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The Search For Black Identity-Ethnogenesis; Let's Talk Terminology

Black/Negro/African American/Nigger/Nigga/POC


Each individual prefers to be addressed by a certain term while viewing others as incorrect, offensive, and politically incorrect. Each term does indeed have it's own connotation when we examine the birth of such words, their evolution, and how they are used today. There is a correct and incorrect way to address and frankly describe a melanated person without being offensive. It is important to possess racially sensitive intellect in order to address someone correctly and recognize if the term used makes the person uncomfortable. With that being said it is also important to be able to take hints and make the adjustment if someone corrects you or asks that you don't refer to them as a certain word.


Until the late 1960s being called black was considered to be an insult as it was thought to be militant and confrontational. Black was seen as undesirable. Which plays directly into colorism and being black/a blackie versus a mulatto. Being called black is an issue also because the test or calling to prove ones blackness arises, not in the eyes of white people but within our own community, it creates a desire or need to either separate from ones blackness or to fully embrace it and judge others. In fact black doesn't even scratch the surface of all of the different cultural backgrounds that 'blacks' embody.


Negro is a historical term that is derived from the Latin word Niger. Negro in Spanish also means black. From the 18th to the 20th century Negro was thought to be the accepted term to describe individuals with black heritage. Around the 1970's the word Negro was no longer used as heavily, and today when used it is more so associated with historical context. For example, the United Negro College Fund. Lyndon B Johnson is said to be the last president who publicly used the word Negro and when he left office he transitioned into calling African American people 'blacks.' In today's society it is inappropriate for any white or non African American person to call an African American a Negro as the connotation is negative and dates back to slavery times. Connotations of words do change depending upon who is using the word, however, politicians and activists who use the word loosely fall into a certain category. That is they are from the same generation, are strongly invested in the cause, and they are never using it negatively. Being called a negro by a white person feels as though they are trying to showcase their dominance and possession of African Americans. It screams ownership.


In 1988 75 black led groups attended a conference held in Chicago where Jesse Jackson proposed that 'blacks' transition into being called African Americans. His goal was for African Americans to be able to establish a cultural identity just as other ethnicities have American tacked on to them (Asian American, Jewish American, etc).The transition from Black to African American was meant to solidify African Americans as a priority just like other ethnicities who experienced an unfair hardship. That of African Americans being slavery.Essentially it was also an attempt to take a step towards receiving reparations







"You are of a race of...ancient civilizations, and riches in gold and kings. You don't even know your true family name...You have been cut off by the devil white man from all true knowledge of your own kind. You have been a victim of the evil of the white man ever since he murdered and raped and stole from your native land in the seeds of your forefathers..."

-Elijah Muhammad






Being called an African American acknowledges our role in history, emphasizes our culturural contributions, and attempts to uplift us in the sense of evening the playing field with other ethnicities. It is meant to grow black consciousness and form a more politically correct term to be addressed by. Jesse Jackson argued that by simply calling individuals 'blacks' it negates the fact that black people are indeed tied to Africa and that they have any type of heritage


Some opposers of the use of the term African American argue that there is a distinction between African Americans and Black Americans. For example, Phillip Gay made the argument that the descendants from Africa have created their own culture over time that has no relation to Africa. Instead he argues that there is "a distinctly black cuisine of low-cost edibles more indigenous to Europe and the New World than to Africa, a distinct Black American patois firmly rooted in the english language, relatively distinct Black American patterns of familial organization and ...religious practices grounded in Christianity, a non-African religion." He also states that most Black Americans are 6-7 generations removed from Africa. This argument attempts to separate the direct descendants from Africa versus those who are generationally removed. Regardless of how many generations removed a person is there is still a chance that they are descendants of Africa, due to the fact that AFRICANS WERE FORCEFULLY REMOVED AND BROUGHT TO AMERICA. This speaks directly to why it is important to have a politically correct term to be identified as, Amerikkka attempts to silence and shut out African and African American history. By calling us black strips us of our history and our roots.


Being called a Black American is slightly better than being called a 'black' however, Amerikkka still is reluctant to acknowledge and teach Black American History. Within the Black American and African American community there are various ways to identify oneself simply because we are a culturally rich community and have different backgrounds. The bottom line is-address people the way that they want to be addressed and let them identify the way they would like in reference to their heritage. Be racially cognizant and empathetic towards our community.


Nigger. Nigger is a well known term in American Culture as it is used as a racial slur against African Americans. It represents slavery, lynchings, beatings, and every racially motivated harm that has been imposed on African Americans. The term is derogatory because of it's roots and original meaning. Nigger is synonymous with oppression.


In 1837, Hosea Easton stated that "nigger" is "an opprobrious term, employed to impose contempt upon (blacks) as an inferior race..The term itself would be perfectly harmless were it used only to distinguish one class from another but it is not used with that intent...it flows from the fountain of purpose to injure." For one, no non African American person should be using the term nigger to address one who shares their race and especially not to address an African American. It is not acceptable, no matter the context, no matter how much African American's call each other the name, or because you're rapping or singing lyrics. It is not hard to not use the word.





Nigga. The argument is always made that African Americans use the term among themselves as a way to show endearment. It is ironic that they do this when one understands the historical background and negativity that surrounds the word. It is also believed that the word loses the negative connotation when the -er is dropped and replaced with an a or -ah. This is a separate issue that does not pertain to non African Americans, meaning it does not give you the right to use the word.



When African American's use the word nigga to describe one another this is what White and non African American people picture.They are completely ignoring the beauty, wealth, and educated culture that we are.



"The word Nigger to colored people is like a red rag to a bull. Used rightly or wrongly, ironically or seriously, of necessity for the sake of realism, r impishly for the sake of comedy, it doesn't matter. Negroes do not like it in any book or play whatsoever, be the book or play ever so sympathetic of the basic problems of the race"

-Langston Hughes, The Big Sea



People of Color. African Americans should not be categorized as people of color because the struggles and inequality that they face are specific to their group. People of Color includes various groups that identify as non white. So in a general sense yes African Americans are people of color however, when discussing the injustices that they face it takes away from what we are fighting for to group us with others who identify as poc. In fact other POC also discriminate against us just as white people do.


Be cognizant in your understanding and research of what you should call African Americans if they choose to identify that way and what words have a racist connotation.

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