Saturday, May 16, 2009

fail to distinguish african immigration from slavery descent

This is a guest post by Doreen Yomoah. She is vagabond currently residing in Shanghai, and a founding mother of the Women’s Liberation Army, a motley crew of women scattered throughout the globe who are sick of injustice and planning to do something about it.

I am black.

I am not African-American.

I am Ghanaian.

These are three things that the white Americans I’ve known have trouble distinguishing from each other. I lived in America for a long time as a student, but only temporarily. I currently live in Shanghai. During my stay in America, I can’t count the number of times I was referred to as African-American, or sometimes African, but almost never my real nationality, even by people who knew it.

My problem isn’t necessarily with people thinking I was American; I do after all have an American accent (which I picked up at an international school in Tokyo, where I spent my childhood). While the assumption that I’m American didn’t necessarily bother me, my problem was that after finding out that I am Ghanaian-born, and a Ghanaian citizen, people would still refer to me as African-American, and constantly refer as well to “my” history (as in, the Atlantic slave trade and the black Americans who now populate America as a result).

One thing that irritated me to no end when I lived in America was the fact that all black people were referred to as “African American.” I believe that this idea of referring to blacks as African-American stems from the false idea that no black people know where their ancestry is from, as I have never heard a white American refer to him/herself or another white American as European-American. I have, however, heard them say things like “I’m French / German / Irish / Italian / Spanish / British,” even from people whose families haven’t seen those countries in generations. However, whether black people in America are the descendants of slaves; or those whose families immigrated from Africa, or the Caribbean, or Europe; or those who are in America temporarily for work or studying, all are grouped together under the inaccurate, blanket label of “African-American.”

Even my casual research (as in, Google) on the subject reveals a dearth of accurate available information about these differences among blacks in America. Perhaps the lack of statistics of this sort reflects the lack of interest on the part of the researchers. The only statistic that I’ve been able to find on non-slave descendant American blacks is the number of current immigrants, which is 1,035,253 (and growing). That means that any black descendant of anyone who immigrated after the late 19th century is not included in that statistic; they have instead been lumped into the category of African Americans, and thus are assumed to be descendants of slaves. I have American cousins, for instance, born to two Ghanaian parents in America, who aren’t included in that statistic. Their direct connection to a specific African country is overlooked, as is their distinct difference from most black Americans.

I heard this topic discussed a LOT during Barack Obama’s campaign. That is, whether or not Barack Obama is “black.” But the point of contention was not his biracial heritage. It was the African part of Obama’s heritage that cast doubt in the minds of journalists such as Stanley Crouch, who said in his op-ed “What Obama Isn’t: Black Like Me,” “when black Americans refer to Obama as ‘one of us,’ I do not know what they are talking about.” Similarly, columnist Debra Dickerson wrote, “black, in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves,” and therefore Obama was "'black' but not black."

Um. What? Since when did being descended from slaves become a prerequisite to being black? Most black people in the world are not descendants of West African slaves. However, I heard this time and time again following the election campaign of Obama from afar. Is this really how black should be defined in America?

The number of black immigrants has more than tripled in the past few decades, and that number will only continue to grow. It is time for the definition of “black” to be widened to mean more than just “West African slave descendant,” because aside from being untrue, it also serves to reinforce the idea that black people are a monolith. Not only do African-Americans and black Africans completely differ from one another in many ways; within Africa there are myriad ethnic groups found throughout its 53 countries. To us, being black means customs as diverse as speaking Zulu or Shona, wearing kente or aso oke, or celebrating Farmer Day or Unification Day.

There are major statistical differences between African immigrants and slave-descendant African Americans, as well the rest of the American population. Africans are the most educated immigrant population in the United States, with 49% holding college degrees—a larger percentage than Asian immigrants, American-born whites, and American born blacks. 86.4% hold high school degrees or more, while only 78.9% of the “model minority” Asian immigrants do. Children of African immigrants also go on to achieve higher levels of education as compared with the rest of the population.

While reaching higher levels of education than most other groups in America and having lower unemployment and poverty rates, immigrant blacks still face discrimination in the workplace. Their employment does not generally reflect their education and experiences, as they are often underpaid and underemployed.

While living and traveling elsewhere, I still hear white Americans refer to any black person that they see as African-American, despite the fact that black Africans here greatly outnumber our African-American counterparts. A white American friend once referred to me as “African-American”, despite knowing that I’m Ghanaian. For some reason she still thought that that was an appropriate label for me. Another American woman I know told her (British) boyfriend that black is incorrect, and the correct term is African-American, despite the fact that in the majority of his life experience, the black people he has met are not American. Nevertheless, because in her mind black people are all African-American, she falsely assumed that was an accurate label for all of us.

Something I have heard white Americans say over and over when it comes to this subject is that “it’s just something you never think about.” The way they say it, it’s as though they are expecting some agreement from me, like I should say “Yeah, I know, the logical default is to assume that all black people on earth are American!” I think that embodies the very assumption that I find damaging. They don’t even think about it. They just assume we are all American. Just today, I told one American friend of mine I had just gotten my hair done. “Are there a lot of African American hair salons in Shanghai?” she asked.

Oh geez. I’ve known her for over five years and she is well aware that I’m not American. I replied with “it’s not African American hair.” Puzzled, she asked me what I meant. I replied “I’m not American. The girl who did my hair was not American. The girls who did my hair before are not American. It’s not ‘African-American’ hair.” She replied by telling me she didn’t even think about that. I find this “I didn’t even think about it” attitude incredibly common among white Americans. Even someone who is aware of me not being American still defaults to referring to my hair as “African American hair,” and then refuses to think any further about it.

I was in the History Association at my American university, and we hosted events at which professors of history would have open discussions with us. At one such event, we had the famed Nigerian author Chinua Achebe’s daughter speak to us. One of my white classmates then asked her if she’d had the chance to research where her ancestors may have come from, to which she replied “I’m Nigerian…” Even with a last name like “Achebe”, a famous Nigerian author for a father, and a discussion about her experience in Africa, this classmate still assumed that as a black person, she clearly was born without the knowledge of her ancestry.

My problem with the common white assumption that all black people are descendants of slaves are that a) it’s simply not true and b) it helps to perpetuate this harmful, ignorant mentality that black people are a uniform group, a concept that is so rampant throughout America and the world at large.

Do I think that black America has a rich and complex history and culture? Yes, I do. I was able to witness it first-hand while living America, and it’s just as diverse and complex as anyone else’s history.

However, it’s not my history. My history is the history of a powerful trading empire, a people who were able to rebuild themselves after attacks from neighboring rivals, a people who came together to resist the colonial reign of the British empire, and the first African nation to reach independence in the 20th century. And that history is ignored by most white Americans, who refuse to see it.


  1. My kid's elementary school is about 40% African-American, according to the statistics. There's no breakdown of African-American kids vs. kids whose parents are from Africa, even though a number of African countries (Nigeria, Eritrea, and presumably others) are represented among the student body.

    I'd never heard about the high educational attainment of African immigrants in the U.S. until this post. Just recently the school newsletter listed the 7th and 8th grade academic hotshots, and I was surprised by how many African-sounding names there were (given that the student body is probably no more than 5% or 10% African). But now I know.

  2. *headdesk*



    Amen, sister. Thank you.

    I'm Canadian, and we have Ghanians, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Nigerians, people from various countries in the Caribbean, and whatnot. "African-Americans" are black tourists that hand over American dollar bills.

    But I have learned, on the internet, when I am somewhere that has mostly Americans, that I pretty much have to use the term "African-American" where I would normally use "black", in order to avoid being labelled racist, mainly by whites. The thought that not all black people may be located in America seems to be too much for some.

