Confessions of a Black Girl: “Black” vs “African-American”

Thank you for all you feedback, guys, I am very grateful that you all are listening to what I have to say, and I hope you feel that I am listening to what you have to say as well. A couple of you put comments about cornrows in the google doc. I’m not ignoring them, I’d like to take more time to do research and put together a really solid video about it. We will come back to this subject, I don’t want us to get stuck on one topic, so this week, I’m addressing another question from you all:

by Torie Richardson, Editor-in-Chief

Since not all black people are technically African-American (as they aren’t all of African descent or American), is there a different “politically correct” term for “black”?

This is such an interesting question, because it hints at a common misconception that African American is a politically correct term for black, as if black is a negative word and using the term “African-American” is softening it up a bit.

According to Merriam-Webster, an African American is an American who has African and especially black African ancestors. Did you hear that word “especially?” This means that you don’t even have to be black to be an African-American! If your white ancestors migrated from Africa to America, you are an African American. The word “black” means is of or relating to a race of people who have dark skin and who come originally from Africa. So black people live in other countries. African-Americans only live here.

Fun fact: Caucasus is a real place between the Black and Caspian Seas. It’s at the border between Europe and Asia, and there are more than 50 ethnic groups living in that region. Do all white people come from there? Highly unlikely. Yet, we call white people “Caucasian.”

But, back to the question: “Is  there a different politically correct term for ‘black’?” I think you would just call the person by where they are from. Jamaican. Australian. Brazilian. Depending on where they are from, you may be able to denote their blackness the way we do for American blacks. For example, Afro-Jamaicans are predominantly or entirely of African descent. But that’s also over 90% of the Jamaican population, so you may find that unnecessary.

But the most interesting thing is that the word “black” holds a more negative connotation than the words “African-American.” A study published by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that this was true. One of the study’s experiments was to have two separate groups told about the same fictional person: Mr. Williams from Chicago. But one group was told he was black. One group was told he was African-American. They were then asked to guess his income, level of education and professional standing.

The group that was told he was African-American guessed he made around $37,000 a year, had a two-year college degree, and 75% of them thought he was a manager on some level. The group that was told he was black estimated that he made around $29,000 a year, had only “some” college experience and only 38.5% of them thought he had a managerial position.
Being black, apparently, is a word that can actually cost you money, as opposed to being “African-American.” Why do you think that is? I want to know your thoughts. Leave a comment. Put a question in the google doc. Remember that we’re not so different after all. See you next time.