Commentary: Are You an African-American?

Commentary: Are You an African-American?

A movement against the term "African-American" is dividing the Black community. What do you want to be called?

Published February 28, 2012

With more Americans dating interracially, more young people are also identifying themselves as being of mixed race. How a person chooses to define himself and his ethnicity for the rest of the world is a very personal decision. Barack Obama, for instance, went through years of deep thought to come to the conclusion that, despite having a white mother, he is a Black man.


In the same vein, there’s a new discussion happening on Facebook about what Black people want to be called. Specifically, there’s now a Facebook group for Black people whose message is simple: “Don’t Call Me African-American.”


The Associated Press reported on the anti-African-American phenomenon earlier this month, interviewing a Black accountant from Texas who said that he prefers that people not use the term with him: "I prefer to be called Black," said Shawn Smith, an accountant from Houston. "How I really feel is, I'm American."

"I don't like African-American. It denotes something else to me than who I am," said Smith, whose parents are from Mississippi and North Carolina. "I can't recall any of them telling me anything about Africa. They told me a whole lot about where they grew up in Macomb County and Shelby, N.C."


Gibre George, who founded the “Don’t Call Me African-American” Facebook page, agrees with Smith. “I prefer to be called American,” George told the Kansas City Star, “but if you must further define me, then use the term black or person of color. The term African-American just doesn't settle right in my stomach because it's not accurate.”


In his failed bid for the White House, Herman Cain famously said that he’s not African-American, but instead only an American. At the time, I argued that Cain was a bit self-loathing. In retrospect, I’m not so sure I was correct.


What a person wants the world to call them is up to that person. In Brazil, when people are asked what color they are, they tend to come up with hundreds of different answers. Race is complex, and people have similarly complex beliefs about it. Not wanting to be called African-American isn’t necessarily self-loathing. Rather, it may very well be someone who's just trying to find a definition that best suits them in their attempt to navigate the world. And far be it from anyone to take that away from them.


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

(Photo: Charlotte Observer/MCT/Landov)

Written by Cord Jefferson


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