Not all black people are African American. Here's the difference.
Protests against Black Lives Matter have opened discussions about the history of privileges, racism and the lived experiences and identities of blacks in America. Now the distinction between "black" and "African American" has become an important conversation on social media.
Many people often refer to "African Americans" for political correctness or courtesy. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but that's not always true, and it's important to understand the nuance when discussing races both in America and on a global level.
"There are blacks all over the world on every continent," said Professor Celeste Watkins-Hayes, professor of African American studies at Northwestern University. "African Americans are country-specific. We usually speak of blacks who were born in the United States."
?? ?? ???? ?? ???? ?? ?????? Let's talk about semantics. Whether teacher, trainer, acquaintance or stranger, I have always noticed a slight hesitation, which shows me that they are not sure which term is appropriate. Black or African American? pic.twitter.com/lavqF5fPnU
- Gloria Atanmo | The blog abroad (@ GL0) June 11, 2020
This means that for a long time in our country's history, blacks were most likely direct descendants of enslaved Africans. Watkins-Hayes described the adoption of the term African American as "a very conscious step by black communities to denote our Americanity, but also to denote this African legacy".
Immigration to the United States increased over time, and people who identify themselves as black in America were also likely to be first and second generation immigrants unrelated to the history of slavery in that country.
"So when we think about what happened after the 1960s, you saw that immigration is increasing among black people who were not born in the United States. People who come from Africa, the Caribbean, from Europe and see themselves as identify those black, but do not identify them as African Americans. "
Darien LaBeach, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy at digital marketing agency Huge Inc., was born in Jamaica and grew up in the United States.
"I'm black and I'm an African American born in Jamaica, but I call myself and identify myself as black," he said. "I had to assume different identities at different times in my life. But my blackness is the overarching umbrella of these different flavors of my identity."
LaBeach's experience is just one example of the complexity of black identities, especially in the United States. Some people who are originally from other countries and live in the United States accept African Americans because of their cultural and historical roots in the black experience specific to that country. "African Americans aren't even technically what I am," he said. "I'm a black person born in Jamaica, but I took this label from African Americans because I live there."
These layers of racial identity can be extremely personal and nuanced. There are some Americans who identify as both, and some who prefer black over African Americans because they cannot really trace their lineage.
"Part of what was stolen when we think of slavery, when we think of colonization, was that line," said Watkins-Hayes. "[They say] 'I don't even feel good when I say Africans because I don't know where my people came from.'"
"Black" is often a better standard setting that recognizes and celebrates the race, culture, and lived experiences of people around the world. "The step you are now facing towards black is to recognize the global nature of blackness," said Watkins-Hayes. "Well, I think that's the more universal term."
The recognition of a larger community of black people is also part of the justification for capitalizing the word. "It recognizes the cultural, historical, and social importance of black as a category that deserves capitalization," said Watkins-Hayes.
"We are all connected," said LaBeach of the importance of the term black to him. "Our experiences are different, but we are still connected."
But Watkins-Hayes adds that the best thing to do is just ask what his preference is if someone wants to know for sure how a black person identifies. "It's an opportunity to talk."
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