I know everyone is into the national politics and debates and caught up in everything going on around us, but this story caught my eye. I thought it was an interesting piece and something worthy of discussion. It is not a new topic but still a hot topic. Every now and again it is healthy to look at the other topics being discussed around the blogosphere. Hope you will find it as interesting.
I’m Not African American; I’m Black
By: Shahida Muhammad | Posted: June 14, 2012 at 12:43 AM
Ebony contributor Shahida Muhammad argues that the “politically correct” term doesn’t say enough to be useful.
What does it mean to be African American? This is a question that is quietly resurfacing in Black discourse, due to the fact that many of our people are rejecting the term as a means of identification. While “African American” still manages to be socially accepted, it seems many privately take issue with the term. I’ll admit, I’m one of those people. I have never truly felt connected to ‘African American,’ yet have never felt compelled to argue my standpoint publicly because our discussions on identity tend to be dividing and non-productive. However, I believe it’s a topic worth re-examining, as the term has been the questionable dashiki in the room for quite some time.
I have never been offended by the use of ‘African American,’ but personally there are a few reasons I don’t particularly like the term. I have used it in my writing when making efforts to be politically correct, or as an alternative reference to Black people. Yet I have always viewed it as just that: a politically correct alternative to Black. Never something I whole-heartedly embraced. I have checked it on applications, but never used it to self-identify in real-life. It has always felt forced, redundant, and quite frankly, inaccurate. Using the term ‘African American’ feels like using Kente cloth made in China trying desperately to authenticate myself. In theory I know where I’m from, but in actuality I wasn’t made there.
I’m very much aware that my ancestors were from Africa, and in no way would I want to distance myself from that fact. From an early age my family taught me the painful context of our history in this country, and also that our history as a people did not begin solely with slavery. We come from great peoples and civilizations, and it’s something that has always given me a sense of pride and dignity. However, knowing all of this, there is still no way to pinpoint exactly where my African ancestors came from. Therefore, I have no direct lineage, specific heritage, language or traditions to lay claim to.
I see ‘African American’ as both ambiguous and limiting at the same time. It’s an ethno-cultural term that has become synonymous with race and “regular Black folks.” It’s used exclusively in reference to Black people in the U.S. who are descendants of the Transatlantic slave trade, yet excludes anyone who is an African immigrant or first-generation citizen–who in my opinion would be most fitting of the title. African American is also very vague and simplified. Africa is a vast continent, made up of various nations, cultures, languages, traditions, etc. So to associate myself namely with the continent, without a specific point of reference, doesn’t bring me any closer to my roots, yet it subtly reinforces the misconception that Africa is a simplistic, homogeneous land.
The history of the term is said to have begun with poet and civil rights activists, Johnny Duncan. In 1987, his poem “I Can” was published in the Black History Calendar. Towards the end of the poem he writes: “The last 4 letters of my African Heritage and American creed spell “I can”!” It was this line that inspired Jesse Jackson to coin the term and he along with other civil rights leaders began to encourage Black people to begin using it shortly after. During a 1988 press conference to discuss a national Black agenda, Jackson confidently announced that Black people now preferred to be called ‘African American,’ opting for an ethnic term opposed to a racial one. He stated that “to be called African American has cultural integrity,” citing groups like Italian Americans and Arab Americans as examples.
While I can understand why one would want to have a distinct cultural identity, the difference between our people and the ethnic groups Jesse Jackson referenced that day to support his statement, is that they all came here willingly, as immigrants. And of course, we did not. In addition to this, we have systematically been far removed from our cultures of origin. Making our ethnicity and nationality far more complex.
Finally, ‘African American’ just does not invoke the same bold pride as Black does. (And I’ve always suspected that was one of the reasons we’ve been encouraged to use it). During the heights of Black consciousness and the Black Power Movement throughout the 60s and 70s, when everything black had previously been associated with inferiority and despair, our people began redefining and embracing it as a means of identification. It took on a spirit of self-pride, self-love, dignity and even resistance. And we began opting out of terms that had been previously imposed on us such as colored and negro.
Black connects me with that struggle. Black also connects me to my people throughout the world, whether they are in South America, the Caribbean, Africa or elsewhere. I identify as Black in terms of race, American (by default) in terms of nationality; always keeping in mind that my ancestry ties me to Africa and the original peoples of this earth. To me, Black unites us beyond our various geographic locations, nationalities or cultures; whereas we can all say we are Black, connected and proud.
Wonder Woman is a community activist and blogger.
She is a proud member of the JustUs League!
She has her own blog site at http://www/wonder2woman.blogspot.com
She also contributes to The Milwaukee Drum, the Black Convo Network, Insane Asylum Blog, and Black Bloggers Connect.
African-American Firsts: Government
- Local elected official: John Mercer Langston, 1855, town clerk of Brownhelm Township, Ohio.
- State elected official: Alexander Lucius Twilight, 1836, the Vermont legislature.
- Mayor of major city: Carl Stokes, Cleveland, Ohio, 1967–1971. The first black woman to serve as a mayor of a major U.S. city was Sharon Pratt Dixon Kelly, Washington, DC, 1991–1995.
- Governor (appointed): P.B.S. Pinchback served as governor of Louisiana from Dec. 9, 1872–Jan. 13, 1873, during impeachment proceedings against the elected governor.
- Governor (elected): L. Douglas Wilder, Virginia, 1990–1994. The only other elected black governor has been Deval Patrick, Massachusetts, 2007–
- U.S. Representative: Joseph Rainey became a Congressman from South Carolina in 1870 and was reelected four more times. The first black female U.S. Representative was Shirley Chisholm, Congresswoman from New York, 1969–1983.
