African American Vs. Black: What are we? Who are we?

My God, I love the internet. Information at your fingertips. Instant. For example, I googled ( GOOGLED!) ” Black or African American” and many many articles popped up on the screen ” Why I’m Black and not African American “, “Which is more politically correct: Black or African American”, ” Negro?” Over the years how we identify ourselves and how others choose to identify us has remained in flux. There has yet to be a solid answer as to how we are suppose to identify the “chocolaty” people. Check this, have you ever noticed that Caucasians never say, ” I’m Irish American because my great great great grandfather fled the potato fields and came to New York?” No. If you have, then you are a lucky beast. I’ve seen so many white people with four leaf clover tattoos and say they’re Irish yet they’ve never been to Ireland and can’t pick it out on a map. Interesting…. but I digress.

Earlier today I caught myself in the middle of a very intense conversation about how us “chocolaty folk” should be identified.  In this discussion we have a Nigerian fellow, myself and a older black gentlemen. PAUSE: I already know how I would like to be identified. I would L-O-V-E to fill out my job application and check ” American”.  However in this society that is impossible. I have to check the Black/African American box. In this instance, I prefer Black because I’m not African. Period. Don’t get me wrong. I love Africans….dated a few. However I am not African. Unfortunately, like most Blacks, I have no idea where my people are from. I’ve only been successful in tracing my lineage 100-150 years back and after that….the options are bleak. Further more one of my grandmothers is the color of manila paper and the other has the longest, thickest, silkiest hair you’ve ever seen. Point being, my lineage is so “mixed” , who says  black dominates the Native American and white blood that runs through my veins? PLAY: The Nigerian fellow begins to tell us that “Black” is a western idea. Nigerians, Ghanians, Sudanese etc do not refer to themselves as black. If a Nigerian calls another Nigerian “Black” he has been westernized. Mr. Nigerian continues by stating we ( i.e. Blacks or African Americans or Chocolaty folks) are not “Black” either. He says, ” Black is something that you have allowed to be imposed on you. But you are not African American either because you are not from Africa. My daughter is an African American because she is first generation.”  The next obvious question is now the pink elephant in the room. “What are we? Who are we? ” And Mr. Nigerian simply states “You’re American”.

If black is out of the running and African American drops out the race and American is taken off the table…..What are we?

I find this very interesting and I must confess that in previous posts and conversations I’ve used the term African American.But mostly because I’ve found that when I don’t, someone else is uncomfortable.I’ve actually been corrected when using the term “black”! Isn’t it funny what we do for others to make them feel comfortable??

As an artist and a person of the chocolaty complexion, I don’t have a choice in how I or my art is perceived. I’m a “black” or “African American” artist. I am not nor will I ever be an American artist. For example, Michael Ray Charles was listed as one of the most influential “African American artists of our time”. However throughout the article they used the term “black”. Now the terms are interchangeable?? At the Corcoran Gallery there is an exhibit titled “30 AMERICANS” which features big hitters such as Kehinde Wiley, Barkley L.Hendricks, Xaivera Simmons, and Hank Williams.But of course it is later explained that these are “African American” artists. Did anyone else notice that AMERICANS is capitalized in the title and in the press releases as if to say ” They are  American dammit! But just to clarify they’re African American….It says so in the synopsis of the show.”

Maybe we should take on “Chocolaty” and call it a day. And whatever happened to Negro??

Anyway, feel free to post your thoughts and concerns. Be Well.


2 thoughts on “African American Vs. Black: What are we? Who are we?

  1. Well, I’ve just begun reading your blog and started at the beginning so I’m only a few entries in but I really appreciate hearing your viewpoints. I’m of mixed race, black and Hispanic and have always more identified with my Mexican heritage because I did not know my father who was black and am not in contact with his family. That being said, “society” does not see me as being any one thing. My family does not see me as Mexican. I’ve always been in between worlds whether I like it or not. It leaves me feeling like a lone wolf. Add that to the fact that because of my upbringing, education, jobs and city, most of my friends are white. I don’t even identify with saying I’m American because of the stigma that it comes with! I think there’s a problem with people trying to classify others as ONE thing. In the U.S. especially, there’s no such thing. Ever since I was a kid, checking that one box in forms to identify myself as “other” as been freeing but also added to my confusion..
    I love dialogue like this but it tends to go in circles. The only thing to do is feel comfortable in your own skin and to allow others the freedom to do the same.

    • Thank you for your feedback.Hell Yes this conversation definitely goes in circles because the truth is that there is no right answer. I was in shock that I was standing among three professors, grad students and undergrads having this conversation and being reprimanded for how I choose to identify myself and that is why I wrote the blog. The question is “How do you feel comfortable identifying yourself or is it necessary?” I have family members that are a mixture of Black, Mexican, White and Filipino. And when their friends ask them about their ethnicity, they list all four! They do not choose one or the other and they educate themselves on the various cultures. You’re right, at the end of the day what makes you comfortable?

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