Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What is an African-American?

I had a friend, years ago, when asked to identify his race on a job application or other school form he would always say that it was not there and would check other. He however would write in HUMAN.

So as I watched today’s inauguration of President Barack Obama, I couldn’t help but wonder aloud who or what is really an African-American. No matter what channel I switched to I kept hearing these words “first African-American President.” I have long been an opponent of the term that was coined in 1988. Jesse Jackson, who was never voted into any position of leadership by me, said that we should start calling ourselves this to identify with our heritage as a race. The media immediately ate it up and the new lexicon was born.

My long term thoughts have been that the term African-American was reserved for Black Americans who were descendants of slavery. And if that is the case then by definition Barack Obama is not an African-American. His father was a Kenyan immigrant, yeah I know Kenya is in Africa, and his mother a white American. The Black part of him was not a descendant of slavery in America, logic would say that Obama is not an African-American.

The term itself is so confusing that white people and the media try to apply it to all Black folk that they encounter or have any conversation about. Here is how it becomes confusing. Lenox Lewis has been regularly mislabeled by columnists as being African American. You see, Mr. Lewis is a black heavyweight boxer and if you saw him you would even say so too. Yet the moment he speaks you would clearly say that boy ain’t from around here is he? Lewis is British. The same has happened to Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton. Who too looks like me, walks like me but speaks with a funny accent. He too is from Great Britain. He was given the distinct honor of being the first African-American to win a Formula One race. ESPN had to issue a retraction to that story. It’s not only athletes that have had to deal with this form of political correctness. Thandie Newton and Naomi Campbell have both been referred to as African-American.

So what do we say to our African immigrants who work hard to get here? Start living the “American Dream” and become naturalized citizens of this country. Now if you ask me they are African Americans. Born in Africa and became an American citizen. Yet we tell this group oooh nooo! You can’t be a part of this club because you have not had to struggle like our ancestors. Never mind that they only came here because of some struggle in their own country in the first place like genocide, lack of education, starvation or poverty. We have to assume that everyone on the continent of Africa is Black which is not the case. What about our cousins from the Caribbean countries? What do we call them?

The term is so politically correct that this headline appeared at www.physorg.com : African-American Canadians who receive kidney transplants fare better than those in US. OK so when did African-Americans start being Canadians? Hence the word American. See what happens when we try to make things so politically correct that we make it politically stupid. Please tell your white friends that it is OK to call us Black. I can identify with that, you don’t have to try to figure out if you used the term correctly and it doesn’t make you sound uppity. And tell your uppity Black ones that its OK for them too!

Urban Dictionary online has one definition as: What white people say when they’re afraid to say black especially when a black person is in the room.

So is Barack Obama the first African-American POTUS? You judge it. I prefer to say that he is the first Black President of the United States. Does this mean that Colin Powell was not the first African-American Secretary of State? Yup… His parents were immigrants from Jamaica. None of this discounts the history that was made by both men but it calls into question what is an African-American and who can lay claim to being one?

Keep your hyphenated labels off of me. In the words of James Brown, “…I’m Black and I’m proud.”


Conservative Black Woman said...

I HATE the term African American and have since I went to bed one night while in college as a black person and woke up to find that Jesse Jackson had redefined my personhood with the moniker African American. It's an idiot term! White people don't define themselves as European Americans,or Australian Americans, Asian Americans.

I always swiftly correct anyone who refers to me that way. I am Black.

Ron said...

I agree and Black with a capital B.

Meredith said...

I found your blog through CBW's, I'm so happy to find more black conservatives. :)
When people tell me BO is the 1st black president and such, I politely explain that he is not a black american. His mother is white, his dad is African and he was raised by White people. He, in my opinion, has no idea what it means to be "black" in America. He didn't walk our walk. I want to believe that is why he makes so many mistakes, because he really wants to help people, but doesn't know how because he really cannot identify. I want to believe this because my other alternative is to believe he is evil and mean.

Ron said...

Thanks for finding me Meridith. I do this not as a profession but as my thoughts and rants. I agree that Mr. Big O cannot identify since his formative years were in a white family only noticing that his skin was darker than some of his friends and classmates. I do not agree however that he wants to help people. He wants to further his personal agenda. He has the Presidency next World Potentate.

Mr PL4T3 said...

I've never really understood this, to be honest--the whole ignorance on the part of American media. They have become undeniably obsessed with the term 'African-American' and now cannot see beyond it. I think it's merely a lack of understanding and the absence of interaction with the outside world (i.e. Not in the United States).

I'm not sure if you've made this distinction, but notice how persons such as Usain Bolt, the sprinter from Jamaica is referred to as Jamaican--merely because Jamaica is a country with a majority black population. Americans are so entrenched in speaking divisively that when somebody such as Lewis Hamilton comes from a country where the majority are white, they cannot simply call him an Englishman in the way that they call Usain Bolt a Jamaican.

As far as I know, this is a uniquely American disease, as the British media routinely refer to people as black or Afro-Caribbean. I've never been called a European-American, so why must black people continue to carry this label of African-American? Many of their families have been in America longer than mine!