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What is “African American”?

September 21, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Today, I was listening to a recent podcast from Democracy Now! where Amy Goodman was interviewing the CEO of Acorn, Bertha Lewis.

At first, I thought Bertha was not very articulate. She was trying to defend the actions of her employees, who had been caught on video offering tax advice to a few conservatives posing as a prostitute and pimp, or something of that nature. The video was pretty sketch as was the advice given. My impression was that this organization is not very professional…and how embarrassing. But, as Bertha proceeded through the interview, she seemed to find her footing and came off as well-versed. She surprised me. I hadn’t thought of it before, but she brought it up…her organization was experiencing a kind of racial-profiling. She called it “modern-day McCarthyism” and at the end of the interview, I was pretty convinced she was right.

That led me to think about something that’s been bothering me for awhile, and I thought: why not put it out there? What is meant by “African American”? Everyone now refers to what were once called “black people” as “African American”. What does it mean? Don’t we mean black people when we say African American, after all, all black people in America are referred to as African American, even when they are not. You don’t hear people saying “oh, that guy is “Jamaican American”, which to me would still signify a black guy because we don’t call white Africans “African American”. And, hey, there are generations of white people who have been born in Africa. I even have family over there and they are surely white and African. But they are not indigenous Africans. Still, that seems irrelevant based on my earlier statement.

If  a black woman, who was originally from French Guyana, moved  here, would she be called “African American” ? Isn’t she really South American American, if we follow this same idea of categorizing a person’s identity by naming the country where their ancestors are from followed by the country where the person is now living? I mean we’re referring to the continent people are from, right? Doesn’t that mean that most white Americans should really be referred to as “European Americans”? Doesn’t it follow that since part of my family is Australian, I should be called an Australian American? Then again, Australia is in the same predicament as America in terms of the only real Australian population is the indigenous population, so I should really be called an European Australian American, right? Shouldn’t everyone else be referred to as something else…Australian Americans, Russian Americans…etc.

Similarly, the only real Americans are “native Americans”. And even they, like the indigenous Australians don’t see themselves as ‘one nation’, rather they are many different tribes, or nations, which means that they don’t really have a collective identity, except as opposed to people who settled or colonized the places they lived.  But here again, the dichotomy is really about race. I mean don’t  we classify African Americans because it is a cover up for meaning “black people”. It’s another way of categorizing them to show that they are ‘different’ or ‘other’ than us white people. There’s ‘them’ and then there’s ‘us’. Maybe we do it to reinforce the fact that we are dominant, or want to be, or something. I don’t know.

I personally don’t see what’s wrong with referring to someone as black or white, if you want to make a distinction based on skin color. I just really can’t imagine a time when I would need to make that kind of distinction, unless I was giving a police report, which I did recently when a drunk ‘white’ man was barking at my dogs a few weeks ago.

Why do we have this pretend name “African American” as though we are doing someone a favor. Anyway, some African Americans are more American than non-African Americans. They’ve been around longer and maybe they would rather just be referred to as Americans? I mean shouldn’t a 4th generation ‘African American’ just be called an American and a 1st generation ‘European American’ just be called an American? We discriminate. And I say we discriminate because we just follow the trend of what is being done at the time, we don’t think about the effects of naming groups of people and what it does to our psyche. We are all sheep. Barely anyone takes off their hats and ponders whether their everyday actions have an effect. I’d like to know…

Here’s the real truth…we are all just interlopers here anyway. The real Americans are the native Americans. Or are they, even they crossed some land bridge from another continent a long time ago. So, what’s the big deal. I say, stop making the distinction, we are all Americans: African, Jamaican, Native, European, Russian. We all live, eat and sleep here. No one group has more of a right to this land than another (this does not mean to say that I think we shouldn’t give reparations to native Americans). No one group is more American than another. We all have a vested interest in this country.

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