JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

“African-American”

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 …