I'm Not African American; I'm Black


Ebony contributor Shahida Muhammad argues that the "politically correct" term doesn't say enough to be useful.

I see 'African American' as both ambiguous and limiting at the same time. It’s an ethno-cultural term that has become synonymous with race and "regular Black folks." It’s used exclusively in reference to Black people in the U.S. who are descendants of the Transatlantic slave trade, yet excludes anyone who is an African immigrant or first-generation citizen — who in my opinion would be most fitting of the title. African American is also very vague and simplified. Africa is a vast continent, made up of various nations, cultures, languages, traditions, etc. So to associate myself namely with the continent, without a specific point of reference, doesn’t  bring me any closer to my roots, yet it subtly reinforces the misconception that Africa is a simplistic, homogeneous land.

The history of the term is said to have begun with poet and civil rights activists, Johnny Duncan. In 1987, his poem "I Can" was published in the Black History Calendar. Towards the end of the poem he writes: "The last 4 letters of my African Heritage and American creed spell "I can"!" It was this line that inspired Jesse Jackson to coin the term and he along with other civil rights leaders began to encourage Black people to begin using it shortly after. During a 1988 press conference to discuss a national Black agenda, Jackson confidently announced that Black people now preferred to be called 'African American,' opting for an ethnic term opposed to a racial one. He stated that "to be called African American has cultural integrity," citing groups like Italian Americans and Arab Americans as examples.


Read Shahida Muhammad's entire piece at Ebony.com.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

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