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Q: "African/american" replaced "Black" (which had replaced "Negro".) ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: "African/american" replaced "Black" (which had replaced "Negro".)
Category: Relationships and Society > Politics
Asked by: finler-ga
List Price: $9.50
Posted: 10 Feb 2003 19:43 PST
Expires: 12 Mar 2003 19:43 PST
Question ID: 159775
Exactly when did this event take place?  Where did the general
consensus come
from and what was done to make this change so quickly and so generally
acceptable? Did I miss something that suddenly got people to use the
"African/american" expression?  Has it ever been defined?  We know,
somehow, that it does not apply to - say - Egyptians who have taken up
residence and possibly citizenship here.  Where is the line drawn? 
Who drew it - some committee? Am I generally uninformed  because I do
not know the answers?  Is that awkward expression also used by the
"African/americans" within their own circles and outside of the
hearing of Nonafrican/americans?
Subject: Re: "African/american" replaced "Black" (which had replaced "Negro".)
Answered By: tutuzdad-ga on 10 Feb 2003 22:13 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Dear finler-ga;

Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to answer your very
interesting question. Customs change in very much the same way that
grass grows; slowly, steadily and without much ado. Over time,
surviving customs become so engrained in our society that when someone
asks when they first began, the answer is often “It’s always been that
way”. While this is not true with most things, it is very difficult to
pin down a specific time or date with regard to the introduction of
some customs, or to attribute the adoption of a custom to a single
event because frankly, the thing that brought it on probably didn’t
seem to have much historical significance at the time or wasn’t very
eventful at all. Having said that, I think the best anyone can do it
to narrow the practice and subsequent changes over the years down to
specific periods of social and/or political change.

The world has historically trudged through centuries of prejudice that
has affected many societies, many civilizations, and many ethnicities
dating all the way back to the beginning of recorded time. American
society has not escaped this fate. From a time dating back to long
before our nation’s birth until the late 1800’s, when former slaves,
now free, began exercising their right to free speech under the
assumption that they were protected by the constitution,
African-American people were called a variety of names, many of which
are now considered vulgar slurs. By the end of the civil war, they had
become less tolerant of the vulgarities used against them and began
insisting upon being referred to as “Negroes” rather than less
respectful names. This mentality probably began on a much smaller
scale many years before the civil war ended in the mid 1800’s, in
fact. In areas of the northern United States where slavery had been
abolished long before it ended in the south, some African-Americans
had already become teachers, physicians, land-owners and even people
of wealth; the majority of the Caucasian northern public supported
abolition thought of it as normal to offer respect to any person,
regardless of color, whose position warranted such respect and were
eager to use a term more conventional than the ones they knew were
socially unacceptable.  By the turn of the century, however the
greater majority of African-Americans had been born outside of the
institution of slavery and many were educated to such a degree as to
use their influence to their advantage. Many of them, wanting to
disassociate themselves from that of the stereotypically, uneducated
farm hand, and some, having either visited the northern US or came
south from the northern states, were aware of the practice of white
people calling African-Americans “Negroes”. A certain amount of pride
associated with being “a Negro” even began to develop as a generation
of African-Americans started to re-discover their rich heritage and

Up until the time World War II broke out, the term “Negro” was common
and deemed socially acceptable by both African-Americans and
Caucasians.  Because segregation was the order of the time, many
African-Americans were restricted from using the same facilities as
“whites”. Special, albeit lesser, facilities were built for their
exclusive use. Over time, African-Americans were integrated into the
Armed services along with their “white” counterparts and, in the
military at least, many of the signs designating facilities “Negro” or
“White” only began to disappear. This was not the case, however, in
civilian life and would not become so for quite some time after the
war. Eventually, those who experienced the rare (and constitutional)
sense of equality that their brief integration (out of the necessity
in the interest of the war effort) provided during the war filtered
back into a strongly biased society where they were still restricted
by segregation laws and separatist signage. Everywhere they turned
they were reminded that they were “Negroes”, and as such were
perceived as people of lesser value. Some more conservative “whites”,
sympathetic to the feelings of the African-Americans (and some who
simply didn’t want to risk losing their African-American customers)
began to meet these needs by changing their signs and their references
to a more friendly term: “colored”. Presumably this came from their
assumption that they, as cuacasians, were perceived as white, or
color-“less”, so logically the logical opposite must be “colored”.
Many African-Americans found this term sufficient, at best (certainly
preferable to the term “Negro”) and initially at least viewed these
signs as a friendly invitation. This feeling would not last long. It
should also be noted here that there was no sense of pride associated
with being labeled “colored” as there once was with being identified
as a Negro.

