I am [not] African American

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2012 at 1:06 am

My October blog “40 Million Ways” questioned our efforts in reaching the 1960s’ goal of a post-racial society and exactly what it means to be Black. In Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness, Touré relies on a rather simple yet complex idea; and idea or reasoning that he borrowed from Dr. Henry Louis Gates: if there are 40 million African Americans, then there are 40 million ways to be Black.

And one such way to be Black in America is to say that you are not African American but Black. In “Off the Treadmill,” Wall Street Journal reporter James Taranto details how the term African American, for some individuals, has been misapplied, mislabeled, and historically inaccurate. In the article, author and Jamaican-born Joan Morgan, reveals her families’ displeasure with her being introduced as an African American author. “‘That act of calling me African-American completely erased their history and the sacrifice and contributions it took to make me an author.’ (She calls herself a Black-Caribbean American, with a capital B.)”

Gibré George has taken the anti-African American claim to Facebook, where he has begun a page dedicated to the rejection of a term and claim that Jesse Jackson and other proponents advocated for during the late 1980s. Jackson’s efforts encouraged American Blacks to reconnect with their African ancestry; frankly, a pan-Africanist perspective where the present and past lie in one’s ancestors originating from the continent. When I was a sophomore in college, we had a dorm hall activity, where there were a handful of African Americans or Blacks. We were tasked, by our White Resident Assistant (RA), to write something about ourselves that no one would know by simply looking at you. We then wrote anonymously and placed the scraps of paper in a bowl. A hall mate would select one paper and read aloud and the group was to determine who the individual was. As I dust the memories, one particular exchange remains most notable even to this day. Paper: “I am African American.” Hall mate response: “Well, we know that is somebody Black.” To my hall mate’s surprise, the white RA had dual citizenship: she was born in Africa to American parents. For my hall mate, the shock and embarrassment warmed her face; and she instantly apologized. African American was intended to make the linkage to Africa and America, and somewhere on the acceptance train, this has come to be limiting in who could wear the identity badge and too inclusive at the same time. And it was at that moment, the issues of race and identity smacked us all in the face. As Jesse Washington asserts, the use of African American “Instead, it’s a misleading connection to a distant culture.”

If there are 40 million ways, then among those ways, we would learn to use African American more appropriately. This includes yours truly. I have often used the term interchangeably with Black. When I use African American, what about the other part of me; how can I pay homage to the rest of my history, my ancestry without falling into one category or the other? And the debate continues…

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