Brilliant Minds Collective

“Black” or “African American”? Black Americans Discuss the Difference

Conversations about race are becoming more prevalent in the media as the Black Lives Matter movement resurges and encourages people of the African diaspora to embrace the diversity within the Black community. This movement has made non-Black Americans more aware of an ongoing discussion within the Black community regarding the use of the terms “Black” versus “African American.” 

While Black people in America and other parts of the world share the common experiences of racial discrimination and systematic oppression, it is unanimously understood that the Black experience is not monolithic. For this reason, among others, people prefer to claim their Blackness with terms that reflect their personal identities, which are shaped by their life experiences, ancestry and ethnicity.

Native New Yorker Dominique Neblung was born to Haitian parents and prefers to be identified as a Black woman.

“I find using the term African American for all Black people negates the experience, culture and to some degree, history of those of us who come from elsewhere,” Neblung said. “For example, my Haitian culture informs almost everything about me. I take pride in it and to just group every one of our race with that ‘catch-all’ term is an injustice.”Advertisement

In agreement with Neblung’s reasoning, Dornzella Milligan said that the term “African American” when used in reference to descendants of enslaved Africans in America, enables division within the Black population. The former administrative assistant to the racial justice organizer with VCS Inc. explained that this division leads to a decrease in political autonomy and prevents unification among the Black community in the work of liberation, equity, and fair and just treatment. 

“Systemic racism has a way of creating division among us so that we can’t really tell if these labels are a part of the connection you want to be a part of, or if you don’t want to be associated with Black Americans because of how we’re treated in this country,” Milligan said. 

The United States Census Bureau recognizes Black or African American people as those “having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.” This definition can pose a conflict for those that are a part of the African diaspora but do not consider themselves to be African because of their ethnicity or nationality. 

“Though we as a people originate from Africa, some of us are culturally different from the experiences and traditions of African Americans,” Neblung said. “We have the commonality of being descendants of enslaved people and have suffered the remnants of systemic racism, our family and life experiences differ enough that it affects how we view and take on the world and our surroundings.”

Read more at The Statesman

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