Divided as “One”: The African American vs. Black Debate

It’s no secret that the country we live in is a divided one. Besides the deep division that exists between different racial groups, there is an even deeper division that exists within one specific racial group; that group is African Americans. My last sentence is enough to strike controversy. Was I politically correct in saying African Americans or should I have said Blacks? This is the ongoing debate that shows no signs of a near ending. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the term African American is defined as an American with African descent, especially of black African descent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau Black and African American are the same things. So which one is it?

Some people prefer being called African American based on the belief and theory that all of their ancestors originated from Africa. Others prefer the term because it adds a level of respect and relevance they believe does not exist in being called Black. Naturally, those born in Africa who immigrated to the United States or those with family roots in Africa prefer this term as well.

Those who prefer being called Black as opposed to African American view the term as separating themselves from Africa and the negative history attached to the country as it pertains to slavery.

In a Los Angeles Times article entitled “Why I’m Black, Not African American,” the author John Whorter states his view on my last statement,“To term ourselves as part "African" reinforces a sad implication: that our history is basically slave ships, plantations, lynching, fire hoses in Birmingham, and then South Central, and that we need to look back to Mother Africa to feel good about ourselves.”

He goes on to refer to the term African American as an insult to the “true” African Americans that reside in our country. Also by not using the term Black we are forgetting about men like W.E. DuBois and Frederick Douglas who were all in Whorter’s words “deeply American.” The point he makes here reminds me of a time I heard a girl say “Why can’t we all just be Black?!” She couldn’t understand why Caribbean Americans wanted to remain being called Jamaican or Haitian and etc. once they moved here, or why people who were just Black by her definition wanted to be called African American. Does it matter?

The thing about this debate is that it should not exist as one. This animosity that arises out of which term is politically correct or better to use when referring to a racial group is dividing a group that needs to be united in a country already heavily divided because of race.  For it to exist as a preference instead of forcing someone to choose either one would eliminate the debate. For a person to prefer being called Black should not stir anger from a person that prefers to be called African American and vice versa. Black vs. African American might as well equate to modern day segregation, only difference being its within ONE racial group.