A generation later, as the social climate changed yet again, states
were ordered by the government to permit the integration of
African-American students into their formerly “all white” public
schools. A great deal of civil disobedience occurred in American
during this time, primarily in the south where African-Americans
dominated the manual labor force and rivaled white citizens in terms
of population. Following the eventual deployment of US Army troops in
Little Rock, Arkansas in the summer of 1957 integration became an
American way of life. By now, there was a sense of need on the part of
the post-war/post-integration generation of African-Americans to
remove themselves from the past perception that “Negroes” are

By the 1960’s, student unions were developing and American youth
groups of all races began to exercise their voice collective voice in
matters of politics, philosophy, sociology, economics and more. At the
same time a parallel youth movement was underway in California
encouraging people to love and accept one another and to celebrate our
differences rather than reject or evade them. On a third front, the
United States was at war again, this time in Vietnam. Men of all races
were once again thrust into a lifestyle where equality by necessity
was in the best interest of the greater good. Many of the students and
most of the American youth involved in the changes taking place in
California opposed the war ad both spoken out opening against it. In
time the war ended and the soldiers returned. The youth movements had
not only make a powerful name for themselves but their insistence that
our differences should be a source of pride lingered well beyond the
sounds of their protests of America’s involvement in what they
considered an internal political matter in Vietnam. African-American
soldiers came back from the war much stronger politically and were
accepted back into a society in which their race had become empowered
and deeply committed to being recognized as “black”, but otherwise no
different. There was a great deal of pride associated with this
concept, and rightfully so.

By the 1970’s, the term “black” HAD begun to be perceived by some as
“different”. Some more radical and militant African-American groups
made unpopular names for themselves by openly airing their resentment
about slavery and centuries of violence, discrimination and rights
violations that had been committed against them and their ancestors. A
few even publicly incited others to join them in their anger and
demanded equality under threat of violence. Even fewer actually
participated in organized criminal activities and geurilla style
vigilantism, oddly reminiscent of organizations such as the white
supremascist group Ku Klux Klan which had previously terrorized
African-Americans in the south for decades. These incidents were
relatively few and isolated but received a great deal of media
coverage from the predominantly “white” publications, radio and
television stations. The term “black” in some areas became a fearful
term, especially to some “whites” that bought into the embellished

By the 1980’s the social scene had calmed dramatically and people
began to become more intellectual in their approach to race labels.
The social norm was to be fair and “politically correct” wherever
possible. While the term “black” was still in use (and continues to
this day to some extent) society was all too ready to put these issues
away. The term “African-American” emerged, not as a means of
distinguishing superficial differences in our skins, but as a means of
indicating a person’s ethnicity while emphasizing our shared heritage.
The model for this concept was established long ago by the common use
of such labels as Irish-American and Italian-American to distinguish
between the generations of Native American descendants of Irish and
Italian immigrants and their immigrant/foreign born ancestors, when
they, like African-Americans struggled to overcome the same kind of

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Request for Answer Clarification by finler-ga on 11 Feb 2003 05:56 PST
Thank you for your very careful answer.  I have not recogized in your
reply a fair and generally accepted definition of the
"african/american expression. The expression came into current use
relatively quickly.  I am hard pressed to think of another expression
that received such a wide general acceptance so quickly.  What was the
mechanics of this change?  Were there any pro and con discussions
before it became so generally accepted?  For example why wasn't a
shorter term - "afroamerican" for instance - used?  Is the term
restricted to the United States? How did the instruction go out, for
instance, in official government or, say, the New York Times with it's
own tight language usage guidelines, that from now on this is the
policy and practice? In your own experience, when did you get the word
that from now on black is out and african/american (all seven
sylables) is in?  Were there any preliminary discussion - give and
take - of alternative solutions?  Is there similar acceptance of the
expression abroad as there is in the USA?  Has it been picked up in
standard dictionaries?  Further, what is the generally accepted
expression now for blacks who were born in and live in England or
France?  Has the Times language mayvin or any other pundit ever dealt
with this question? And so on.

Clarification of Answer by tutuzdad-ga on 11 Feb 2003 12:46 PST
Dear finler-ga:

I would gladly have expanded on my answer in response to your
clarification request but by rating the answer you have closed the

However, in conclusion I will offer this: It appears that some of the
more recent “official” changes in racial terminology were instituted
in government by way of the Office of Management and Budget. I hope
these articles provide you with more insight into the issue:

“Racial and Ethnic Classifications Used in Census 2000 and Beyond”

“Racial and Ethnic Classifications Used by Public Schools”

“Office of Management and Budget Directive #15; 1977”

“Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on
Race and Ethnicity”

As for the new questions you posed in the course of your clarification
request, I’m sure a researcher would gladly look into these in future
posts separate from this one should you decide to do so. Even though
the question is closed I hope this helped.