  3. I think alot of this attitude that conflates race with ethnicity or nationality is U.S.-centric in that so many people (regardless of race) in the U.S. just assume that social relations in the rest of the world mirror those in the states, making black people everywhere 'African American'. And the one drop rule prevails here in the states by confining anyone who fits the phenotype of 'black' into the category of 'African American' regardless of ethnicity or nationality. I've always thought that if Americans really started acknowledging the ethnic diversity amongst both African Americans and other black people in the states and abroad, it could really start to transform people's understanding of race.

  4. @psychoceramics: I'm in Toronto and couldn't agree more. When I go home to visit (I'm from the U.S. originally) I always have to explain why I say "black" rather than "African-Canadian" - although my U.S. friends don't think of Canadians as being Americans, they assume the same convention (African-[country]) would hold true. So then I'm left saying, "Well, not all black people are from Africa, we've got a lot of people from Jamaica and the other islands, and other places in the world that aren't Africa." That seems pretty straightforward to me, but I could count on one hand the number of times I haven't gotten a confused o_O look after giving my short explanation. (If anyone else can think of a better short explanation, feel free to share it.)

    I have to admit though that until reading this post, I had never thought of the concept that people should be described as being from their country, not a generic continent-wide tag. (Yes, I am neatly proving one of the points of the article - white obliviousness and unthinking acceptance of popular conventions.) But I'll be sure to remember it and identify people properly from now on. :) It was a lightbulb moment for me, and I appreciate it. :)

  5. Totally agree with the article, I'm Ghanaian,I spent many years in the US and experienced the same sort of attitude.
    This gave me the impression that most Americans, don't know too much about what happens outside of their borders, particularly when it comes to " black" people.
    There is a whole diverse world of black people outside of America .

  6. LMAO. Number one, the U.S. in general is a very STUPID country when it comes to cultural competence.

    More than that, though, the fact is that, if you look down on someone to begin with, you are less concerned with preciseness or showing the appropriate respect.

    I'm Chicano and I have been called, in order of cluelessness, Puerto-Rican, Native-American, Hawaiin, and Chinese.

    Oh Lawdy, help us all.

  7. It has been my experience that Africans seek to distinguish themselves from black Americans because 1. they think they're better than American-born blacks and 2. they don't want white people to think they're one of us.
    Africans get ahead here because white folks, in their quest to believe themselves as not racist, befriend and support Africans substantially more than they do for black Americans.

  8. I don't hold it against whites for [the recent] calling of all blacks (whom they encounter, whom they reference in the news, etc.) as African American.

    Personally, I have had only one person with whom I was in conversation, when the need to talk about blacks came up, use "African American", and that person was a Filipina American in her late forties. I got the sense that "African American" did not roll easily from her tongue--not because she was racist, but because she was being what she thought was respectful towards me (I live in the "politically correct" Bay Area). I told her that “black” was okay to say; that I preferred it. Just as [it seemed] it was uncomfortable for her to say, it was uncomfortable for me to hear, to be referred to as such.

    This name change, from “black” (which I am only referencing to it being used in the United States) to “African American” is from the black political elite in this country. They were dissatisfied with "black", that it was not good enough. They thought that "black" did not fully convey who we are culturally (from Africa...yeah, right, but from what African country, huh?). They considered "black" to be low class, it was degrading because you cannot capitalise it. Also, it would put us on par with all the other hyphenated Americans. Using "African American" would uplift us blacks in the eyes of whites and our own. Personally, I do not feel uplifted by "African American," because I know about the long, hard slog that blacks went through in the late sixties/early seventies in this country to name ourselves (all of us to name ourselves, not just the elite), to move from--with pride and honesty--"Negro" to "black."

    The author is wrong: Most of the blacks in this part of the world--the Americas, the Caribbean--are the descendants of blacks from the coast and interior of the lower-northern to middle Atlantic Africa. Heck, outside of the entire African continent, the largest number of blacks is in Brasil. (Although, many black Brasilians do not consider themselves such, for Brasil is a horse of different colour when it comes to blackness. Blacks have the advantage of being able to go by how you look. One can move up to whiteness by washing out the blackness through births through the generations. We do not have that here in the US. If you look white, but you have black blood somewhere in your gene pool, then you are black.) Even with immigration (which, will decrease because the global financial collapse's impact will be that those countries to where all those black African immigrants go to will be shutting their doors; in some cases there will be reverse-immigration, in that those countries will start to throw those Africans out--witness Spain, which is paying their immigrants to leave, but as soon as the money dries out, Spain'll just start kicking their immigrants out), the number of blacks from various African countries [probably] won't surpass the numbers of those blacks born here who are the descendants of those blacks brought here to be slaves from Africa's western shore.

    Wow, this comment is getting long! But I have one more thing that I'd like to add for why I do not refer to myself or other blacks as "African American." The author kind of touches on it a bit: But Africa could not get rid of my ancestors fast enough. The majority of Americans, regardless of colour, are stupid about history. As well, ...Sorry, I'm getting tired of writing, so I'll write this bit, and post it, at a later time.

  9. So, if the brouhaha over Obama had been is he "African-American" enough, would that have been okay?

    The way I see it when people talk about Obama being "black enough" they are referring to two things: 1) He's half white. I don't think I really need to explain how that might raise some eyebrows. 2) He did not descend from slaves. So, since he did not descend from slaves, can he really understand and relate to the experience of having enslaved ancestors that many "African-Americans" have to deal with? That is/was a big part of the concern, imo. Obama can trace his ancestry, many black people in this country cannot. Obama knows that his family was never forced to serve another family, many black people in this country do not. etc. etc.

    Who coined the term "black" anyway? I thought it was people in the United States, like the previous commenter eluded to.

    This article is kind of rubbing me the wrong way. I certainly understand that you want white people to know that you and other African immigrants have a rich and varied history and that you are not American, and that makes total sense. I honestly think that most of the reason that they call you African-American is because they've been told that it's rude to call someone black, and they are hyper-concerned with not saying anything offensive. So they go with what they know.

    At the same time, I am getting this smug attitude from you like you think you're better than "African-Americans" because you did not descend from slaves. Especially this sentence: a people who came together to resist the colonial reign of the British empire [empahsis added] Am I interpreting your feelings correctly, or not?

  10. This name change, from “black” (which I am only referencing to it being used in the United States) to “African American” is from the black political elite in this country.That is simply not accurate. The 1964 "The Ballet or the Bullet" speech, the Black Power movement and the Black Arts Movement were hardly anything inspired by or composed of "the black political elite."

  11. Redcatbiker,

    I'm Chicano, so, this is just my two cents. I also want to preface this by saying I'm not talking about you in particular.

    I think sticking with "black" is a mistake. "White" has come to symbolize all that is right and good with the world. Of course, that is a false notion that was essentially "beat in" to people through imperalism, genocide, junk science, and media propaganda. It affects us all, like it or not. People of color routinely discriminate against darker skinned members of the same group. They also do things like bleach skin, wear blue or green contacts, and get surgery to make their eyes appear round like whites.

    It is good when people feel uncomfortable saying it. I know white racists HATE having to say African-American. The extra syllables make them mad, like "Shit, I have to show him some respect". Not only that, but African-American implies you come from somewhere, you are someone whose ancestors made inventions, developed a unique culture, etc...

    I don't wanna piss you off here, but I really think a lot of people (not saying you) either subconsciously or consciously don't want to be called African-American because most ignorant Americans don't know anything about Africa except the commercials with starving children in primitive-appearing settings.

    I think alot of black folks have been mistreated their whole lives and the thought of having another stereotype heaped on them makes them cringe.

    But, in my opinion as someone who honestly supports you all, is that you should lay claim to the title and history that is yours, and also unite with the African brothers that migrate here.

    I hope I did not overstep my bounds but I know you all get it very rough and, in my mind anyway, this is a way to work against that.

  12. I think Myblackfriendsays has it right: most whites are uncomfortable with saying "black", they think it is racist, and so they jump at "African American" as a euphemism. To them it just a nice way of sayig "black". They are not thinking that deeply about it, not like you are. That is why you bring them up short when you point it out to them.