- U.S. Senator: Hiram Revels became Senator from Mississippi from Feb. 25, 1870, to March 4, 1871, during Reconstruction. Edward Brooke became the first African-American Senator since Reconstruction, 1966–1979. Carol Mosely Braun became the first black woman Senator serving from 1992–1998 for the state of Illinois. (There have only been a total of five black senators in U.S. history: the remaining two are Blanche K. Bruce [1875–1881] and Barack Obama (2005–2008).
- U.S. cabinet member: Robert C. Weaver, 1966–1968, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Lyndon Johnson; the first black female cabinet minister wasPatricia Harris, 1977, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Jimmy Carter.
- U.S. Secretary of State: Gen. Colin Powell, 2001–2004. The first black female Secretary of State was Condoleezza Rice, 2005–2009.
- Major Party Nominee for President: Sen. Barack Obama, 2008. The Democratic Party selected him as its presidential nominee.
- U.S. President: Sen. Barack Obama. Obama defeated Sen. John McCain in the general election on November 4, 2008, and was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States on January 20, 2009.
African-American Firsts: Science and Medicine
- First patent holder: Thomas L. Jennings, 1821, for a dry-cleaning process. Sarah E. Goode, 1885, became the first African-American woman to receive a patent, for a bed that folded up into a cabinet.
- M.D. degree: James McCune Smith, 1837, University of Glasgow; Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first black woman to receive an M.D. degree. She graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1864.
- Inventor of the blood bank: Dr. Charles Drew, 1940.
- Heart surgery pioneer: Daniel Hale Williams, 1893.
- First astronaut: Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., 1967, was the first black astronaut, but he died in a plane crash during a training flight and never made it into space. Guion Bluford, 1983, became the first black astronaut to travel in space; Mae Jemison, 1992, became the first black female astronaut. Frederick D. Gregory, 1998, was the first African-American shuttle commander.
African-American Firsts: Scholarship
- College graduate (B.A.): Alexander Lucius Twilight, 1823, Middlebury College; first black woman to receive a B.A. degree: Mary Jane Patterson, 1862, Oberlin College.
- Ph.D.: Edward A. Bouchet, 1876, received a Ph.D. from Yale University. In 1921, three individuals became the first U.S. black women to earn Ph.D.s: Georgiana Simpson, University of Chicago; Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, University of Pennsylvania; and Eva Beatrice Dykes, Radcliffe College.
- Rhodes Scholar: Alain L. Locke, 1907.
- College president: Daniel A. Payne, 1856, Wilberforce University, Ohio.
- Ivy League president: Ruth Simmons, 2001, Brown UniversityAfrican-American Firsts: Literature
- Novelist: Harriet Wilson, Our Nig (1859).
- Poet: Lucy Terry, 1746, “Bar’s Fight.” It is her only surviving poem.
- Poet (published): Phillis Wheatley, 1773, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Considered the founder of African-American literature.
- Pulitzer Prize winner: Gwendolyn Brooks, 1950, won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry.
- Pulitzer Prize winner in Drama: Charles Gordone, 1970, for his play No Place To Be Somebody.
- Nobel Prize for Literature winner: Toni Morrison, 1993.
- Poet Laureate: Robert Hayden, 1976–1978; first black woman Poet Laureate: Rita Dove, 1993–1995.
African-American Firsts: Music and Dance
- Member of the New York City Opera: Todd Duncan, 1945.
- Member of the Metropolitan Opera Company: Marian Anderson, 1955.
- Male Grammy Award winner: Count Basie, 1958.
- Female Grammy Award winner: Ella Fitzgerald, 1958.
- Principal dancer in a major dance company: Arthur Mitchell, 1959, New York City Ballet.
African-American Firsts: Film
- First Oscar: Hattie McDaniel, 1940, supporting actress, Gone with the Wind.
- Oscar, Best Actor/Actress: Sidney Poitier, 1963, Lilies of the Field; Halle Berry, 2001, Monster’s Ball.
- Oscar, Best Actress Nominee: Dorothy Dandridge, 1954, Carmen Jones.
- Film director: Oscar Micheaux, 1919, wrote, directed, and produced The Homesteader, a feature film.
- Hollywood director: Gordon Parks directed and wrote The Learning Tree for Warner Brothers in 1969.
Other African-American Firsts
- Licensed Pilot: Bessie Coleman, 1921.
- Millionaire: Madame C. J. Walker.
- Billionaire: Robert Johnson, 2001, owner of Black Entertainment Television; Oprah Winfrey, 2003.
- Portrayal on a postage stamp: Booker T. Washington, 1940 (and also 1956).
- Miss America: Vanessa Williams, 1984, representing New York. When controversial photos surfaced and Williams resigned, Suzette Charles, the runner-up and also an African American, assumed the title. She represented New Jersey. Three additional African Americans have been Miss Americas: Debbye Turner (1990), Marjorie Vincent (1991), and Kimberly Aiken (1994).
- Explorer, North Pole: Matthew A. Henson, 1909, accompanied Robert E. Peary on the first successful U.S. expedition to the North Pole.
- Explorer, South Pole: George Gibbs, 1939–1941 accompanied Richard Byrd.
- Flight around the world: Barrington Irving, 2007, from Miami Gardens, Florida, flew a Columbia 400 plane named Inspirationaround the world in 96 days, 150 hours (March 23-June 27).
Courtesy of factmonster.com