Should The Term African American Be Eliminated (Emiliano Response)?

I’m going to show a friend of mine excellent rebuttal to that particular question; it was asked by a person who doesn’t know the history of Black Americans in the U.S.



This has been an interesting thread to read on my commute home. So thank you for that.”

I certainly agree with the sentiment that a unified American identity is a beautiful thing, and on a broader level, that unified identity does exist. But we all have many identities.

African American as a term is complex. As it’s been pointed out already, most of the people described as African American are many generations away from any direct African ties. African American though isn’t really an identifier for an African immigrant in the USA. Rather those people would more appropriately be considered Nigerian American, Ethiopian American, or something along those lines. Africa is made up of diverse and distinct people and countries.

African American really describes an identity tied to the experience of being black in the US, specifically to the descendants of African slaves. And despite how they might identify themselves, more recent immigrants from Africa or the Caribbean, Latin America, or even from Europe but who happen to have black skin, are often identified as (and historically treated the same as) those whose ancestors were once slaves.

We are not always able to control whether others use the identity we use for ourselves.

Throughout many times in this country’s history black people have tried to be integrated into and be a part of the American identity. But they have been kept out of it. Sure, slavery ended a long time ago. But Jim Crow isn’t even a lifetime ago. And even after the Great Migration, it was made painfully clear to many that Jim Crow didn’t have to be the law to still be denied jobs, education, loans, and true integration.

Even if we can so easily put the recent past behind us – to either forgive it, forget it, or pretend it wasn’t so – it’s not as easy to shake an identity and the culture created by it. To now, in 2014, say why do people feel the need to segregate themselves, to identify themselves as something different – that is to ignore the events and social and personal consequences of the very recent past.

I live in NYC, so hearing things like Russian American, Italian American, Korean American, Mexican American… They aren’t unfamiliar terms. 1st and 2nd generations still feel cultural ties and still have that identity put upon them. But something happens with white Americans that doesn’t as easily happen to other racial groups. They end up integrating not just culturally, but visually as well.

I identify as an American. A New Yorker, to be specific about it. I’m multi racial and the the child of immigrants from different parts of the world. Unlike my parents though, my ties to those other countries and cultures aren’t as strong as my ties to this one. But that doesn’t stop people from asking me what I am, or where I’m *really* from, or complimenting my English despite it being my first and primary language.

Does that happen to the son or grandson of an Austrian immigrant or a Polish one?

“Certain people may or may not feel excluded from the American identity, but because of how they look, they are often reminded that they are. Compound that with the unique history of being black in the USA, and you might find the answer to the question as to why there exists identities outside of just the general American one.


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