  13. Oh god I am doing this from a blackberry. Iagree with a lot of what the guest poster says which is why I go by AA and believe it is an ethnic group which allows anyone to join but means something very specific. How does this relate to many Asians now going by Asian American-i see it somewhat a move of solidarity and also of convenience. If you come from a varied asian background then why not. Anyway any movement that seeks to establish ethnic blacks, I am all for!

  14. Hi all, just a note that Doreen Yomoah, the author of the post, told me via email that she currently can't read Blogger blogs like this one, due to a block on them in China that went into effect just today. I sent her these comments so far over email (keep em coming, please), and she hopes to respond here soon. If the block remains in effect, I should be able to repost her emailed responses here.

  15. Some of the later commenters seem to have missed that the more bizarre occurrences of the term "African-American" have been used not to describe American immigrants from various African countries, but black people from and in other countries that are not, and never were, American.

    She's not necessarily saying she's better. Just that when she says she's not American, that should register in people's heads that she's also not a hyphenated American of any sort.

    (Also, in general, Canadians don't hyphenate their ancestry. It's presumed from the context whether you live here or not, if you're talking to someone else in Canada, and one will generally just use their nationality, such as Korean, Irish, or Ethiopian. Maybe it's just because we're a little more subdued in the patriotism department.)

  16. If Black Americans prefer to be called Black that's OUR choice to make. No one elses. Throughout history no has ever cared to ask us what we'd prefer to be called. They just assign us names that make them comfortable.
    Good to know things haven't changed much.

  17. I have issue with the word African-American. Not because it's too damn long, but because it feels forced and, at times, condescending. Africa is not a country. It's not some monolith. I don't share a history with Africans besides being black and mistreated by white people. Being black in America means a lot to me. So I go by Black.

    Cdwriteme, I think you have an interesting stance, but you get to have a title that is uniquely yours: Chicano. So, I don't understand why you advocate "African-American" when you don't go by "Mexican American." Should us black folk have something else besides some condescending title that was a pure afterthought by white people. I'm just sayin...

  18. Kara,

    Thanks for the reply. Everything you said makes perfect sense.

    I'll try to explalin more where I am coming from. I think the notions of "individuality" or "rugged individualism" are way overhyped and a poison to people of color.

    I'm looking at the big picture. People of color, particularly publicly, most show a unified front and all of us must be willing to make, at least, some compromises. There is the idealized world and then there is the real world.

    Make no mistake, conservatives and people like that have, historically, stuck together tight. Their xenophobia is a strong glue that bonds. Their votes in the Congress during the Bush Administration were like 95% the same nearly every time.

    Paradoxically, it is the fact that Liberals/Progressives/Democratic Socialists care that gets us into the most trouble sometimes. We splinter easily to the delight of conservatives.

    I realize this must all sound way off the subject, so I'll try to show how this applies to racial subroups.

    Research has shown that racists use ambiguity against people of color. When we fail to show a unified front and define ourselves, thy use that as a "well, if they can't even come to an agreement themselves, I don't feel I should have to respect ________, ________, or ________.

    I wrote what I wrote because, at least I think, I have a at least some sense of the things that go on "behind the scenes" regarding
    debates over reparations, affirmative action, social economic support, and civil rights policies.

    I don't think the "average" person of color (or white person for that matter) is really familiar with these things (I know, sounds arrogant).

    So, for example, I identify more with womanists than I do feminists due to feminism's issues regarding voices of middle-class white women dominating the movement. But, I still support feminism, despite its faults, because they have accomplished much and do much to keep the social Darwinists conservatives at bay.

    I don't know if this made any sense. It is not uncommon for me to have problems expressing what I am thinking.

    I just want you to know that in my heart I speak to you from a place of respect and I'm sorry if sometimes my words don't adequately show that.

  19. psychoceramic : Some of the later commenters seem to have missed that the more bizarre occurrences of the term "African-American" have been used not to describe American immigrants from various African countries, but black people from and in other countries that are not, and never were, American.I don't know to what commenters you are referring to, but if it is abagond's comment :
    I think Myblackfriendsays has it right: most whites are uncomfortable with saying "black", they think it is racist, and so they jump at "African American" as a euphemism. To them it just a nice way of sayig "black". They are not thinking that deeply about it, not like you are. That is why you bring them up short when you point it out to them.Then I think you are the one who missed it : the point is that "African-American" is a euphemism that's considered more polite by many than "Black", in the long line of succeeding euphemisms that have been used for them in history. The fact that it's often bizarre and inaccurate is besides the point... Most black americans aren't that dark-skinned anyway (see the one-drop rule) so "black" doesn't make any sense either.

    That's why they'll use "African-American" for "Black" and it won't occur to them that it implies the person is American, and things like that. It basically comes down to the word transcending its etymology. (I'm not sure etymology is the proper word here; I'm talking about the literal meaning of the words' parts, which is different from the meaning of the whole here)

    Of course that's an explanation, not an excuse, because the etymology is really blatant when you pay attention. If someone tells you "but I'm not American, so I can't be African-American" the reaction should be "oh good point ! What should I call you then ?", not "hey, it doesn't mean anything".

  20. If Black Americans prefer to be called Black that's OUR choice to make. No one elses. Throughout history no has ever cared to ask us what we'd prefer to be called. They just assign us names that make them comfortable.
    Good to know things haven't changed much.
    Well said Fro well said. This is excatly what I was trying to say in an earlier post.

  21. People complain to much. Like some one else said, white people probably called her African American because they were trying to be politically correct because that is what blacks are called here. It's not that big of a deal. I'm Caribbean and African American. I could care less if people called me black, Caribbean, African American, African because I'm all of those things. If black people don't learn to put aside these petty issues we will never move forward.

  22. Right on, Kara S.
    I consider myself a black American, with a history and experiences different from Africans who have come here recently.

  23. Hey everyone, sorry to take so long to respond, I was blocked by the China firewall.

    @Anonymous-The Africans I know didn't and do not think that they're better than black Americans, (but that might have been your experience, and I'm sorry if it is) and are still on the receiving end of white racism. I don't think they are more likely to help us out, as I said in the OP we are underpaid and underemployed. I believe part of the reason for high education rates is because it's a self-selecting group; people who are better off to begin with have the means to immigrate.

    @ Myblackfriend- No, you are not correctly interpreting my feelings. If you think that I'm saying I'm superior to most African-Americans, you're reading something that's not there. I wrote that Ghanaians united to resist Britain's colonial regime because, well, that's what happened. My point, as psychocermaics said, I just want to be recognized for what I am and not put into a category into which I don't belong.

    @cdwriteme- I know exactly what you're talking about...the number of times I've heard all Asians referred to as Chinese and all Central and South Americans as Mexican is unreal.

    @ Anonymous- I don't think asking to be called by an accurate label is "petty" or "complaining too much." There are bigger deals, sure, but I don't want to be called something I'm not. If black, Caribbean, African American, and African all apply to you, that's fine; but African American is not a label that applies to me, therefore I shouldn't be called that. I don't see how this has to be a divisive issue among blacks. There can be unity while still acknowledging diversity.

    Thanks to everyone else too for commenting. This is my first post ever, so I'm glad to have so many responses!

  24. Great post, Doreen. And I agree, the most frustrating part about this situation is that folks aren't thinking. Always an annoying reality; regardless of the topic.

    FWIW*: people of color often see my olive skin as a nod to some sort of non-white heritage (possibly to be solidified by the fact that I am covered in tattoos); conversely, white folks often find characteristics that they may qualify as "white" and assume that we are of similiar heritage. (*To be sure, these are generalizations.)

    As a result, I have seen/heard many rediculous opinions in my day. And it always comes back to folks not thinking, or worse when folks don't care - a reality that I feel exists in all of us, at least from time to time. EX: someone, somewhere, could easily point out that I am not up to speed on a particular topic.

