chiens des neiges

Even though the term “African-American” has been in use for the past, oh, 15 years, I still think white people trip over it. The words emerge from the mouth, but not as smoothly as “black” or “white” or “Kenny Stabler.” There’s an uncomfortable awkwardness—can I say “black”? When do I say “black” vs “African-American”? I don’t want to sound stupid, but I don’t want to offend anyone, either.

The funny thing is, whites try and pass it off smoothly … “My African-American friend …” or “That guy is cool.” Which guy? “The African-American standing over there.” But it’s as transparent as neon shoelaces. In most households, when speaking among family members, I’m guessing the usage of “African-American” drops to 2 percent and “black” to 98 percent. “This guy at work, he’s in my department, black fella …”

As for myself, I usually split “African-American” and “black” down the middle, in the same way I don’t like repeating words in stories I write. I’ve had this conversation with my bl … African-American friends, and they don’t lean strongly one way, either. More than anything, it’s contextual. There’s a scene in Jerry Maguire when the father of a hot quarterback prospect gets mad at Jerry for paying too much attention to “the black guy.” No good. However, if someone asks, What does Halle Berry look like? and you respond, “She’s gorgeous—flawless complexion, black skin, almond-shaped eyes, etc …” well, I reckon it’s OK.

But maybe not. Hmm …

10 thoughts on ““African-American””

  1. Jeff –
    I am white. Why do you have to label someone at all? “I was talking to this person.” Does it matter if he is white or black or Mexican or whatever? In some cases the subject could rely on that person’s culture and therefore they should be described. However, most likely a black person is not usually heavily influenced by there “African culture”. I hope you understand what I am saying and I am not trying to bash you. But don’t you think that if “black” or “African-America” is used as an adjective that is totally unnecessary it is a small form of racism?

    1. Michael:

      Wait! I 100% agree with you. And, personally, I never actually use race as an adjective. I remember as a kid people would say, “She’s the black one,” which I found bothersome. Or, even worse, “She’s good looking … for a black girl.” I grew up in a very, very close-minded town. But, truth is, sometimes race is used as a part of physical description, just as height, eye color, girth, etc. But, again, I agree.

  2. I like Michael’s response. Dude why did you use a cropped picture of the Snow Dogs poster? Was that the first photo of a Black man or person that you found on the internet? As a black man I am okay with either of the two terms. The term Negro, on the other hand, is not okay with me.

  3. this is my observation… white people with no black friends say “african american.” white people WITH more than one black friend has no qualms using the term “black” because the white man realizes black people dont get offended by the word “black.”

  4. Jeff,

    Are we White or European-American? Or Caucasion? I think the answer is White, making blacks black, not African-American or Negroid.

    Actually, we’re Jewish.

  5. Jeff-
    I think you just described when you can use “black” and when you can’t. But honestly, when is African-American correct? I think never (unless they’re from Africa). I mean, should I be called an Irish-American? I am American and I’m white. In other words, the only time race can be used is when you are physically describing someone in which case only “black” should be used. (My opinion)

  6. I’m not sure I see the problem with “She’s good looking…for a black girl.”

    I know, on the surface that sounds bad, but it’s not necessarily. What if it was changed to “She’s good looking…for a brunette.” Nobody would care.

    The fact is, some people have preferences. I’m white, and I tend to find white women more attractive than non-white women (of course, I think Beyonce is the most beautiful woman in the world, but that’s besides the point). I know black people, most of them are more attracted to black women. Some white men are more attracted to black women and some black men are more attracted to white women (and seemingly everyone is attracted to Asian women). That’s just the way human nature and the laws of attraction work.

    Now, if the statement was being made by someone who is clearly a racist person, then it’s a demeaning statement, but in that case the statement isn’t the problem, the person is.

  7. I’m a simple guy. I use “black”

    If someone were to tell me they prefer “African-American” or “Person of Color” or “Shaqalicious” or whatever, I will of course use that for that person.

  8. “colors..colors..colors….colors.co co colors..you dont know me fool…you disown me cool..I dont need your assistance..social persistence..any problem i got i just put my fists in..”ICE T……..
    a friend is a friend regardless of color…i feel there is no need to refer to one as only a color or shade of the rainbow..i will admit my friends call me honky..honky isfine whitey is not..just my preference..i call them my homies or by their personal “aka”…trust me when i say that my homies dont call themselves black or african american..its all good until some dumb european american drops the n bomb and its on like donkey kong..labels are what they are…change is slow just like my typing

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