Social Question

Trance24's avatar

Black, African American, or what?

Asked by Trance24 (3306points) February 22nd, 2010

So my college room mate today asked me what the difference was between Black (colored) and African American? In her class “Ways of Seeing” the class mainly sided with Black is a color, which refers to the color of a persons skin, and that African American is a race. My room mate agrees. This got us on the topic of things such as putting your race down on paper. Usually the choices range from Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, etc. My room mate has always been told to put down African American, even though when tracing her roots she has no relatives with African heritage. She has Native American, White, and West Indie. I also know someone else who is Egyptian who can not apply for African American scholarships or put African American on paper work. Why is this?

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50 Answers

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I was married to a Black woman. Her and her entire family represented themselves as Black. They referred to me as White. They thought it was ridiculous that people used the term African American. Sometimes you can be too politically correct.

I’ve dated Black women all my life. All of them felt the same.

Trance24's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies That is exactly the way I think it should be! =] Thank you for the input and personal reference.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

I would feel odd if people referred to me as an European American. I wasn’t born in Europe.
I feel peculiar if someone referred to me as a white person. I’m more of a salmon color.
We have names for the purpose of establishing familiarity.
I’d hope once we’ve established such a familiarity, the need for such base categorizations would fade.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I think from now on, I’d like to be referred to as an
American Indian German Jewish Egyptian American… with a dash of Nordic for good measure.

ETpro's avatar

I thought the whole shore flap over having “Negro” on the 2010 census form was silly. There are still some older folks who call themselves that. Personally, I don’t give a hoot about race. I find both black and white odd names for skin color, as nobody comes close to being either of those colors. Unfortunately, it’s hard to come up with a good, descriptive word for the skin tone of Caucasians. I was glad to see Crayola™ drop the Flesh designation in favor of Peach. I’d like to see a true racial term used in place of African American. Our President doesn’t fit properly, as he isn’t the son of slaves. Visitors from elsewhere in the world don’t fit either. Seems to me Negro is no more offensive than Caucasian.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


Agreed. The census should simply ask, “Are you a person”? “Are your children people too”?

But why would they do that? They’d never treat anybody like they were a real person anyway.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

While I’d like to think that all people were treated the same that doesn’t seem to be the case in America. There are still some strong racial divisions on some levels and it’d be naive to pretend that everyone were treated the same when they are not treated the same. I don’t know how to resolve this.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@ETpro said ”...drop the Flesh designation in favor of Peach.”

Agreed. I can eat a Peach for hours

ETpro's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies I knew we would find something we agree on sooner or later. :-)

shego's avatar

During the days of slavery, I would have been called malatto, today I am called mixed. My father is white my mother is black. I have always been confused as to what mark when tests, applications, and important documents ask my race. I mark African- American, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m me. I shouldn’t have to decide who I claim, I am both.

TexasDude's avatar

Look at this man. You really want to call him “African American” don’t you?

Spoiler alert! He’s British!

Every black person I know (which is a number >10) prefers to be called black if they must be referenced by their color. Most of them think the term African American is silly.

susanc's avatar

The people who are the thing (whatever it is) should decide what they want to be called.
Personally I would like to be called Beautiful. Guess that’ll never happen though, because we all want to define each other in the stupidest, least well-informed ways we can.

@ETpro: The term “African American” has nothing to do with slavery. It has to do with ancestry-plus-citizenship.
And there aren’t any Americans alive who are the “sons” of slaves. Slavery was abolished so long ago, you see. So: if Barack Obama is 1) American (I realize the Sarah Palin crowd still believes he’s not – they think Hawaii is part of Asia or something) and his father was 2) African…. well, what would you call him – given the choices on the stupid, stupid, stupid census form?

@Trance24: How could “African American” be a race? That’s absurd. That would mean that all the people in the Americas who have African ancestry are racially the same. Let’s see: there are Brazilians who are completely African genetically. There are African immigrants who just got here last week. There are Americans whose ancestors came here as slaves, married Choctaws and had children who are now… what? Something different from the fully-genetically-Africans in the first two examples. There are an awful, awful lot of “white” Americans who have African genes. There are an awful lot of “black” Americans who have “white” genes (“salmon” genes if you like). Who’s teaching this stupid class? They need to be fired. I’m really mad.

