Why I refuse to use the term “African-American”

The English language fluctuates. A lot. No news there.

I’m a curmudgeon. I’ll change, but only after I’ve seen the wisdom of the change; I’ll choose the action, or verbiage, that makes sense to me. I use “retarded” not to degrade an individual, but to make dispassionate observation that his/her development is slower than the norm. I’ll use “album” for music, even though most “albums” are now on CD.

“African-American” is a term I cannot ever see using.

I live in the Metro DC area. In the first apartment building I lived in when I moved here, there were individuals from at least five different continents, either at birth or one generation removed. About half were US citizens; some were not *yet* citizens, and some were simply here working legally.

This is a very, very diverse area. I love that about it. But there is NO way to know if the individual next to me is American or not. S/he may be of African descent, but until I learn something about that person as an individual, I cannot tell if s/he’s “of African descent” or African or American or hoping-to-be-an-American, or what.

Not only that, but two in my circle are Americans of African descent, but are white. One was born in Africa to Africans, another was born in America to Africans legally present in the US. They are truly African-American, but each has been chastised for referring to himself as such. Some in similar circumstances (and I forget the specifics of the cases) have been denied scholarships or programs designed for African-Americans — because their skin is not black.

So, if I must refer to one’s race, I’ll use “black”.

In fact, I spoke a couple of years ago to an older black man who also uses that term. He told me his rationale — “they keep changing my group. First it was Negro, then black, then African-American, and ‘person of color'”. I’m tired of living by others’ labels. I stopped at “black”.

Very wise, my friend.

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