    My point, our world provides an endless supply of contentious topics and the remedy lies with those that care to battle the ignorance, mis-education, and/or apathy. In this case, the most dissapointing aspect of the conversation is the fact that many folks, white and black, haven't thought about the power of language. And man, there is power in language.

    Again, great post.

  25. I would like to add to all the black people who say that they have nothing in common with Africa. Of course there are cultural differences, there are cultural differences within the U.S. but I recognize there is a connection b/w NY and Ga. Just as I recognize there are cultural similarities b/w U.S. and UK. When I first went to South Africa, I was greeted with Welcome Home. It was a beautiful experience. I did not get an Us v. Them vibe in the least.

    Caribbeans can say the same thing, that their culture is completely different but then you'll see similarities within the food and the dance and the language and behaviors. It's actually is amazing what cultural remnants survived.

    We say african american because we cannot point to a specific country. If you can, then you should. By all means, call yourself an Nigeria or Kenyan or just African, which is fine and should be encouraged because if you don't then the term AA loses its meaning and a White Zimbabwean can call him/herself an AA which is kind of ridiculous.

    On a side note, I'm kind of pleased with the far reaching affect that African Americans have had on the rest of the world so much so that someone would refer to Naomi Campbell as an AA. Laughable yes, but still intriguing. I know a lot of it has to do with us living in the U.S. but it still makes me feel good.

    I also want to second the poster's comment. Immigrants to the US have a lot more in common with each other than they do with most Americans in general. Most come here with a purpose from professional backgrounds so they would naturally see the opportunities that most americans just don't take advantage of. I know many americans who just chose not to attend college, not because of lack of funds or brains but because they didn't want to. I think that would be unheard of, looked down upon and that person might be shunned in immigrant communities.

  26. I'm a Canadian and in my experience even Canadian refer to blacks as African American of course Canada is a white nation and cannot possibly admit that blacks have been living here for generations. If you refuse that label then move to Jamaicans because once again every single black person has to be a recent immigrant. I steadfastly refuse to answer their questions and leave them puzzled. I want them to think about their assumptions and how racist they really are.

  27. Ok, fair enough. I don't think people should be calling Doreen African-American, but until I find out the who/when/why of how people in the U.S. started to be called black (which I am pretty sure came about during the black power movement,) I don't know that Doreen should be called that either. When I think of black, I think of "black American." I think if you were to go by African or Ghanaian, that makes total sense and it is completely reasonable that you request that people to refer to you in that way.

    However, like I said before about Obama being "black enough," black has a very specific meaning in the U.S., And it only partly means an African immigrant that came here by choice. Much like a white south African could call him or herself African-American. It fits the letter of the law, but not necessarily the spirit.

    I'm not saying that you cannot call yourself black, you can call yourself whatever you want. But I think it is reasonable to point out that some people have very specific ideas about what all of these words mean, and so it can get sticky when trying to discuss them.

    Oh, and I'd also like to say that race is a social construct with no inherent meaning, and we all descended from Africa at one point, so in some ways this whole conversation is moo (:

  28. Does anyone know how to make a post on here?

  29. cdwriteme, do you mean a guest post like the original one here by Doreen? If so, write to me over email if you have an idea for a guest post--I'm always open to them.

    unmakingmacon at gmail dot com

  30. @ Renee: Roughly 75% of Canada, making a quick rough guess, lives in an area where it'd seem like a "white nation". The other 25% of Canada (Toronto and Vancouver and their surrounding areas, making up roughly 8 million out of 33 million people), things are somewhat different, with visible minorities reading your news, writing your parking tickets, arguing in your government. It's not quite like the impression one gets of the US where even in larger cities with lots of people it's all still white men running everything, whether that's actually the case in reality or not. We don't have enough large cities (and even the Canadian born who like civilization) for new immigrants to really pick up and move to in droves, but when you've been in Toronto long enough, the thought that most of the country outside is white seems completely bizarre!

    @Caravelle: That would be Anonymous #1 and myblackfriendsays I was referring to.

  31. This article shamed and frustrated me simultaneously! I am totally guilty of assuming all black people I meet in the US are "African-Americans", although I curtail this instinct when in other countries and use "black" instead (I may have even said the term "African-British", or something like it). I HAVE thought about the connotation of the word American in the phrase and altered it for non-Americans. But I never thought about it that much - hence the shame.

    But this makes me frustrated as well. What am I supposed to call people? When I first meet someone, I default to "African American" or "Native American". (If they are Americans.) I expect them to inform me if they prefer a different term, but please understand that I am desperately trying not to offend anyone, and I consider the hyphenated term to offend less people potentially. Now I'm going to be really paranoid that I've been inadvertantly offending people for years.

    I don't really like the term "black", either. Nobody is actually black, and nobody is actually white.

  32. Strangely, I wrote something related to this over at my spot.

    It's good to hear about it from the perspective of somebody who lives it.

  33. @Anna - I'm a little confused. In what context do you use hyphenated terms? Are these contexts in which it is necessary to identify the person by ancestry, or can you just as easily say, 'American'? I suppose what I'm suggesting is that if it's the first time you're meeting someone (as you said), then just keep it simple or use whatever label they use to introduce themselves.

  34. Cdwriteme,

    The thing about being black is that it connects us with other black people in the African Diaspora. There are big black movements throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, especially. That's why being black is important. There is no sense of individualism in that.

  35. This is very frustrating--I am racist and evil if I call people "black" instead of "African-American." And I am racist and evil if I call people "African-American" instead of "black". I'd *like* to say the right thing, but I'm getting contradictory orders here. I'm not a mind reader. I'll obey the rules and call people what I'm supposed to, but somebody needs to decide what the rules *are* first!

  36. I am Black British or British Nigerian. In the UK white people there seem to call most black people Afro Carribean my teacher said it a lot and the african were like "Miss just say black some of us aren't from the carribeans some are from africa and other south america not just carribean"

    Also the Naomi Campbell thing I find it so funny people refer to her as African American when she is indeed british ever listen to her thick arse east london accent. Black Britsh Carribean

    I guess people do use terms like Afro Carribean and African American as euthumism when I went to the US I was refered to as African American and I was shocked I mean did you just not hear me speak my accent is thick I don't sound like you guys lol

  37. Kara S.,

    I just want you all to prosper, as I do other people of color. The good white folks join in, and at some point we'll have so much momentum peace-loving people will become the majority.

    It's not gonna happen in the near future but the momentum is slowly shifting.

  38. @ Anna- to my understanding, most people in most parts of the world don't do the hyphenation thing as a way to distinguish race. That seems to be an American construction. While no one is actually black and no one is actually white, those words have taken on their own meaning in terms of describing race, so it's problematic to use those to describe people.

    @ Anonymous- really, I have never, ever heard a black person get angry or upset about being called black. I have, however, had white people get upset, say it's "racist" or politically incorrect, and it seems interesting to me that they seem to take offense to it without even bothering to listen to the people to whom it pertains. It seems your frustration may be a bit misplaced.

    @ Black British Girl-exactly. You hit the nail on the head there.

  39. Full disclosure: I'm a black Jamaican resident alien. I grew up in the US and still live here. I'm certainly Americanized; so much so that I say "we" when I refer to America. But the fact is, I am neither American nor African. I go by "black," or sometimes "brown" (because I am; and no, I don't mind the overlap with other "brown" peoples). I correct people if they call me AA, but how would they know any different? I have an American accent, after all.Many commenter wondered what to "call people" upon first meeting. The thing that strikes me is, why is race/color is so important? I don't mean philosophically/morally/culturally, I mean conversationally. Socially. Really, how often does it come up? (Especially on first meeting!)

    Wait. I'm kind of liking the Newspeak possibilities here. If you don't have a word to talk about my race, does it cease to exist? (Or, is that what "African-American" is already doing, in a bad way? Does AA="unwhite"??)