Also: Do you think West Indians who have African genes arose
spontaneously on West Indian soil? Have you not heard about slavery and the importation of slaves for the sugar cane industry?

Good golly, miss molly. There is a lot of history some people haven’t heard about.

Zen_Again's avatar

Someone just asked me this question. Neither he nor I am Black (hmmm – have I already faux pas’d?). We also don’t live in the States.

I told him I thought the best thing to do was to see what the person preferred. What did he call himself.

My friend said that was fine, but what if he had to just describe him. I said not to assume that every Black person was African-American, and if a simple description had to be given, e.g. for the police, then just as we don’t mind being called white for the sake of identification, shouldn’t they just be called black?

Is this racist?

ETpro's avatar

@susanc I realize that Barack Obama has a perfect right to call himself African American if he wishes. But the question did circulate during the primary campaign. The press filed it under the heading, “Is he black enough?”.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

ETpro , it was noticed that it was primarily white people asking if Obama was black enough.

davidbetterman's avatar

Negro, Black, Caucasian, White, Indian, Red, Native American, Latino…

These are all just ways to keep the masses divided so they will never unite and overthrow the real color…those with massive amounts of green…

aprilsimnel's avatar

Here’s a blog that might answer some questions, and it’s written by a American white guy who’s trying to figure out how race issues and racism are still going down here in the US (and in some other countries with majority populations of people with European ancestry).

I can only talk about my experience. Some people prefer black, some African-American.

I am of recent multiple ancestries, but raised to consider myself African-American. I was taught that by using “African-American” we could know we came from somewhere, just like every person who says s/he’s Irish. Or Polish. Or some other place anywhere else in the world. When I say I’m (also) of Irish, Scots or Italian ancestry, I still get the hairy eyeball from many different people of all races. So for me,“African-American” means that I am not merely descended of people who were enslaved, that the history of my African ancestors didn’t start in 1619 from folks who were magically on a boat at Jamestown Harbor. Until DNA testing is more affordable, most people of African ancestry in the US don’t know what country they come from, or what people. I’ll bet most white Americans know where their ancestors come from!

I have a UK friend born in Nigeria. She knows she’s Yoruban. There’s a form of comfort in that, knowing where she belongs. The racial climate in the US doesn’t allow the descendants of Africans who have been here for 450 years to feel like they truly belong. Most white Americans, if they want, can find out their ancestors’ country’s traditions. We’ve had to recreate a culture almost from scratch.

Consider that before saying something like, “Why don’t people just say they’re ‘American’ and be done with it?” When we’re all considered American, when the image of an “American” around the world isn’t a corn-fed blond kid from the Midwest, when people stop asking each other, “What are you? No, really, what are you?” then maybe we can let that go. In the meantime, we’ve got a lot of questions to ask ourselves and a lot of internal searching as a nation to do about race and class and why they are correlated.

ETpro's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy No, amazingly, that question came from the African American community that was disposed to support Hillary Clinton.

@aprilsimnel Thanks for a view from a personal perspective. I know that my mother’s side of the family came from Scotland but I am not sure where my did’s side came from.

hug_of_war's avatar

I’ll say african-american to clarify but otherwise I always say I’m black, as does my whole extended family and basically everyone I know. I call those of european descent white. African-american sounds so formal and stuffy to me.

Strauss's avatar

@susanc but you are beautiful!

My wife is black, and prefers that over African-American. She is also Native-American, and can trace her Swiss roots wa-a-a-ay farther than either her african or her Native American roots.

@ETpro It leads one to wonder how black is black enough?

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

In any case I thought the whole “not black enough” thing was remarkably asinine no matter who said it.

Arisztid's avatar

When I was growing up, it was colored… negro was coming out of ok’dom. That became incorrect. For a brief time it was “people of color.” That was incorrect. Then it became black. Now that is sometimes OK, sometimes not ok. Then it was African American.

