Dear Abby: Meaning of ‘African-American’ reflects nation’s past, present
by Dear Abby
DEAR ABBY:: On July 23, “Wondering” asked why President Obama is considered to be African-American and you responded that the term “African-American” is used in this country as a label that describes skin color. However, in the U.S. the term is generally applied to black Americans of slave ancestry.
Before the Civil War we were African-American slaves, not considered fully human by the U.S. Constitution. After the Civil War and the outlawing of slavery, former slaves gained citizenship through amendments to the Constitution but were not able to exercise the full rights of citizenship. Most former slaves wanted to just be “Americans” with all the rights and privileges associated with it – but because of the color of their skin were discriminated against and given second-class citizenship.
The term “African-American” is the result of a search for identity by these new Americans, former slaves and their descendants. We were called by many names – most of them negative, such as “Negro,” “Colored,” “African,” the infamous “N- word,” “Afro-American” and finally, “black.” All of these at one time we considered negative because they didn’t represent self- identification.
The black power movement occurred when Black Americans changed the negative term “black” to the positive term “Black.” The musician James Brown coined the phrase, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Later other black folk began to adopt the term “African-American,” which brings us to the present.
We are a nation that has roots in all nations of the world. Truly, “we ARE the world.” We’re all American, either by birth or naturalization. The labels tend to divide us into groups which separate us rather than bring us together. The saying “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” is true. Let us all come together and all be blessed.
– Rev. Alton E. Paris, American
DEAR REV. PARIS: Thank you for your letter, which is both inspiring and educational. Many readers had comments about my answer, and they were all over the map. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I am a white female with many African-American friends, and yes, I did vote for Obama. When Obama became president, most of my black friends said: “Finally! We have a black man as president. All this racism will stop. The white man is no longer in charge of things.”
To me, it was like it didn’t matter that his mother was white, he was raised by his grandmother who was white, and he is half-white. What I’m trying to say is, he’s a man of equal parts – not all black. So why do African-Americans make it sound like he is of all black heritage? Isn’t he of white heritage also? A lot of my white friends feel the same way I do.
– Nancy G. in Cleveland
DEAR ABBY: Please inform “Wondering” that according to Webster’s Dictionary, President Obama is mulatto, which is a person who is a first-generation offspring of a black person and a white person.
– William B., Clayton, N.J.
DEAR ABBY: When living in America, I am called an African-American. If I move to Africa, would I be called an American-African?
– Kenneth F., Saraland, Ala.
DEAR ABBY: Many biracial children are considered to be part of the ethnic group they resemble the most. While some may consider it disrespectful to say that someone is of one race when he or she is really biracial, this is the world we live in. We do, truly, “call ’em like we see ’em”!
– Devyn B., Fayetteville, N.C.
Dear Abby: Is President Obama black, mixed-race or just American?
DEAR ABBY: “Wondering in Goldsboro, N.C.” asked why President Obama is considered to be African-American when he’s biracial.
While your response was accurate, you missed an opportunity to educate your readers by failing to give the historical context as to why most people refer to him as African-American.
There was a time in this country when “blacks”/African-Americans were considered to be only three-fifths of a human being.
Also, if a person had one drop of “black” blood they were considered black.
Although as a society we have progressed intellectually and in our understanding of what a human being is, we continue to hold on to archaic beliefs about skin color that not only pigeonhole an individual, but may force an individual to choose what so-called racial group that he/she identifies with most.
I can clearly see that the conversation regarding “race” and skin color must be continued in this country.
Though we’ve “come a long way, baby,” we still have a long way to go in understanding this country’s deep-rooted responses to skin color.
– Living in America
DEAR LIVING: I think if one digs deep enough, we will come to the realization that there has always been a component of economic exploitation and perceived economic threat that is, and has been, at the root of racial discrimination.
(But that’s just my opinion.)
DEAR ABBY: In Obama’s book “Dreams From My Father” he calls himself a black man of mixed descent.
His decision to do that is as much a political decision as it is a personal one.
Most people of color of mixed race in our society have felt we had to choose to be the darker color because we can never be white.
In our society, most people who do or don’t know of Obama’s mixed background would treat him as a black man. (If you saw him walking down the street, would you say, “Hey, that guy’s half-white!”?)
By embracing his political identity he supports and strengthens all black people in the U.S. by standing proudly as one of us.
– Nicole in Marin, Calif.
DEAR ABBY: African-American does not denote skin color, but an ethnic culture, a term that describes those of us who are descendants of captive Africans in America.
It holds the same level of pride as it does for those who pronounce they are Italian-American or Asian-American.
– Michelle in Maryland
DEAR ABBY: You write that the term African-American is used in this country as a label that describes skin color.
I believe you are correct, and that’s the problem.
“African-American” identifies origin or ancestry, not skin color.
Furthermore, if the anthropologists are right, then – going back far enough – we are all African-American.
– African-American Member of the
Human Race in New Jersey
DEAR ABBY: Why can’t we all be called just plain Americans if we grow up in America and are citizens of America?
I think a lot of people have wondered this.
– Sandy B. in Harrisburg, Pa.
DEAR SANDY: That’s a good question and one that I hope will one day be put to rest – if not by our children, then by our children’s children.
– Sincerely, Abby