What Do Black People Want To Be Called?

What Do Black People Want to Be Called?

Negro, Colored, Black, People of Color or African American.  What’s the politically correct term?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.  ~Shakespeare  I am sorry Shakespeare, but names are important in today’s politically charged society.

Senate leader Harry Reid discovered in early 2010 that “Negro” is not an acceptable “other name.”  A maelstrom of criticism followed the revelation that Reid had used the term Negro when commenting on then Senator Obama’s dialect.  Although it’s still used within the title of United Negro College Fund, it is not politically correct to refer to or use this as an adjective regarding black people.  The term “colored” is also inappropriate, however it is on display in the title of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  These are two examples of objectionable labels, but what is acceptable?  It depends largely upon the individual, but it is more acceptable to use Black, People of Color or African American.

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The “Black” designation has been around longer than African American or People of Color and was embraced in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement, particularly when James Brown’s 1968 song proclaimed, “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.”  It became synonymous with black pride and empowerment.   Alternatively, some reject this designation as an attempt to marginalize them because the term lacks sufficient geographic or ancestral reference.  Others object to its focus on dark skin since blacks are not monochromatically dark.  Although there are objections, the general consensus is that black is acceptable.

The genesis of the term “People of Color” was an attempt to be inclusive of all minorities.  The term emphasized inclusion rather than being defined by exclusion, as illustrated by the term “non-white.”  Those who resisted the black label found this more acceptable.  It includes a wide range of people from Hispanics to Asians.  With universal appeal, many blacks accept the label, but reject it as their primary designation since it is not specific.  There is virtual unanimity that this label is acceptable, but a more exclusive designation was sought.

The “African American” designation was the solution many chose to embrace after Jesse Jackson urged its use in 1988.  It didn’t focus on a single physical attribute nor did it apply to other ethnicities.  “It puts us in our proper historical context,” Mr. Jackson said.  It also collated all shades of the race with a common ancestry….. Africa.  It asserted pride in African ancestry coupled with a strong American declaration.  What could possibly be wrong with this designation?  Many blacks don‘t know which of the 50 African countries their ancestors originated or the related cultural idiosyncrasies, thus they feel the designation is inauthentic.  Although some choose to opt out of hyphenated American status, the majority is accepting of this designation.

Blacks are not a monolith, and preferences often vary on racial designations.   A 1989 survey conducted by ABC and The Washington Post found 66 percent of black respondents preferred the term black, 22 percent liked African-American, 10 percent found both acceptable and 2 percent expressed no opinion.  In 2003, another poll by the same organizations discovered a shift.  African American was the preferred term (48 percent) while 35 percent favored black, and 17 percent liked both. In today’s society, most blacks find African American, People of Color and Black acceptable.

Source: “’African-American’ Becomes a Term for Debate.” Rachell Swarns, New York Times, August 29, 2004.

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