  40. You're going to love this!
    From the 2000 US Census form definitions:
    "Black/African American: A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as 'Black, African Am., or Negro', or provide written entries such as African American, Afro American, Kenyan, Nigerian, or Haitian." [emphasis added]Maybe I'm over-parsing this, but did I just read that properly? A write-in of "Kenyan" counts as a race? And: what does "slash-African-American" add to the category? Are they asking about skin color, culture, or place of origin? Even they don't quite seem to know.

  41. @Doreen: Hmm, I think you're right--I've never had a black/African-American/(whatever term I'm supposed to use) person get angry at me or call me racist for using the term "black". Or even see one do so to anyone else.

    But white liberals do that all the time. Including sources like the OEEO at work. Or the official style manuals that set regulations on my writing for work.

    And frankly, it all happened suddenly in the 80s. Before that, the term was "black", and had been my whole life (I was born in 1966). Then all of a sudden, the term was "African-American", and you were an evil racist if you said "black". It's in official style manuals and everything. And then it gradually seemed you could use "black" after all--except that the official policies all say not to, and yes, you can get fired for violating OEEO policies. *And now I read that I'm racist if I say "African-American"!*

    I'll call people what they want to be called--but I do need to be told what this is. And if they change their name, I need a heads up.

  42. First let me start by saying that I agree with what the author said concerning the combining of all Black People together into one racial group considering that all of them don't come from Africa. However, I also feel that White people say "African-American" because they feel they are being politically correct. I am half black and half white, and I have heard every possible description out there when White people try to correctly refer to a black person. Being honest; it will take more than one time of telling someone that you're not African-American to get them to call you by your preferred label. They're trying to be polite and seeing as to how they are only exposed to American black people, they automatically say "African-American". Most Africans don't even correct them when they make these errors.

    Now on a different note. I sense an almost palpable disgust when you mention the comparisons between Black Americans and Black African immigrants. I know you spoke of their culture and history, but it seems like a mask for your true emotions.

    I have alot of African friends; some from Somalia, Ethiopia, Senegal, Nigeria, Niger, and Ghana. I hate to say this but each one of them have told me that there is a strong dislike in their countries for Black Americans. I myself have also run into this racist mentality when dealing with black Africans. I had a woman tell me that I have no country and that therefore I have no real history. I've had my uncle's brother (my uncle is from Nigeria, he married into the family obviously) say that I only have one good side to my family and that's my white side. He said that if I went to Nigeria that the white side is what would get me places and open doors.

    Basically, it comes down to this...

    I agree with what you said, but I don't know if I really agree with why you are saying it. I hope that you're sincere in your implied meaning and that you aren't in actually trying to degrade a people who have been through hell and back and who have only in the last 40 years been able to start the climb up the equlity ladder after being enslaved for over 200 years and then oppressed for another 140 years (some will say till this day)

    I love both sides of my family and I just want you to understand, we get where you're coming from, I'm just not sure that your pride isn't on the verge of actual racism or bigotry. I hope not.

  43. For all of those who use the term "African American" as opposed to "black" or "black American": A considerable chunk of the African continent is NOT black Africa. And the people born in that chunk do not consider themselves to be, neither do they look, black--yet, they are African. And you are not them. So for you to lay claim to Africa in toto as a symbol of your blackness, well that just ignores the reality of who can truly be considered African. (And I am not talking about the whites who were born and live in various countries on the continent when I state that Africa is not a one-hundred percent black place.)

  44. I'm writing this from Shanghai using a proxy server (ninja cloak is good) so the marvelous author of this post can check her comments if she wishes. I thoroughly enjoyed her writing, wish she would write more- hell, I wish she could sit and join me for a coffee and a few hours of discussing this stuff. Keep it up!

  45. Everybody in America is not in the United States.

    So what's your point, Redcat?

    It's not like Black is a literal/accurate descriptor... So, again, your point?

  46. In Australia...

    African Americans are either on TV/Movies or off US Military ships.

    African immigrants are people who live in the same neighbourhood as me.

    Black is mostly used for Indigenous Australians.

    Of course, those are massive generalisations but those are what those words initially mean to me.

  47. Dr Sherman Jackson's book "Islam and the Blackamerican" coins the term Blackamerican to distinguish between indigenous blacks and recent black immigrants.

  48. That was a pretty interesting post. What gets me also is that "black history month" covers what exactly in the United States (since saying America is somewhat all-encompassing, eh? Are we talking North America from Canada down to Mexico, Central America or South America?) That could have been something else to get into-
    maybe in a future post? When i was in school..everything was centered around Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and that's fine and important, but if it's going to be called "Black" history month
    then, in terms of what you're discussing, there should be more to it. And Frederick Douglass...sure...
    but everything during the shortest month on the Western calendar is centered around their fight for equality, which should never have been a question anyway. People call it progressive today to treat people fairly- there's something intrinsically wrong with that,
    especially with those who wear their conservative religion on their sleeves and call the U.S. a Christian nation. Land of the free...if you don't happen to be Black, Asian, Hispanic, etc.

    So now we're "progressive," but if it doesn't have a name, then one needs to work so that everyone can have the same small picture in their head. Labeling people out of some kind of short-sited political correctness doesn't seem to get the job done properly.

    I can't experience what you've experienced, Doreen. I've got a white face, an American English accent, and family from Europe and Russia. This identity problem you have no problem with, but everyone else does- and by that I mean you know who and what you are- seems to be a progressive plague that no one of any "importance" is doing anything about. What bothered me about President Obama was about how much the media harped on him in terms of race. He's the right guy for the job. Endstop. White guys run for office, it's business as usual. Anyone who isn't "white" and all hell breaks loose.

    It's been projected that within the next 15-30 years or so whites will be the minority. Then what's going to happen? Shall we have a white history month in a few more generations? I wonder what that would be like.

  49. @ yamaraz-do we know each other? I'm available for hours of discussion if you want...but I don't drink coffee so it'll have to be milk or something. Maybe a mango smoothie.

    @ Anonymous-- You should be fine if you say "black" because as you said...most of us aren't offended by that...if you're not sure you can just ask which one they prefer...

    @ gooblyglob-that makes sense, the racial labels differ with every country.

    @ millionth anonymous-I think I've made it pretty clear that I don't have any disdain towards traditional black Americans. The disgust that you're reading is nonexistent. My problem is with the rest of us being ignored/having incorrect assumptions made about us and having inaccurate labels imposed on us. I agree with you that there is some African disdain of black Americans, but that's not a one-way street. Although, that's an entire discussion entirely.

  50. Doreen,
    I am a gay white man from Texas so I understand to an extent (don't everyone freak out, you don't have to be black or a woman to know discrimination), what being descriminated against is about. I can remember as a child listening to my father making jokes about the "fags & blacks" he worked with, (put them all in a boat and set it on fire), so I know how it hurts to be condimned just for being alive. I am however finding it hard to read how all "whites" are being lopped into a category of those who are "stupid and ignorant" not your words but those of your blogers. My family immigrated from Germany and Poland in the late 19th century through Ellis Island and have worked as lower, lower middle class citizens to better themselves. I've spent my life going to school and standing shoulder to shoulder with kids from many coutries and have never thought of them as less, they were always my friends. It has always puzzled me however why me and every other white person regardless of whether we were from Britian, Scottland, Switzerland, etc..was always considered a Caucasian and everyone else had a country of origin hyphenated in front of American, i.e. African, Mexican, Asian?? I hate the hyphenated terms not because I am uncomfortable using the word "black" which I can remember as a child became the word of choice over "Negro." I hate it because most blacks using the term are no more African (other than their ancestry) than I am German, it just sounds pretentious and takes away from the pride and loyalty one should show towards their country. If there is to be a hyphenated term why not American of _____ descent. I think in the next few years as we see the shift in minority power push whites into the minority the real "bubbas" whose hatred towards those who are different than themselves will become clear and hopefully those of use (whites) who truly do not discriminate in our hearts will be vindicated. I apolgize if anything I have said offends anyone this is just my opinion.