Frankly, I cannot keep up with it all. I know black folks who want to be called African American and others who want to be called black. I do my best to remember which of my friends wants to be called what but they all know that I have no memory and have pretty much stopped trying to keep track of it at “black.”

I have a black friend who tells the story of a white person getting on her because she does not want to be called African American… she prefers “black.”

A lot of the old folks I worked with back in the 80’s wanted to be called “negro.”

I had a boss in the 90’s, a very old black guy (he had to be at least 200 years old) who did not like being called “African American” and may the Gods help anyone who tried that.

He, despite being very disabled, would back them into a corner as he explained that he is American , he has never been to Africa . Call him American , “negro,” “black”, or, better yet, his name . And he went on from there, sometimes bringing the fact that he was a WWII veteran into it. I would just sit or stand there quietly knowing what he was going to do.

He was the best boss I have ever had.

nononoyesno's avatar

I vote for Black.

Personally, when I hear people say “African American” I think they sound sort of sheltered.

Grisaille's avatar

I am part black. Someone once called me part “African American.” I was freaked out.

I don’t find anything wrong with calling someone black. That’s PC to the extreme.

thriftymaid's avatar

I use the term black. I agree with all of the answers here that say it’s just too much. My black friends feels the same way.

TheJoker's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Is that so… Castor Troy!

TheJoker's avatar

I’m not sure if this is really an issue outside of the United States. In the UK black people are mostly called black. Certainly my Jamaican friends have no problem with this term… nor does my very good friend from Zimbabwe, that’s how they would classify themselves if they had to.

nayeight's avatar

Honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with calling myself African American. I don’t understand how it could sound “stuffy” or “too much”. I agree with aprilsimnel that the term reminds us (and others) that we are descendants of Africans, not just slaves in America. I can’t trace my ancestry past a handful of generations and yes, it does bother me. I think it’s very different for blacks in other countries because most of them know what part of Africa they came from. I don’t mind being called black either, but I always felt that African American made more sense as I am nowhere near the color black. I’m more of a orangy-brown mixture. Though, I have seen blacks that were damn near black and whites that were so pale they were white.

john65pennington's avatar

In police radio jargon, we identified people this way: male white, male black, male hispanic. its simple and works for us.

Facade's avatar

Either or. Although “Blacks” said a certain way sounds like “Negroes” =\

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

So true Facade. Inflection is everything.

“What’s up my Niggah?” said a certain way sounds like “What’s up My Friend?”.

Facade's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies lol I used to say that when I was trying to fit in with the people at my high school. Not my thing at all.

BraveWarrior's avatar

If a person born in South Africa who was Caucasian moved to the U.S.A., wouldn’t s/he be a Caucasian African-American? And if I, a Caucasian, moved to an African nation, would I be an American-African?

What about “People of Color”? As a Caucasian, I’m not an Albino, so am I invisible?

<Sigh> it would be nice if human beings were just people but I guess for things like Quotas and Affirmative Action and just making sure every type of person is represented everywhere, unless in the future everyone becomes mixed-race, then there will be labels which set us apart rather than unifying us. That’s one thing I appreciate on sites such as Fluther where people don’t have to be labeled & categorized but can just be a person with worthwhile contributions.

Trance24's avatar

@susanc I never said I agreed to the statement that African-American is a race. I was explaining the situation that happened in this class. Oh and it was not the teacher who proposed this, it was the students that were in his class. I have no idea what the teacher said after this, seeing as I do not take his class. Also, my main point about it was why is it that “white” African immigrants, or people such as my friend who is Egyptian but is not colored “Black” are not allowed to place themselves down on paper as African-American, when they are clearly from the Continent of Africa?

Arisztid's avatar

I would never call someone a negro either. My insistence on using the word “black” with the patients back in the 80’s was met with a laugh, an eye roll, and being called a young’un. It was not all of them, rather a few of the old folks and my boss who was older than dirt (I lied, he was a spry 195 or so). This was the same generation who described themselves as “octoroon” and “mulatto.”

