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Q: Follow up (as a new item) on #159775 - origin etc of "african/american" ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Follow up (as a new item) on #159775 - origin etc of "african/american"
Category: Relationships and Society > Cultures
Asked by: finler-ga
List Price: $9.50
Posted: 11 Feb 2003 10:11 PST
Expires: 13 Mar 2003 10:11 PST
Question ID: 160000
Now that the ground has been disturbed a little - can someone else, with
specialized knowledge of dictionaries, publishing and/or similar related
fields, that have more than casual interest in language, chase this down
and get the story on how we have become stuck with this expression? (refer to
Subject: Re: Follow up (as a new item) on #159775 - origin etc of "african/american"
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 11 Feb 2003 12:12 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
My research indicates that the popularization of the term "African
American" was largely accomplished by Jesse Jackson, who was
influenced by Ramona Hoage Edelin, of the National Urban Coalition.

This was a very intriguing search. I am an amateur student of
linguistic trends; based on my own memory of the progression of
self-referential terms used by persons of color, I started with the
hypothesis that Jesse Jackson might have helped to facilitate the
widespread acceptance of "African American." My investigations led me
to Edelin, of whom I had no previous knowledge.

Below are some of the landmarks that marked the trail of this quest:


"When I think of 'African American,' it is so deeply a part of the
American historical experience with African Americans and slavery,
that you really can't extract it from some sort of racial
understanding," said Professor Michael Lambert in the African and Afro
American Studies Department.  "For instance, a white individual from
Africa would not fit the criteria for affirmative action basically
because most people look at the term 'African American' and 'black' as
the same."

Lambert explained that the Rev. Jesse Jackson brought out the term in
order to link black Americans to their African ancestry.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Black Ink Online/Racially


Afro-American, which gained rapid acceptance alongside black during
this period, expressed a growing, sometimes defiant pride in black
American culture and its African origins. Afro hairstyles and African
dress became popular in many parts of the black community, while
Afro-American studies programs proliferated on university campuses.
But in the following decades Afro-American lost some of its
popularity, especially in referring to people, so that today a phrase
such as the election of two new Afro-Americans to Congress sounds
somewhat dated. To a large degree its place has been taken by the
similar term African American, popularized in the late 1980s by Jesse
Jackson and other black leaders and quickly adopted by many columnists
and commentators, black and white alike.

The American HeritageŽ Book of English Usage: Names and Labels:
Social, Racial, and Ethnic Terms


Then came the Black Power movement of the 1960s when a younger, more
militant generation of blacks traded in "Colored" and christened
themselves "Black," taking ownership of a term that had previously
been used negatively by whites. Later waves of socially conscious
blacks adopted the term "Afro-American" in the 1970s.

Then the 1980s rolled around, with segregation safely tucked away in
the shadows of the 1960s, but also ushering in the rising influence of
the conservative right wing politics of the Reagan years. Jesse
Jackson, at the apex of his political career, joined other black
thinkers and leaders in suggesting that black Americans begin to use
the term "African American" because it not only suggested that blacks
had an ethnic history that predated slavery, but it also recognized a
link to an ancestral motherland.

"Some felt that the term 'black' was too strong and felt African
Americans should follow the pattern of other immigrant groups --
Polish Americans, Irish Americans," said Newman. "The term 'African
American' does not single out people on the basis of color but on the
basis of ethnicity. It is not anti-American, not extra-American, and
not quasi-American. I think 'African American' is here to stay."

Africana: Black Labeling (Archived Cache)


The term African-American was coined during the 1960s and '70s, but it
gained rapid acceptance alongside "black" later as an expression of a
growing, and sometimes defiant, pride in black American culture and
its African origins. Black leaders such as Jesse Jackson popularized
the term in the late 1980s, and it quickly became accepted in
mainstream society.

The Cincinnati Enquirer: 'African-American': Pride to Some, Division
to Others 


As part of a timeline called "On This Day in African-American
History," I found this interesting item:

"12/21/88 Jesse Jackson urges Blacks to use the term African American
to describe themselves because of its reference to both a land and
cultural base."

