I’m only offending 17% of my Black students

I’ve never liked the term “African-American” because I feel like it elides the fundamental role of physical appearance in the nature of race and society.  George Zimmerman didn’t get all worried about Trayvon Martin being a thug because his ancestors are from Africa, but because of his distinctive racial appearance– for which we use “Black.”  A Black person is going to be treated differently in our society whether they’re ancestors are from Africa, London, or they just arrived from Nigeria.  As long as this is really about physical appearance, I feel like the term Black is more accurate when talking about race.  That said, when I teach, I try and throw in 20-30% African-American, just so it’s clear I am comfortable with either term.

Anyway, I was intrigued by this new Gallup poll that looks at what Blacks themselves prefer to be called:

Some people say the term "African-American" should be used instead of the word "black." Which term do you prefer -- "African-American" or "black," or does it not matter to you either way?

They’ve also got demographic breakdowns, but the differences are modest.  And while I’m at it, looks like I might as well stick with Hispanic:

Some people say the term "Latino" should be used instead of the word "Hispanic."\nWhich term do you prefer -- "Latino" or "Hispanic," or does it not matter to you either way?

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

3 Responses to I’m only offending 173 of my Black students

  1. pino says:

    I’ve never liked the term “African-American”

    Personally I would try and use the term that the individual wants to be used, however, that is very difficult to ascertain. It’s difficult just to ask.

    With that said, what do we call someone who is black and from Jamaica? Or, what do we call people who are from and currently living in Africa? “African African-Americans?”

    We don’t have this issue when we refer to white people. No one bothers to know if I want to be referred to as Western-European American. Or my cultural struggle with trying to decide if I should be German-American or Swedish-American. My maternal grandfather got off the boat from Germany as did my paternal great-great-grandparents from Sweden.

    I have noticed something in my kids. I think that when my parents were growing up, there was the comfortable use with the pejorative – The “N” word. As I have grown up we refer to black people as “That black guy” when trying to identify a specific person in a room. In the same way as I might mention “The tall guy” when trying to identify someone specific.

    But my kids…How are they speaking? They use the phrase, “That man with the black skin.”

    They say it in the same way that you might say, “The girl with red hair”. Or, “the man with blue eyes”.

    I’ve grown up saying “that black guy” my kids with “that guy with black skin”

    I wonder if it’s telling that my generation sees “black” first and my kids see “guy” first.

    Anyway, good stuff.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Agree all around. And great observation about the kids– mine do the same thing! We live in a very integrated area– White, black, Hispanic, South-asian and they just don’t get the adult obsession with race. It’s kind of awesome.

      • itchy says:

        “I’ve grown up saying ‘that black guy’ my kids with ‘that guy with black skin'”

        Same with my 9-year-old daughter. I didn’t teach her … it’s just what she says (although she uses “brown,” and she doesn’t differentiate between her African-, Indian- and Latin-American friends, except for the occasional “dark brown.”)

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