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.”