Why I Don’t Use the Term African-American

8 May

 

As I sat here watching TV, potentially blogging or studying, I heard a recount of someone’s interaction with a criminal. When the investigator asked them for a physical description, the person replied that they looked European. That caught my attention.

How do you look European?

And for that matter, why do we call black people African-American or Hispanic people Mexican or Mexican-American?

First, there are so many countries in Europe, and such a variety of people, that I don’t think someone can look European, just like I don’t think its possible to look American. Then, there is the term African-American. I’ve had several discussions about the term, and some people prefer to be called African-American, some prefer to be called black, and others prefer whatever comes naturally. I hear its also “politically correct”.

I don’t like it. I don’t use it. The people we usually refer to as African-American aren’t actually from Africa; They are from the United States.  The people who are from Africa, aren’t necessarily black, either. Ever seen The Color of Friendship? The girl gets a foreign exchange student from Africa, who ends up being white, much to the dismay of the host sister. For all we know, the child on the left in the picture was born in the US, and the child on the right was born in Africa. The same goes with the term Mexican, or Mexican-American. I am not from Mexico. My grandparents were, yes, but I amnot. The only people who should rightfully be called Mexican are people who live in Mexico, and the only people who should rightfully be called Mexican-American are people who have moved from Mexico to the US (even though Mexico is part of America – I’ll not discuss this now). Future note – don’t call me Mexican, I prefer Hispanic (I’m actually a halfer, so I prefer to be called a halfer, but whatever).

Another point I’d like to make is on the use of the terms ‘black’ and ‘white’. Another situation I was overhearing or reading (I don’t remember) involved a father telling someone about a person – lets say Joe. The person the father was talking to didn’t remember who Joe was, so the father said something along the lines of “the black man that was over here the other day” to which the person became somewhat offended, and asked why it was necessary to say ‘the black man’ and that it was racist.

My theory on this is that it all depends on the context and variety of company of which normally visits the household. If the family normally has non-black visitors, then it would be easiest to say that Joe was the black visitor. If a family normally has black visitors, it would be just as easy to say Joe was the white visitor (assuming that Joe was white). Its a means to contrast the normal with the novel. If there were multiple races of visitors, however, it would become necessary to use other means. Say there are two black men, two white men, and two hispanic men visiting. It wouldn’t make sense to say that Joe was the black visitor, because that doesn’t help the person understand who Joe is. This is when you would say Joe was the tall oneJoe was the short one, or Joe was the really skinny one. Its just the same as if Joe was actually a woman, when most visitors are men. It is acceptable to say “she was the woman”, so why would it not be acceptable to say that “he was the black man”?

Which terms do you use? Do you have a preference for what people refer to you as? Do you agree with me about the use of contrast when describing people? 

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2 Responses to “Why I Don’t Use the Term African-American”

  1. Dee May 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    I actually don’t really care in the grand scheme of things, but I don’t particularly like being called African-American because I have no more ties to Africa. They were severed almost 500 years ago. I am American, but at the same time, blacks don’t even feel like they are a part of America and are made to feel like we are not citizens (even today, yes). So I feel in-between, in some limbo. But that’s probably for another, separate post. Anyway, I don’t really care if people call me the ‘black girl’ because that’s what I am, a black chick. When I’m referring to people I usually just refer to the most dominant aspect they have, which could be ‘ Jim,the guy with the nice eyes’ or ‘ Jane, the girl with the long dark hair’ or whatever, and sometimes their skin color is their most dominant asset.

  2. mishie1 May 9, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    I agree with you completely, and thats how I feel about being called Mexican. I don’t share the same feelings about being in limbo because of the citizen thing, but being a halfer, i feel in limbo often because people don’t understand that I’m not one or the other…I’m both.

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