Identification: Titles Change Things

Updated on December 4, 2016

Black vs. African-American

The realization of the complexity of identification specifically in the Black community is intriguing. As I’m sure you know there is a certain level of controversy regarding the title given to Black people. I’m reading an article entitled It’s the Blackness that Scares Everybody: Why white people favor “African-Americans”. Just within the title it is clear that there is a blatant differentiation between Blacks and African Americans. In the article, the claim is made that white people perceive African Americans to be a better depiction of character among people of color. The author writes ” Study participants also concluded that targets identified as “African-American” were perceived to have a higher socioeconomic status, to generally be more competent, and to have a “warmer” personality.” The perception of Black people when referred to as African Americans is better than simply being Black.

For the sake of the topic, I feel that I should take the time out to clarify the background behind both titles.

Black (with the capital B) refers to more than just the amount of melanin in the skin but is a mindset. There are many facets that tie into the capitalization of the B in Black. It is written in the New York Times article entitled The Case for Black with a Capital B that, and I quote, “Black with a capital B refers to people of the African diaspora. Lowercase black is simply a color.” In addition to that, Dr. Meredith D. Clark writes “In so many ways, it’s about the lower-class way that Black people are perceived…And we are not a lower-class people.” The idea of being called Black with a capital B is a matter of value. By the B being lowercase it, as Dr. Clark stated, chips away at the value that people outside of the Black community have for the Black community. In a number of articles, studies show that people who are referred to or refer to themselves as Black are seen as having a lower socioeconomic status than if they were to be called African American. The mindset aspect of Black with a capital B is a feeling of empowerment among other things. It a way of reclaiming a term that has been so long diminished down to nothing more than a color.

African-American refers to a seemingly more civil, mild-mannered individual of color. The man or woman who refers to themselves as an African-American are seen to be more financially stable and an overall better person. In the It’s the Blackness… article, Britney Cooper writes “Perhaps the adoption of an American identity, even a hyphenated one, makes Black people feel safer to white people. Perhaps adoption of that moniker signals that we are willing to fall into step and into line with what America says about us.” To be called African-American is a politically correct way for people to refer to people of color in the same way that there are Asian-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc. The idea of being called African American proposes competence and a serene personality; calm if you will.

In my opinion, it seems that the American society we live in promotes the title of African-American to do three things:

  1. Take ownership of Black people as being American.
  2. Grant Black people with a false sense of belonging, safety and acceptance.
  3. Separate the people from the true power of being Black.

The other night, I was having a conversation about the branding power of America, specifically towards Black people. I represented America as the Monopoly board game. The Monopoly man is the representative of America who takes ownership of everything on the board. As you land on different properties and buy them, you are given the false sense of ownership of the things you purchased. The players fail to realize that though the Monopoly man isn’t always present and visible, he still collects a percentage of the properties that you buy therefore taking credit for every business deal you make. As Black people in America, we hold on to the misconception that we are accepted and that we are granted the same equality as our European counterparts. Anything that is done on American soil, no matter how great the intent or how revolutionary it may seem, America will still find a way to manipulate it and take credit for it. The title African-American is another way that America tags Black people as property of the Monopoly man.

To be African-American in the eyes of white America is to not pose a threat to the beautiful American Dream that they enjoy. African-American, to me, is the same as a slave name. It suggests submission to American norms and stereotypes, in hopes to feel the false sense of acceptance. The benefits of the title is painted to sound better to trick the Black people into believing that we belong here. We should never forget what it means to be Black and more importantly, we mustn’t forget our place as Black people in white America.

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