Forget Diverse Friends. Learn About Race

In a Reddit Ask Me Anything, our Race Manners columnist advised readers on their tough questions.

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JDH: I actually don't have a strong preference, and as a writer I use them interchangeably to avoid repetition. However, I think it's important to remember that there are some cases in which "African American" really isn't accurate (even in terms of its original meaning). There are black people in the United States who are from other countries, and so, while they may identify as black, "African American" just doesn't work.

That said, I advise against becoming too attached to any one label for black people (or anyone else). As we all know, these things evolve with time (take "Negro," for example). I also think it's fine that different people have different preferences and embrace or reject labels at different times.

I'd also offer a reminder that even those with the best intentions might not know every individual's personal preference (or might not be up to speed), and that this is one case where, in my view, the terminology is far less important than the context and intention. My 96-year-old (white) grandmother has been known to say "colored" and "dark" without a fraction of the judgment or hate that comes from many people I hear saying "black" or "African American."

Uberlad: What's your very best piece of advice?

JDH: One column that has a special place for me because it touched on an issue that I've thought a lot about in my own life is my first Race Manners, " 'Mixed Kids Are the Cutest' Isn't Cute?" I was really touched by the response I received from people who were bothered by beauty biases they saw in their families, the media and even in themselves, and I was happy that I was able to explain why comments that are really well intended on an individual level can be extremely problematic on a larger scale and reflect some troubling stuff. (I think this is a common theme in discussions about race.)

My next favorite was the advice I gave in "How Not to Derail the Dialogue on Race" because it touches on just about all the pet peeves I'm constantly addressing, starting with the idea that black people aren't monolithic and including the fact that talking about race isn't racist.

The Root's staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life -- and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.

Need race-related advice? Send your questions to racemanners@theroot.com.

Previously in Race Manners: "Is Hair Care Oppressing My Black Daughter?"

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