IMdiversity: December - On This Day in African-American History


While searching for possible connections between Jesse Jackson and the
term "African American," I found this, in a biography of Ramona Hoage
Edelin, Chief Executive of the National Urban Coalition:

Chief executive officer of action and advocacy organization. Joined
faculty of Northeastern University, 1972; contributed to founding and
naming of program in African American Studies, early 1970s, possibly
originating term "African American" at that time; became program
chairperson, 1974; moved to Washington, D.C., 1977, as executive
assistant to president, National Urban Coalition; named director of
operations, 1979; named vice president of operations, 1981; named vice
president of programs and policy, 1982; became chief executive
officer, 1988; promoted usage of term "African American" in meeting
with Rev. Jesse Jackson, its key popularizer, 1988...

African American Publications: Ramona Hoage Edelin

And here are additional citations which connect Edelin to the
popularization of the term:

*AFRICAN AMERICAN: Ramona H. Edelin, president of the National Urban
Coalition, proposed this term as an alternative to Negro and Black
during an African American Summit in New Orleans in April 1972. The
Rev. Jesse Jackson's subsequent endorsement probably did more to
popularize the term than anything else. This has since been adopted by
major newspapers and prominent political leaders, such as Mayor David
Dinkins of New York.

Arts & Sciences Network: The Challenge of Diversity

"The shift in our self-concept that results from calling ourselves
African-American" declares Ramona Edelin, "could be the beginning of a
serious cultural offensive." The struggle over the (cultural) meaning
of "African-American" is far reaching since, according to Edelin,
"When a child in a ghetto calls himself African-American, immediately
he's international. The change takes him from the ghetto and puts him
on the globe. It helps us realize that we are not just former slaves
living in the U.S. and makes it easier to change our children's
dwarfed perceptions of themselves."

The Alternative Orange: Politics, Deconstruction, Critique

...It is no wonder that during the period from 1966 to the present,
Blacks began to use "African American" to reflect a new reality and
Black language tended toward recreolization.

Smitherman (1994) cites a 1988 proposal by Dr. Ramona Edelin,
president of the National Urban Coalition to call the 1989 summit not
the Black Summit but the African American Summit. According to
Smitherman, Edelin felt that "Present-day Africans in America were
facing a new reality . . . [and] the situation called for reassessment
within the framework of a global identity linking Africans in America
with those on the Continent and throughout the Diaspora."

Georgia State University: Theorizing the Postcoloniality of African
American English


My search strategy in locating this information included Google Web
searches using various combinations of the search terms "african
american," "black," "afro-american," "term," "origin," "usage,"
"nomenclature," "self-reference," "jesse jackson," and "ramona *

I hope this proves useful. If anything I've said is unclear or
incomplete, or if any of the links do not function, please request
clarification before rating my answer, and I'll gladly offer further

Best regards,
finler-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
Fair enough.  The answer really is "African American" equals "Black"
but sounds better, and at least cannot be confused with anything else.
 It means what the promoters of the term wanted it to mean.  Period.

Subject: Re: Follow up (as a new item) on #159775 - origin etc of "african/american"
From: justaskscott-ga on 11 Feb 2003 12:27 PST
I recall reading an article in Newsweek (or some similar news
magazine) around that time that mentioned how Jesse Jackson was
promoting the term "African-American".  That was the first time I had
heard the term, so for what it's worth, my personal experience
supports pinkfreud's answer.
Subject: Re: Follow up (as a new item) on #159775 - origin etc of "african/american"
From: pinkfreud-ga on 11 Feb 2003 13:37 PST

Thank you for the four-star rating and the generous tip!

Subject: Re: Follow up (as a new item) on #159775 - origin etc of "african/american"
From: sublime1-ga on 11 Feb 2003 20:53 PST

Having just watched the movie 'Malcolm X', it seemed to me
that I recalled his use of the term before Jesse Jackson
promoted it in the '70s. A little research confirmed that:

"Malcolm X used the term "African-Americans" in a speech
 called the "Ballot or the Bullet" in 1964. In the speech,
 he said blacks are Africans living in America."

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