking. I don’t really like that line of thought. Who? White leaders who are trying to help?

I was on a zoom recently about race relations and a white woman asked the Black people do they prefer Black or African Americans so we can be sensitive to them, and the Black woman said, “I’m both, do you ask white people if they prefer white or Caucasian?”

jca2's avatar

I guess the big question is how did Colin Powell describe himself? African American? Jamaican American? American? Black? Something else?

janbb's avatar

@jca2 I agree. Don’t know the answer.

JLeslie's avatar

In this quote Powell uses both Black and African Americans In his 1995 memoir, “My American Journey,” Powell wrote: “My career should serve as a model to fellow blacks, in or out of the military, in demonstrating the possibilities of American life. Equally important, I hoped then and now that my rise might cause prejudiced whites to question their prejudices, and help purge the poison of racism from their systems, so that the next qualified African-American who came along would be judged by merit alone.”

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/10/18/colin-powell-first-black-responsibility-eugene-robinson/

JLeslie's avatar

I think the answer to the question is still they used African American, because that has been the term used in the US for the last 20+ years in lieu of Black, supposedly because it was more PC than Black to some people.

filmfann's avatar

@janbb @jca2 He identified as black.

omtatsat's avatar

Why must the colour of a person even be mentioned?!!! If a whitey is elected to government in South Africa do they say for example ” the first white American ”. Or is it assumed all Americans are white?

JLeslie's avatar

@omtatsat I’m not defending mentioning his color, but the reason it’s done is because it took over 200 years for the first Black person to be in that position and Black people were slaves, discriminated against, oppressed, and so in the US people see fit to mark the first time a minority reaches a high position.

Not just Black people, but other minorities too and other groups. Kennedy was the first Catholic president as an example of not a minority status, but still people talk about it. When will it stop being done I don’t know. Whether it should be done, another question worth debating.

There was a Q asking about always announcing the “first” every time it happens. I’ll see if I can dig it up when I’m on my laptop.

If you look at the quote I posted, Powell himself hoped he was an example or inspiration to other Black people.

Irukandji's avatar

@JLeslie ” You probably remember me telling the story of my white, blonde neighbor who is African American”

You don’t have a white, blonde neighbor who is African American, though she may mistakenly identify that way. The term “African American” was invented specifically for people of black African descent who cannot trace their lineage more precisely (most often due to slavery) and later became a generic term for Americans of black African descent. A white American with Ghanaian ancestry might be Ghanaian American, but never African American.

Anyone upset about the potential confusion should consider blaming the people who forcibly removed human beings from their homelands and shipped them across an ocean to be exploited rather than the people making various attempts to reclaim their histories and identities.

@omtatsat “If a whitey is elected to government in South Africa do they say for example ‘the first white American’?”

First, white people elected to the South African government probably aren’t Americans. Second, the term “white South African” does exist in that country. Third, white South Africans ruled the country for a very long time. You might remember that whole apartheid thing they set up to maintain control. So there really aren’t any opportunities to be the first white person to hold any major office in South Africa anymore.

It was news when the first black South Africans were elected to their government, and it is often news in other African countries when people from ethnic groups that were previously blocked from holding office were elected. This is because what’s relevant isn’t just their race or ethnicity. It’s the social and cultural context of their race or ethnicity. Slavery in the US ended in 1865, black people in the US continued to have even their basic civil rights routinely denied to them for a century after that, and they still face discrimination today.

Unlike the lack of opportunity to be the first white person to do something in South Africa, there are still plenty of things in the United States that black people have long been prevented from achieving. That’s why it is still considered relevant when someone manages to break through that barrier.

JLeslie's avatar

@Irukandji Yeah, I understand the reasoning behind the invention of African American. White people get to say Italian- American or Irish-American, so African American gives Black people a place of origin or even better maybe would take the focus off of race, but of course African American instead became synonymous with Black. Many Black people feel robbed of knowing their ancestry or country of origin, so they now could say what? They’re African?

Jump to people from the islands. When they come to America they usually identify with being from their country immediately previous to coming to US. That is like most immigrants, but not all feel the same of course. The Islands tend to not focus on race like the US.

My husband was born and raised in Mexico, and has lived in the US his entire adult life. He doesn’t say he’s Israeli, French, and Spanish if you ask him where he is from or what he is, he says Mexican. If you ask where his last names are from he would give the longer story.

I primarily identify as American. I guess Jewish next. Latvia is the country most of my family came from, and my last name is from there, also Russia, but the countries were horrible to Jews, I have zero pride or allegiance, just simply a common experience with so many other Jews who have ancestors who fled that part of the world.

My neighbor certainly is African American, the same way I’m Eastern European American, but not when African American is listed in the category of race. In the end she wouldn’t have taken a quota space set aside, she knows better.

It’s still odd to put African American under the race category when really it is a continent, but now it’s both, just like Asian is ten different things: race, continent, in the US used synonymously with East Asian or Oriental, which is out of favor now, just to name a few. Hell, my husband is about 50% West Asian, but West Asian is white, his race is white on the census, but not according to racist people. It’s crazy.

omtatsat's avatar

@Irukandji Where did humans come from in the beginning?

Humans first evolved in Africa, and much of human evolution occurred on that continent. The fossils of early humans who lived between 6 and 2 million years ago come entirely from Africa. Most scientists currently recognize some 15 to 20 different species of early humans. Sowe are all African.

JLeslie's avatar

^^That doesn’t matter. In America, like I said, we usually identify by the country previous to coming to the US. There are exceptions. My friend who is Italian-Venezuelan she migrated to Venezuela when she was 20 and then came to the US in her 60’s. She still says she’s Italian, but that’s because she herself moved twice across country lines.

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