I'm Not African-American, I'm Black: Why Racial Labels Matter

by Brionna Renee

Through the eyes of many, life is black and white with very little gray area.

This perspective speaks volumes of American society when it comes to understanding there is much more to life than what's on the surface.

From the N-word to Negros, colored, black or African-American, there is a constant practice of labeling people of color who also happen to be American.

A recent study covered by The Washington Post revealed that white Americans find the term “African-American” more favorable than "black."

According to the study, white people were asked to assess the salary, managerial position, educational level and socioeconomic status of identical individuals. In some cases, the person was described as "black" and, in others, as "African-American."

Whether it was education or salary, the levels predicted were always higher for those regarded as African-American in comparison to those referred to as black.

For some, the terms African-American and black can be used interchangeably; however, this may not be the case for every person of color who also happens to be an American.

The mass majority of society views "African-American" as the most politically correct way to address a person of color, but not every person of color in America is from Africa.

Some may pose the argument that Africa is the motherland, so we all derive from said continent in one way or another. Be that as it may, such generalizations can be not only insular, but also offensive to one’s culture.

It goes without saying that by living in this country, we are all American, but, perhaps, the girl next to you is American with some ancestry in a Caribbean island. Does that make her African-American, too?

A self-conducted poll asked college-aged students whether or not being referred to as African-American as opposed to simply black offended them.

More than half voted against feeling offended, but the students who were bothered by the vague title strongly expressed their viewpoints, with commentary similar to the following:

“It bothers me when all people automatically generalize all black people are African-American. There are a million other places they could be coming from, just like white people. They put us in a box,” says 22-year-old Candice Green, a black student born and raised in Netherlands.

Having to answer the question, “What are you?” countless times in my life, I have always answered, “I’m American."

The interesting thing is this question almost always comes from a person of color; a person who understands every person of color in America wasn’t just dragged here from the sands of the motherland on slave ships.

I do not intend to make the generalization I have never had a white person inquire about my nationality, but I want to make clear that on a large scale (and blatantly proved by historical happenings), we are viewed as the people who hail from Africa and happen to live here, thus, making us African-Americans.

Whether it’s in the workplace or amongst friends in a personal setting, I’ve always felt comfortable using either term with no preference, up until recently.

I came across a wise woman of an older generation who prefers the term "black." Her argument is that black makes more of a statement.

When she was growing up, the label shifted from the socially acceptable "Negro" to "black" to "African-American."

Hailing from the era when people were singing, "I’m black, and I’m proud" and fighting the good fight with leaders like Angela Davis, there was a certain assertive nature behind being black, and that is everything she stands for.

The fact that black makes a statement is proven through our strength as a people. However, my argument differs greatly from this woman's.

During Raven Symone’s interview with Oprah, Symone discussed her preference to not be labeled “African-American.”

The media went into a complete uproar. I must say I agree with her (only on this specific topic, though, as she has said a lot of outlandish things on which I can’t back her up).

As someone with a family from the South, the likelihood of my ancestors being not only slaves, but also slaves brought straight over on slave ships from any of the 52 African countries is incredibly high.

Yes, that would technically make me an African-American, but the bigger picture is, as stated earlier, everyone’s story is not this.

To refer to all black people as such is America’s way of putting us all in a box. It’s not about black being a statement, although, it is one; it's about the recognition that, as people of color, we are more than just what we have been depicted as in the past.

In a utopian society, we would all just be people with no race, no nationality and no concept of what makes us externally different.

This isn’t Utopia, though; this is the United States of America. There are labels here. However, if labels must absolutely be placed on people, the least we can do is strive to label people in the most accurate and respectful way possible.

Though American society's ideas and opinions change particularly slowly, I believe the gray area of life is becoming broader.

With Millennials now inching toward adulthood, we hold the power to impose our views (which are much more different than the views of our parents) onto the world.

The 2010 Households and Families Census shows 5.3 marriages in America are interracial, and this alone is an example of how the ancient and narrow views of American society have shifted.

This fact is one step closer to society being able to distinguish between "black" and "African-American."

Being black in America does not make you African-American. Being black and African-American are not mutually inclusive descriptors that hold true for every person of color.

Yes, I have brown skin. Yes, I am of America. No, I am not African-American.

I am black.