  51. >It has always puzzled me however why me and every other white person regardless of whether we were from Britian, Scottland, Switzerland, etc..was always considered a Caucasian and everyone else had a country of origin hyphenated in front of American, i.e. African, Mexican, Asian?? I

    Africa and Asia are continents, not countries, fyi

  52. I'm a hetero Chicano, just to disclose.

    White Guy,

    You said, "I hate it because most blacks using the term are no more African (other than their ancestry) than I am German, it just sounds pretentious and takes away from the pride and loyalty one should show towards their country."

    I think you're clueless and offensive, point blank. "White" is right, beautiful, the pinnacle, etc... in the mythology and daily functioning of America. Your country is not the same country most people of color experience. Our country has a de facto second-tier of citizenship to which we belong.

    To us, passively just being "American" is politically, economically, and socially suicidal. It is to completely ignore the volumes of sociological data showing the myth of meritocracy and the separate and unequal Americas that exists. It is to say "can't we all get along" when the price of getting along with (many) whites is to accept subservience.

    You, yourself, are indeed German-American. You don't need to draw attention to that because your whiteness is the ultimate "master key" to open opportunities to you in America.

    You also mentioned that it sounds "pretentious". Woah. That takes some nerve. The definition I have on my screen of pretentious is "characterized by assumption of dignity or importance". Yeah, imagine that. Further, if we don't demand and fight to be treated with dignity we won't be in the racist United States. Does that ring a bell to you, a gay man?

    Another thing I'd like to comment about is the fact that you are a gay white man. All the LGBTQ folks I've talked to have told me that racism is a BIG problem in those communities. It seems that whiteness trumps everything. As you know also, though it's certainly wrong to feel that persons sometimes feel the need to do so, gay men can disguise their identity when in a hostile environment. Brown, Red, Black, and Yellow people don't have that option.

    "America" has always been understood to mean "white America". Whether it be past immigration policies, job opporunities and promotions, labor organizing, politics, the financial world, decisions about placement of toxins or landfills, law enforement, the judicial system (including the death penalty), etc...., the complete double standards have been regarded as, to paraphrase Chris Rock, "alllllright.....cause it's alllllll white".

    People of color HAVE TO do things to be noticed as human beings deserving of the basic respect due all persons. That is our America.

  53. Wow, I really was not trying to offend anyone. I was just trying to express the fact that not all white people are out to get every other race that isn't white. Blanket statements about white people "in my opinion which I'm entitled to" are just as incorrect as assuming all blacks are African. I apologize if anyone was offended, just expressing my point of view. Oh and I know Africa and Asia are continents, stop being so critical. Maybe that's part of our problem in this country.

  54. I don't think it's about whether or not people are 'out to get' POC. Most people I know aren't. Most people want to be nice and 'tolerant'. But that's the problem - people don't want to be 'tolerated', they want to be accepted and seen as equal.

    It's also about recognizing that not everyone enjoys the privilege that comes with being white (or any other reason besides race/ethnicity, e.g. wealth, education, etc). Recognizing that privilege will go a long way in becoming sensitive to those who are different.

  55. fromthetropics,

    I completely identify with what you said. While it is true that the word "tolerance" has taken on a life of it's own with positive connontations about unity, it still sounds too much like "tolerate". The definitions of tolerate include: 1) to allow to be or not be done without prohibition and 2) to put up with.

    I think the reality is that the "average" person thinks about their understanding of the word tolerate when they hear the word tolerance. It just comes across as insulting.

    A similar situation, at least in my opinion, could occur regarding the use of the term "white supremacist". In some academic and social justice circles, it can be used more/less interchangeably with the term "white privilege".

    Nonetheless, given the understanding of the "average" person of what the term means, I wouldn't go around telling white people they contribute and benefits from white supremacy. They would assume I was telling them they are affiliated with the Klan.

    It would be great if "tolerance" wasn't the common word being tossed around. Maybe "respectfullness" would be better.

  56. I think we should all just be called African or black.

  57. So one of the "stuff white people do" you're complaining about is referring to all Blacks as African-Americans? Well thank *ahem* African-Americans for insisting on getting rid of "black" in favor of this linguistically vague and sloppy neologism, lest we be accused of being "racially insensitive."

  58. @cdwriteme said "America" has always been understood to mean "white America".

    Did you happen to stop yourself from writing "and always will be white America." That is really backwards thinking, just because a certain situation was the case in the past doesn't mean that the future will be the same. Do you believe you are less American than some some white person? They (the white collective) *want* you to differentiate yourself as something other. The way I see it, you are doing their job for them.

    I just love seeing "white people" squirm when I say I am Australian. They are far more comfortable with me implying that I'm a foreigner but I'm not so I won't. I am not going to let them own a label that rightfully belongs to so many other people.

    @cdwriteme also said "I think you're clueless and offensive, point blank."

    I also think you are rude and dismissive. Your view isn't the only one. Probably shocking to you but it's true.

  59. gooblyglob and cdwriteme, it saddens me to see the growing acrimony between the two of you, because I can see that you're on the same page together much more than either of you seems to realize. For example, it's clear that cdwriteme (who can correct me if I'm wrong) did not "happen to stop [him]self from writing 'and always will be white America,'" because he agrees with gooblyglob that the fact that "America" has always been understood to mean "white America" "is really backwards thinking" (to say it's commonly understood to mean that is not to say that one agrees).

    Please take it easy on each other.

  60. Thank you for this post! There is also another blog that discusses a documentary about this same topic:

    And can people stop referring to people from African countries as simply "African'?? Reeaallly. It sows no knowledge of the mindblowingly diverse continent from Which people from African countries come from...

  61. Good post. This was very well written and is on point.

    I am a decendant of West African slaves (and Native Americans), but I do not like to be refered to as African-American, I much prefer to be called black.

  62. If you are of African descent (black) and in America as a either citizen or born there, you can categorize yourself as "African American". African American history IS African history. All history of those of African descent (blacks) throughout the African Diaspora IS African history. Whether Doreen Yomoah likes it or not, any individual of African descent (black) that is in America is American. The same goes for any other immigrant group. Their origin comes first, then the hyphenated American name follows. Whether they've been in America for generations, having family born here or being born here themselves, they are AMERICAN.

  63. What most african immigrants fail to realize is that although african americans were enslaved africans, who strenously fought against enslavement and oppression, african americans also share your history of being descendants of africa's glorious past, a fact that many africans refuse to recognize.

    Africans were, and to some extent is still affected by the ravages of colonialization (another form of enslavement),and like many african americans, africans still suffer from what black social scientists refer to as "the shackles of mental slavery" caused by the exposure of centuries of colonialism and imperialism.

    What is so amazing is that while africans often boast about not having a legacy of slavey and bondgage as african americans do, however, their history of colonialism does not exempt them from the self-hatred directed against themselves and blacks of the diaspora, a negative legacy that still lingers upon all black people who were either enslaved or colonized share, which is evident by your post.

    It is easy to focus on the differences among africans and african americans, and feel smug about perceived differences and accomplishments, my question is: how does this translate into amassing political power for africans as a whole? What immigrant africans fail to recognize is that they have much more in common with african americans contrary to what they want to believe.

    From my years of observation, the underlying reason that immigrant africans do not want to identify or associate with african americans, and are annoyed when they are lumped with them is that they erroneously believe the lie that they are somewhat "superior, or better than african americans because they have not been enslaved.

    This is what is strongly coming from your post. Immigrant africans are quick to point out that they have achieved more than african americans in this country. But like "johnny come lately", every immigrant group who came to American was able to boast the same in comparison to other immigrant groups that came before them.

    Immigrant africans are quick to accuse african americans of being low achievers, or unintelligent. Many other ethnic groups are saying this about the masses of africans who are living in africa who still suffer from the affects of colonialism, despite receiving centuries of foreign aid. While I understand your position of wanting to feel a sense of ethnocentricity toward your african culture, I couldn't help being offended by the title of your post. To me, it spoke volumes about the level of ignorance and arrogance that is directed against african americans by many africans.