It is bloody nigh impossible to make generalized classification:
1) both black and white are incorrect. It would be hard to find someone who is those colors, as in hex code #000000, #ffffff. Is red going to be brickhouse red, firetruck red, or other, is yellow going to be the color of a dandelion?
2) African American for black, European American for white. Not all black people originated in Africa, not only white people are from Europe. I am not white and my family is from Europe.
3) Any classification is going to be incorrect if one goes into a person’s genetics. The only way anyone on this planet is “pure” is if their people have been geographically isolated . If there has been any mixing, any, none of us are “pure.”

So i guess we muddle along. I call people black and white to refer to those ethnicities because it is shorter and neither, yet, has become an ethnic slur, which I avoid. If someone asks me to call them African American I do my best. I would do the same if someone asked to be called European American.

downtide's avatar

I just say black, because most people I meet here in the UK are not American at all.

Arisztid's avatar

@downtide I saw somewhere someone ask how many African Americans there were in Britain.

downtide's avatar

@Arisztid well there might be a handful, over here on business trips or as tourists…

thriftymaid's avatar

@Arisztid I hope you laughed because your comment made me laugh.

Arisztid's avatar

@downtide Someone pointed that out before I could. If I remember correctly I could not answer it because my sarcasm bone was aching waaaay too much that night.

@thriftymaid After I got done rubbing my eyes and looking again to be sure that it did, indeed, say that, I had a good laugh about it.

I think both of you can take a guess at which website this was asked. That was funny enough that I might have bookmarked it. I am off to look.

PacificRimjob's avatar

‘Black’ is easier to say.


I prefer to use the word “black”. When I was growing up, I was taught (here in primarily white Canada) to refer to black people as “Negroes”. As late as the early 1980s, I remember buying licorice candies called “Nigger Babies”, until they were banned. African American sounds too contrived. I think “black” is the best and most apt term.

Trance24's avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES “Nigger Babies” ? wow….

ETpro's avatar

@Trance24 I remember those. There was a store that would now be called a Dollar store, but in the 50s it was the 5, 10 and 25 Cent Store. They sold them and I loved them. It never even occurred to me to question the propriety of the name, or wonder why candy should be shaped into the likeness of human children to begin with.


@Trance24 Yes, “Nigger Babies.” Little licorice candies in the shape of babies that we used to buy in candy stores or at the supermarket. My friends in elementary school used to shout “Give me a nigger baby! I love those!” By the late 1980s, they stopped selling them. They call them “Licorice Babies” now. Lol.

WolfFang's avatar

People are right, it’s damn near rare to find a “black” or “white” person anywhere. African American sound too contrived? Black is just easier to say? sure take, the easy cop-out, but the terminology we use will help define the social barriers between us, just remember that. People are mixed and blended so much, not just genetically through race, but through nationality like from where they were born. Similar to what @susanc was saying, there are varying degrees to which one is related to ancestors whether they be African or whatever other race, some mixed so much it is indistinguishable. Technically, all peoples of African descent could fit in the first term “African”, but would need another subterm to further classify. Or better yet, why not just call everyone African, since we all orignated from the continent anyway? I’m so sick of classifications and labels, I too was hoping what @Captain_Fantasy said would be a reality.

downtide's avatar

@WolfFang Depending on your definition of white, I’m one of the rare few that is all white. I have some Greek ancestry, way back about 5 generations, but Greeks are Caucasian too so I don’t think of them as anything but white. My dad looks very Greek.

ETpro's avatar

@downtide I had an albino friend in middle school and even she wasn’t white. Her subcutaneous blood vessles gave her a slightly rosy pink hue. I have never seen anyone who was truly white except those in mime-like makeup. Likewise for true black. The melanin that gives human skin its color (something completely missing in albinos of whatever race) is brownish. The more melanin, the darker brown we get. Folks like me, with just a little (I was a towhead blond baby) have peach colored skin because there isn’t enough melanin to completely mask that pinkish tint our blood lends to our flesh.

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