Hold the Hyphen

Why African-American does not apply to me.


Black Americans can bask in the glow of a newfound progressiveness this Black History Month. And our first black president also happens to be our first African-American president. Black and African-American—I can’t help dwelling on those two descriptors and the weight they carry in defining us.

I’m brown, thank you. But I’ll settle for black. It’s more than semantics. It’s semasiology. Once upon a time, we were niggers, coloreds, Negroes and then Afro-Americans. And so I understand the need for some blacks to refer to themselves as African-American, sort of. They want to feel connected to a population reflected in their own faces.

In America, racism is like a water spot on silverware at a cheap diner; it just won’t go away. And just when you think you can breathe a little, the three-headed monster rears its ugly head to remind you who you are, where you live and the inescapable reality of what your skin color represents in this society.

Black people have shaped the United States through culture and science and the civil rights movement––yet as an aggregate we still face more injustice and inequality than any other group of Americans. As a nation, as a people and as a society we’ve come a long way, but in terms of racial equality there is much left to do.

I am constantly searching for answers as to how my café-au-lait self fits into an overwhelmingly white world. But the use of the word African conjoined with American leaves me empty. There are 54 countries in Africa. Which one would be mine?

I have a friend whose father is Nigerian and mother is black American, which makes her literally African-American. But she refers to herself as black.