  64. You are right. I am a postgraduate Ugandan medical student in Russia.

    I have lived here since 1989 and most people here still ask me why black students prefer to communicate in Russian instead of their their native African language(Note:not languages).They fail to understand that Africa is not a country but a big and diverse continent, proving that getting education does not always mean becoming educated.

  65. Ugandan pg, you reminded me of my African Caribbean British friend (black) who was studying in China about 10 years ago. One day he bumped into a friend (also black, but from the French speaking part of Africa, I can't remember where though). So here they were, two black guys in the middle of the streets of Shanghai speaking in their only common language - Mandarin. It didn't take long for a crowd to gather around in amazement. My friend thought it was funny.

  66. I don't like the term African-American and although, the author cites being Warriors, traders, etc. People also view Ghanians, Nigerians and others as scammers. I'm sorry, I don't see anything so honorable about that. Also, considering that many Ghanians who remained in the country were the descendants of slave traders, I don't see the need to hold them up as a beacon of light. Sorry, "I'm just saying"

  67. I think the whole way we use racial labels in the States is flawed. There is far too much generalization without taking into account the huge variance within races. By stereotyping entire groups into "Asians" or "Whites", we ignore the special needs of particular groups. I've seen ignorance from people of ALL colors in terms of labeling others incorrectly, not just hyper-sensitive whites. If we all took the time to learn a little more about the huge differences within communities, we'd start to see people in a much more individual light. Here where I live, I always distinguish the Liberian community from "American blacks", or the Hmong community from the Chinese. Each group has an entirely different culture, and history, and their own set of problems and needs. It's extremely important that this fact is recognized and respected.

  68. To all "Africans," . . . many black Americans (African Americans)are aware of your derogatory views, in relation to us. We are also aware of the African role in the slave trade. If you are so superior to black Americans, then I must ask this question. . . "Why are all the sub-saharan or "black-African" countries so messed up. If the progeny of the "west-African slaves" hadn't stood up to white supremacy, your black ass would probably have not been allowed to immigrate. (lol)

  69. B said

    "To all "Africans," . . . many black Americans (African Americans)are aware of your derogatory views, in relation to us. We are also aware of the African role in the slave trade. If you are so superior to black Americans, then I must ask this question. . . "Why are all the sub-saharan or "black-African" countries so messed up. If the progeny of the "west-African slaves" hadn't stood up to white supremacy, your black ass would probably have not been allowed to immigrate." (lol)

    To be quite honest this is a good question, given the subject.

    However, I would appreciate it if you do not generalise, because you couldn't possibly know what all "Africans" are thinking. Now, I am of African origin and I do not personally see myself as better than any other Black person. As far as I am concerned, I see all Black people as one and the same and equal regardless of the continents that we are currently settled within or the challenges we continue to face as Black people.

    It's funny (not ha ha funny), but I never see Black people blaming the White man for coming to steal Africans away from their home land, but I often see Africans getting blamed for the slave trade.

    In your commentary, I see no mention of White people taking part in slavery. Anyway, how can someone coming to burgle your house with the pretence that they are coming to read your meter be trade?

    It just goes to show how we as Black people have been miseducated, misled and continue to be miseducated as to their exact role in the quest to the exact role of the colonial masters's quest to conquer Africa and leave their lasting legacy behind with "divide and rule" tactics of the African continent and Black people as a whole. Even to this day, you can still see Africans in Africa and beyond the continent fighting over "good hair", "light skin", tribal disputes, internal civil war, and other common legacies of the slavery eg questioning/challenging "master".

    To be quite honest, I could go on and on, but I will stop there.

    On the question about the African countries failing...Well, that is a bit of a long story, but to cut a long story short, when the slave masters/colonial masters (whatever you want to call them) finally left the African continent, they left the most incompetent, greedy, corrupt and of course the least educated in power, in turn setting off a self-destruct mechanism, which can still be witnessed until the present day.

    I could also ask you and in fact I am asking you, now that Black people are settled in America, why is there so much Black on Black violence over there, greed and lack of contentment? Could this be down to the fact that our shackles and chains have long been broken, but we continue to be enslaved mentally?

    Enslavement happens in a number of ways for example, the break down of the family unit, beaming negative images into our homes via satellite which we absorb subconsciously, debt, violence, drugs, chemicals in our food and the get rich quick lifestyle (greed) and the illusion that without a proper education we can truly compete in a largely capitalist, greedy and money obsessed society.

    Unfortunately, a lot of Black people on both sides of the Ocean have bought into this lifestyle and ideals of a moralless society and are living on the self-destruct mechanism.

    Unfortunately, we have been robbed twice, in Africa and in the "Wild West". Success comes with conformity and "abiding" or selling out or else we struggle to move forward.

    On a final note, I want to leave you with a quote from Shabba Ranks from his song family affair, which I think sums it all up quite nicely...

    "Unity is strength, without the unity we ain't got nothing."

  70. I read what you said about what you feel you are but I have to wonder if feel that someone like me is an African-American because I don't.

    My mother and her family are Louisiana Creole, my father is Japanese and black. I consider myself black but NOT African American. Even if both my parents were just generalized American black, I still wouldn't consider myself African American. I understand that the amount of melanin in my skin means that I likely descended from slaves/have African descent but, excluding that, I have no other ties to Africa. I am just an American. That is my culture. I think that it's ridiculous to tie me to a continent I know nothing about based off my skin color. From reading this, it seems you would label me African American and I wanted to point out that, though I agree with the things you've said, you've forgotten how offensive it may be to someone like me to be called that as well.

  71. Get over it. No matter what you call a black they take offence. they dont have a chip on their shoulder, they have an entire 10 kg sack of potatoes.

    We always have to hear their whining about how whites treat them. Whites dont take offence at being lumped whites.

    Negro, build a bridge and get over it. Oops, building bridges is engineering: a white thing.

    Jy praat moer se kak.

  72. HVanDerMerwe, I really think it's you who's talking crap. Whites certainly do take offense at being lumped with other whites -- most of them in the U.S., at least. They'd MUCH rather think of themselves, in an illusory manner, as individuals whose racial status has nothing at all to do with who they are, and how they got where they are.

    As for your complaint about having to hear black "whining" -- I really think it's you who's doing the whining.

  73. I'm tired of people using the word "ehtnic" when what they really mean is "non-white". (As in "The FBI is currently aware of a nationwide attempt to extort ethnic business owners...")
    Anybody with me?

  74. Great essay. Calling 'Africa' a country is, unfortunately, a very American thing to do. I've even seen news reporters do it by accident. In fact, I'd substitute 'American' for 'white' in almost every instance. Much of what you're seeing as blatant racism is actually a lovely mix of hyperpatriotism and xenophobia (with some racism sprinkled in).

    Yet if you think that attitude is limited to whites, I believe you are mistaken. I'm originally from Sénégal and studied in the States. Non-Americans (even canadians) got it. Americans didn't, even with my accent. And that includes (actual) African-Americans who assumed that I was either putting on airs or was American but also really rich and snobby.

    Again, great essay all around, breaking this down as a black and white issue does a real disservice to the main premise – that we can't all be lumped together.

  75. I'm a white American and I completely agree with this article. I think it's ridiculous to call black people African-American. For one (as mentioned in the article) not every black person in the world is from American. Also, calling black Americans African-American puts them in a different category than other Americans. While I disagree with the term I do understand why white people refer to black Americans as African-American. Some people (regardless of race) have a tendency to think white people are racist if they call black people black and not African-American so whites as a group have gotten in the habit of just saying African-American to avoid being called a bigot, racist, etc. I don't understand why white people would call black people who aren't American African-American though (especially when they are visiting a foreign country). That seems rather stupid to me.

