African v. Black v. American
September 13th, 2009
First I'd like to start off by acknowledging my lack of experience and sheer understanding in such a, perceived, hostile topic. However, professional or not, I have chosen to dive in and on an off chance, perhaps receive some answers. Again, I state that I am perhaps the least qualified for this kind of "pondery" but such is far from reason to not explore it at all.
African-American. African. American. It's a hyphenated term that has been used to describe people of a certain skin pigmentation. African derived of course from Africa while American derived from America. One a country while the other is a continent. Throughout the years another term has developed and begun to circulate. The term Black which stands, by many perceptions, as a more literal categorizing term for people with a certain skin color. Personally I would imagine that such a label would be greatly preferred as it is far more general and stands to be more accurate. And, is that not what we could all hope for? A state of being accurate. I would like to then dissect the meanings of both terms to see just which is more so.
African-American is a termed defined as, "an American having ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa; black American." With a definition like that. One could come to believe that there were absolutely no difference between African-American and Black as categories. And such is conceivable except when placed into comparison with other American ethnic groups titles such as Asian-American, European-American/Caucasian, and etc.. Once put into grouping like that it becomes something different entirely. It could be said that it in fact serves to segregate people from perhaps the one true home they've ever known. Not to mention the fact that primarily the use of such specific ethnic categories only seem to occur when addressing topics involving or related to all but Caucasians in America. So it brings up the question, where is the line drawn? When does someone stop being American and start being African-American?
The line is drawn the moment one sees the color of one's skin. Instead of generalities such as white or black, people have decided upon more specific terms. Terms that are far less general and serve to associate a sense of dissociation with a world they believe themselves to be a part of. Asking the question, when does a person born and raised in America stop being simply American and start being [insert continent here]-American is something one must ask themselves. When does it become natural to associate one with a continent that their facial features or pigment may resemble even if they were not born upon said continent or even taught the culture from said continent? And when should it ever become natural for a "natural born citizen" to be labeled as more than a citizen of the country they and their parents were born in? Those questions are asked because the purpose seems to be twofold. On one hand it's just a way to specify a particular group of people. Although on the other hand it serves a sinister purpose. It serves to drive home the belief that one of a different pigment or one with differing facial features can not and is not simply American.
To be American but not at the same time is an interesting conundrum. It's not impossible as people have left their countries to start new lives in other countries for centuries. So instead of when, just why has it come down to a distinction defining the potential origin of a group of people become so politically correct? Were someone from Africa and migrated to America could the term African-American stand true? Of course. But if a person migrated (disregarding circumstances) to America and began a family, should those descendants after generations of generations still be considered African-American? Especially if anything their original descendants may have brought in the name of culture has been lost to them? And, therein lies the fallacy of using such highly specific terms to categorize a group of people.
There aren't many ways shy of DNA testing and inspection of the lives and lives of their parents for traces of a cultural differences, to be able to with absolute certainty declare a group of people African-American. So why has it become so natural? Why do it at all? Obviously semantics have always been an issue and it's just easier to please the majority of people than to attempt to get 100% of people to agree but, then, if nothing else, shouldn't that be a call for innovation. Could that not be the spark to find that illustrious common ground?
In a world of color, is there really much need to associate places with pigments and in turn pigments of people of a places with places that have a majority of the same pigment? Perhaps for now, but hopefully, not forever.