I once had a manager who would change my reports to say “African American” whenever I described someone as “Black.” It didn’t matter if the person was a Black man from Japan, she always changed my description from Black, to African American. I became so disgusted by her ignorance that I stopped noting race in my reports all together, even though race was an unfortunately important element of my reports.
I have noted two fields of thought with regard to white people who take offense to the word “Black.” There are those well-intentioned whites folks who liken the word “Black” to using a racial slur, one that is as derogatory as using the N word. This is understandable when viewed in light of the rise of the term, “African American.”
The term African-American was popularized by Jesse Jackson, who campaigned to make the term the preferred descriptor of people, who at the time, were described as Black. Being called Black, Jackson said, was as “baseless” as being called a negro or colored. He argued that such terms spoke only to the color of the skin and not to the origin of the person. Black people in America, by and large, got behind Jackson’s campaign, and well-intentioned white folks fell in line. Those fearful of being labeled (or outed) as a racist, shunned the word “Black.”
To be clear, the term African American is not synonymous with the word “Black.” That shouldn’t have to be said, as there are obviously millions of Black people all over the world who aren't American. Further, even some Black folks in America don't consider themselves African American, myself being one such Black person. You see, although I am an American citizen, and have lived in America for the majority of my life, I was born in Jamaica and consider myself a Jamaican. I am fully aware of my African heritage (if we are keeping it 100, everyone descended from Africans), however, I simply refer to myself as Black. For me, referring to myself as Black is a more accurate description of who I am than the term “African American.”
"Black" is not a bad word. Feel free to use it. If someone tells you they prefer to be referred to as something else, refer to them using the identifier of their choosing. It really is that simple.
So, we've talked about the well-intentioned whites. What about the other group?
Recently, the company Honey Pot, found itself under fire because people (presumably white people) took issue with a commercial in which Honey Pot’s founder, Beatrice Dixon, a Black woman, noted that it was important for her company to do well, “so the next Black girl that comes up with a great idea, she can have a better opportunity.”
People, many of whom admitted to never using any Honey Pot product in their lives, flooded Honey Pot's Trust Pilot page, leaving negative reviews, condemning Dixon for being a racist. Never mind that the commercial was a part of Target's Black History Month celebration, ergo, aired during a time when one would expect Black empowerment to be at the forefront. Dixon's detractors were certain she was a racist, because she thought it was important for her to pave the way for little Black girls.
I began to wonder if Dixon would have faced the same backlash, had she been more polite and noted that she wanted to pave the way for “African American" girls as opposed to “Black” girls?
This led me to think about the Honey Pot backlash in terms of the Black Lives Matter movement. Would the movement have faced the backlash it did (and continues to face), if it had softened its moniker? African American Lives Matter?
Jesse Jackson’s campaign to popularize the term “African American” gained steam near the time when another prominent Black movement came to an abrupt end. Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party, was murdered in 1989. Newton famously called for Black folks to arm themselves and fight against oppression (namely the oppressive police department in Oakland, California). Newton’s position was a “radical” one. It gained nationwide favor amongst many Black people, and created fear and panic amongst non-Black people, all the way to the White House. The American government actively worked to disband the Black Panther Party. Meanwhile, the “very fine people” of the Ku Klux Klan continue with their hate group and terrorist activities, uninhibited, unabated.
I believe, the congruence of the rise of the politically correct term, African American, with the decimation of the Black Panther Party has led to the second group of whites. This group is made up of whites who view the use of the term “Black” as something innately nefarious. For them, the word “Black” espouses militant radicalism. “Black” espouses brutish unrefined people and a lack of political correct pleasantries. When they hear the word Black, they are triggered. Black people say “Black,” but they hear “anti-white.” When they hear “African American”? Not so triggering. That is, after all, the term that is used in polite circles. A polite person is, of course, not militant. A polite person puts others at ease. No fear of an uprising there.
Anecdotally, I have found that people who use the term African American in non-formal settings tend to be racists. That manager who always corrected my reports? Flat-out racist.
OK, maybe not flat-out, but she is a Trump supporter. Close enough.
Of course I am just one Black woman speaking.