  76. hey, nice article, i stop on it randmoly, i never been in US neither in Africa, i`m european, romanian to be exact, while i was in UK last year, ì`ve had to fill some papers, in one of the fields i had to wirte about my race, so, i had write romanian, and the guy at the desk told me that i should write caucasian not romanian, not white(because it sounds bad), so basicaly, officaly speaking in UK for instance i`m a caucasian, (i suppose coming from the caucasus moutains in now days russia), so you see, its complicated!

  77. Having thought about it, I'm more convinced that the term "African American" stems from fear more than anything else.

    People need labels. We all know that... however some labels, despite how literally descriptive they are, have been the subject of an unspoken ban in polite society. Why would a white American reference somebody as black, when there is the possibility that it could be construed as offensive? It is much "safer" to call them African American as the vast majority of blacks consider it appropriate. The very existence of this blog post illustrates how rare it is for Americans (of any type) to consider African American as a generic term unacceptable.

    Language is a funny thing... it is shaped by all sorts of influences.

    People are people, Americans are Americans, most are proud of their heritage, but in the end why does it matter?

    Very simply, from my perspective, the only reason there is a failure to distinguish is because people make such an issue of individual distinction.

    Ironic, and a little sad, but I guess it's always been harder to keep a see-saw balanced in the middle rather than letting it tip to one end or the other.

  78. A few questions that I have are- can you disguish between a Canadian and white American, or an Austrailian to a farmer, how about a Russian to a white American? Italian? Greek? German? The answer is most likely "no". When you say "American", do you mean South America or North America? Or should we assume you are refering to the United States.

    I believe anyone (black americans), that name their children with an African descent name in order to keep in touch with their roots, that get upset when called African American is looking for pity attention.
    Also, not everyone born in Africa is black. To assume such would be naive and then to form an opinion on something you are naive about is idiotic.

    You mention slave trade? The Dutch and the Portuguese are the ones that started and capitalized on the slave trade. You could go to Egypt TODAY and still see slaves through their caste ranking system. All types of people were slaves, not just one color from one continent.

  79. Hector the Deflector,

    Deployment of the Arab Trader Argument will get you precisely nowhere on this blog.

  80. Sheesh Hector. Chill. But to answer your questions:

    >can you disguish between a Canadian and white American,

    Once they start talking, yes. Or, when they're overseas, often Canadians have less of an air, whereas Americans often send off an 'our country is supreme' sort of vibe. Not all are like this of course. They're the kind who you'll find in the following scenario:

    (You're in country X and with a bunch of people from different countries, and you ask each person where they're from and they say:)
    Japanese person: Japan
    Greek person: Greece
    American person: Cincinnati (and of course, they expect you to know where that is).

    >or an Austrailian to a farmer,

    Not sure what you mean there. A farmer from which country?

    >how about a Russian to a white American? Italian? Greek? German?

    I'm not familiar with Russians. But yes, I can distinguish between Italians, Greeks, Germans and white Americans. Firstly, Europeans tend to dress more neatly. If you walk into a room full of Europeans, and then walk into a room full of Americans, you'll notice the difference. And plus, the Italians, Greeks and Germans tend to have different physical features (though not always), gestures, and for goodness sakes, languages.

    I'm not even Caucasian and I can differentiate between them. Are you saying that you can't?

    >I believe anyone (black americans), that name their children with an African descent name in order to keep in touch with their roots, that get upset when called African American is looking for pity attention.

    Uhm...did you read the post? What she means is that even AFTER she has verbally told people in their native language (English) that she is NOT American, people still talk about her as 'African American'.

    >All types of people were slaves, not just one color from one continent.

    Yes, there's heaps of sex slaves in the US today too. (Mainly women and children who are forced into the sex industry without pay...oh gasp, they're probably illegal immigrants too - sarcasm) So what's your point?

  81. ps. Though of course, it would be kinda difficult to distinguish between an Italian American who's speaking Italian with an Italian from Italy. But since I can certainly tell the difference between a Japanese American who's speaking Japanese and a Japanese from (born and raised in) Japan, I'm sure it might work with those of Italian descent too.

  82. Have you considered that many White Americans are just ignorant?

    I've noticed that even with higher education and extensive travel they maintain ignorant beliefs with regards to other races. They tend to be quick to stereotype and make dumb racist offensive comments. Intentionally or unintended. I suspect many of them know this about themselves so they just went ahead and created a default race for Black people so as not to offend anyone. But in all that effort produced yet again a major FAIL! It's ignorance by proxy and arrogance by self entitlement.

    Someone decided that African-American was the new Black. PC'ism. I'm a Black American that doen't use the term African American. Simiply put I'm not African. Everything I know is American. In fact some of my "African" ancesters went through Africa but started out in the Middle-East but were sold into the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as Africans.

  83. .

    Contrary to common assumption -- the
    terms "Black" and "African-American" DO
    NOT actually even mean the same thing.



  84. Dear people,

    I liked reading the blog by Orange, and I think she/he really does have a point.

    And even though I love the USA, were I (like the writer) lived for a brief period, there is something they miss over there: understanding of a world outside their borders.

    I am European, white, and from the Netherlands, though for an American citizen I'm generally just referred to as a European, or someone from Europe. No distinction to country as well, like Africa is Europe basically one big country to them.

    Not to brag about the general European citizen, because I doubt you find many people in Europe who is able to mention all African countries with its capital. Most likely the same bias will occur in Africa. People tend to just make the world spin around their own life, whereever that may be.

  85. your story is very interesting cause I had the opposite effect when I went to Sweden in 1986.
    Every assumed I was African because my skin is black so they just wanted to know which country I was from. When I told them I was American (well I didnt consider myself American back then)they were very disappointed cause to be African was more exotic.
    I called myself a NewYorker period.
    I knew nothing about any other part of American so I couldnt claim to be an American (funny now with Prez O i feel American. I was born in 1955 but in Queens NY and didnt feel the problems of racism & segration so its hard for be to related totally with that experience. Living in Texas now I feel very out of place and I feel very out of place cause these black people are not like the black people I know in NYC.
    I guess if you are a child of two Africans (of which ever country) and your born in American you are more of an American-African cause you arent truly just African either cause you dont have their experience.
    On the cencuss you yourself can define yourself.
    I know in Sweden in the history books they were calling American Indians (red Indians) and they said Europeans went to African to get slaves, but when I protested they leet me give a lecture when I let the kids know that Africa was not a land of slaves, it was a land of many different African people whom were captured and kidnapped against their will and thru human trafficing were sold into slavery.
    In Sweden black swedes have a very hard time being swedish.
    I think taking the color of of the whole thing would be a good start.
    Also we have to realize that just because your parents are from a certain country doesnt be you have the traditions of just that DNA, its where or how you are raised that means alot.
    Even tho Prez. O is Kenyan and American he was raised in Indonisa and Hawaii so he doesnt have the traditional mainland American traditions.
    From reading your post to be you are an International woman a woman of no particular color but a woman of a mixture of cultures.
    The goal is that we all become like you and that you understand that your heritage is ghanian but you have evolved from being just that a long time ago.

  86. I couldn't have said it better. Most Americans can't differentiate foreigners from immigrants, or American minorities. To them, the concept of foreigner simply doesn't exist in the States, everyone is American/immigrant as soon as they set foot on American soil. The difference is, if you have a green card, you are a legal immigrant. If you don't, then you must be an "undocumented immigrant," and should somehow try to get your green card in order to become legit. You simply cannnot just be a foreigner, and be left alone at that. I've once had a well educated friend who immediately apologized to me after accidentally referred to me as a "foreigner," which I am. He corrected himself by mumbling to himself "I'm sorry. There is no foreigners in America. There's no foreigners in America. I kept forgetting that." I just didn't know what to say to him!

    I think an important contributing factor is that the author speaks English with an American accent, which is probably more of an international school accent, but it is very close to the accent Americans speak with on TV. This gives Americans the false impression that the author is more American than she really is. It is the frustration with many international school alums.


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