Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Is 'African-American' Offensive?

Is the expression ‘African-American’ offensive? Yes, it is.

That is because the term is ethnocentric. It assumes that the United States is in the center of the world. Here’s why.

The expression comes to replace the word ‘black’. But it denotes not only skin color or ethnic origin, it also assumes citizenship. An African-American is, by definition, American. But not all black people are American. In fact, most of them are not.

What would Americans call French blacks? What would Americans call blacks from Nigeria or South Africa or the U.K.? Even in the U.S. itself, if a black man walks down the street in New Jersey, that hardly means he’s a U.S. citizen, does it? Why call him American?

Why would a new term for ‘black’ include the word ‘American’? Why would a new term for ‘Asian’ include the word ‘American’? People would only suggest the expression (and, later, adopt it) if they automatically assumed that the U.S. is in the center of the world, that most people come from America, are in America, and that not much outside of America exists. That seems to be the only way such an expression could get acceptance. The fact that it got to be so popular means that a large part of the American people believe this deep down.

This isn’t new. The term ‘American’ itself has hinted at this for years. Ask a Canadian if he’s American, and he’ll say “No, I’m Canadian.” But a Canadian citizen is an American in the same way that a citizen of the U.S. is American. And let’s not even mention South America.

The terms ‘American’, ‘African-American’, ‘Asian-American’ and their like tell us something about the people who invented them, about the people who adopted them, and about the people who use them.


Anonymous said...

No, it is not offensive. It simply means that we were born and raised in the Americas and our culture is part of American, as well as African, culture.

I was born in the U.S. but I live abroad, and I take an international and Afrocentric approach. Check out my blog about this.

And you know what? The longer I live abroad, the more I realise just how African American I really am.


Guy Hasson said...

Hi Zhana,

That's the best defense of the term 'African-American' I've heard so far. But, still, what would you call black people?

African-American fits you to a tee, that's great. And the word 'Republican', say, would fit the next white person I meet on the street. But I could hardly call all white people Republicans, even though some of them are Republicans.

So: You're an African-American. But what would you call black people?

And a small clarification, if it wasn't clear: 'African-American' isn't offensive to blacks, it's offensive to non-Americans.

Btw, nice site.

Anonymous said...

Arlene Elshinnawy is of Caribbean or West Indian origin. Elshinnawy is no longer living.