Black, African-American...What Do You Call Yourself?
1 year ago
Terms Blacks Have Used To Define Themselves Over Time
It’s been nearly 150 years since blacks were emancipated, yet many black Americans still struggle to identify themselves, both racially and culturally, in a country where slavery is gone but social, economic and political constraints remain.
Names and labels have always been important in the history of African Americans. Particularly since slavery stripped generations of people of their names, languages, customs and heritage, black Americans appreciate the power of words to define and even celebrate cultural identity.
(Also See "Are You 'Regular Black'?")
Today, many use the terms “Black” and “African American” interchangeably when talking about anyone with African ancestry and roots in the United States. Still, each term can cause conflict. Many argue that the term “black” encompasses a pan-African identity that includes Caribbean peoples. Others prefer “African American” because they feel “black” categories them (inaccurately) by skin color alone, ignoring history and culture.
“Identity is fascinating,” says Ytasha Womack, author of Post Black: How a New Generation Is Redefining African American Identity. “The quest to define is an undercurrent in the African American/Black American experience. But it's also a uniquely American quest. 'Who am I?' and the ability to express that is a question spotted throughout literature.”
Loop 21 asked Womack to break down the terms black Americans have used to describe themselves over time. From Negro to Colored, Black to African American, what do these labels signify and what does their evolution mean?
“Even before slavery came into existence both words were being used. At one point, it was the official word for people who were enslaved. The words are of Spanish origin, I’m guessing that’s because the Spanish were among the larger slave trading nations; that’s how the word arrived in the Americas. These words were already in use when the first slaves were brought over to North American in the 1600s.”
“Before we started categorizing people by race, people were identified by their ethnic groups like the Ashanti or Yoruba. ‘Colored’ is just a manifestation of that. After so many years, people gravitated toward the term.”