Clarification of Answer by tutuzdad-ga on 11 Feb 2003 20:13 PST
Dear finler-ga;

On closer examination you will note that the "reply" you referred to
in your final (and premature) rating that closed your question, from
the "troubled researcher" was *NOT* from me ("tutuzdad-ga") at all
(the person's name appears on his comments below - "byrd-ga"). Under
normal circumstances more research would have been coming your way as
I was in the process of gathering additional data per your request at
the time the question closed.

Just FYI - 

finler-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
At first I received a carefully developed reply that set the stage for
an answer but on follow up I find that the researcher, although
sympathetic to my concern is just as troubled (he says) as I am.  I
will not deny he earned the fee but I do hope he will keep it on a
follow up of some sort and provide me with any new enlightenment on
the subject that might come to surface.  For one thing - he might be
in a better position than I am to adress the question to the New York
Times language people, to the dictionary committees that sit on
judgement on new word entries, and so on.  This whole question should
not be a mystery. Is this some kind of "hot" issue about which the
less said the better? Does anyone have anything to hide on this

Subject: Re: "African/american" replaced "Black" (which had replaced "Negro".)
From: byrd-ga on 11 Feb 2003 07:33 PST
I also await the clarification on this question and am interested in
it as well.  As a matter of fact, this is a particular pet peeve of
mine as I have long been irritated by the ubiquitous (and ignorant)
use of the awkward expression.  My irritation began in the late
seventies/early eighties with the annoyed observation of a dear black
friend of mine of many years, that though her appearance was certainly
"black," her ethnicity was heavily weighted with Asian Indian and
Caucasian, with only a small amount of African Negro.

How ironic it is that, despite being labeled by some for so long as
"inferior," the genetic material of the Negro is frequently, perhaps
usually, dominant over all other racial types, resulting in the ironic
fact that, especially in this melting pot of races that is our nation,
a person whose appearance is clearly "black," may have only a
miniscule trace of actual Negro genetic material!

I have another friend, an immigrant of the Ibo tribe of Nigeria, who
has never taken American citizenship, but is a long-standing legal
resident alien. He married a Caucasian woman from West Virginia and
they had two children.  Now, the United States doesn't recognize dual
citizenship, but Nigeria does, and so the children of this marriage
hold both U.S. and Nigerian citizenship.  In my book, they and others
like them, as well as first-generation Africans who have taken
American citizenship, are the *ONLY* people entitled to use the term
"African-American."  For all others it is a specious term at best; at
worst it is at least as objectionable and prejudicial as any other
term it seeks to replace, and in my not so humble opinion, far more

Black, white, oriental, arab, hispanic -- ultimately they are (or
should be) just descriptive terms for heaven's sake, like blond or
brunette or tall or short.  Like it or not, there are physical
differences among us, and it isn't insulting to notice them.  Take my
grandkids, for example.  Their father, my son, is blond and blue-eyed,
but their mother is Peruvian-American (yes, an immigrant who has taken
U.S. citzenship), with a mixture of Spanish, Italian, Swiss, German
and Indian in her background.  The children's appearance is certainly
a blend of the two.  One of the kids is darker than the other, but
they're both already labeled "hispanic," despite the fact that that is
only a small part of their whole heritage. Now that's okay as long as
someone's just trying to describe their appearance.  But when people
presume they don't speak English and talk to them in Spanish because
they look "Mexican," that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

Must we presume at all to know and/or comment upon anyone's ethnic or
national origins? Who cares? Shall I, for instance, be called
 Good grief, white is fine, thank you. And my black and other shades
of friends and family agree with reference to their respective colors.

Thanks for the chance to sound off on this topic, Finler.  I'll be
awaiting further enlightenment!

Subject: Re: "African/american" replaced "Black" (which had replaced "Negro".)
From: finler-ga on 12 Feb 2003 18:10 PST
Dear tutuzdad-ga I am sorry I allowed mtself to get confused.  I
should have recognized, if nothing else, that the style of byrd-ga's
writing was entirely different from yours.  I am still a little
awkward about using these internet facilaties.  Next time I will try
to show more patience and wait the initial researcher out.

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