Afro-American or Black: What's in a Name? Prominent Blacks And-Or African Americans Express Their Views

Ebony, July 1989 | Go to article overview

Afro-American or Black: What's in a Name? Prominent Blacks And-Or African Americans Express Their Views


African-American or Black

AN old and controversial issues has resurfaced. What should we call ourselves, "Blacks" or "African-Americans"? The debate was rekindled last winter after 75 national leaders met to discuss a Black agenda. Speaking for the group, the Rev. Jesse Jackson declared: "To be called Black is baseless. . . To be called African-American has cultural integrity." Others who support the redefinition say a name-change campaign could give impetus to a new mass movement for equality. It could have the same effect as the campaign to be called black had in the 1960s and the movement to be called Negro before that. Opponents of the campaign say it is an exhaustive exercise in semantics that diverts attention from more serious issues such as crime, poverty and inadequate eductional and employment opportunities. Whether they are for, against or neutral, prominent Black leaders suggest that the answer to the question, "What's in a name: Black or African-American?," is more than skin-deep.

Following are their views:

African-American

Ramona H. Edelin President, National Urban Coalition

"We must unify. We want African people throughout the world to refer to ourselves as Africans wherever we are in the Diaspora. This is our proper geopolitical identification. It is our obligation to reconstruct our culture at this critical point in history so that we can move forward and not be satisfied with one or two people rising to the surface...Calling ourselves African-Americans is the first step in the cultural offensive. Our cultural renaissance can change our lot in the nation and around the world."

Black

Dr. T. J. Jemison President, National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.

"I see no particular need to change. I am comfortable with the term 'Black.' I've gone through changes in the Deep South over the word 'Negro.' I fought with the press here in Baton Rouge, La., to write the word 'Negro' with a capital N. Then, we got them to go to Black. I don't see any need for me to make any changes at this time. 'African-American is all right for those who like the term. I'm perfectly at ease with and accept the term 'Black.' I don't see any need to identify us as 'African-Americans.' I will use what I've been using, 'Black.'"

Mary Futrell President, National Education Association

"The designation 'African-American' can be very positive. It has a more positive connotation than simply calling ourselves Black. African-American talks about our culture, our history as well as our present standing. It means that I not only am an American and not only have ties here, but I also have roots ties in Africa, which is our base of origin. It is very positive for young people. It helps them to understand who they are and that they do indeed have a foundation that goes way back. The term will help give young people a sense of pride, a sense of heritage, and a sense of identity with our past, present and future."

John E. Jacob President, National Urban League, Inc.

"Today, the term African-American is coming into broader usage, and I'm all for it. It suggests a new maturity in our community and a healthy attitude toward our past. African-American, like other ethnic descriptions, is an accurate identification that places Black Americans firmly within an ethnic, cultural and historical context. It links us to the history and experience of our forebears in Africa and our brothers and sisters in the worldwide Black Diaspora.

"Some polls indicate a majority of African-Americans already favor the term over Black. But we should avoid an intra-community conflict over nomenclature, or campaigns designed to pressure people into using African-American instead of Black. Our imediate concern is to focus on poverty, unemployment, housing, health and other key issues. However, to the extent that 'African-American' evolves into our generally used name it might help our young people rekindle the pride and maturity necessary to reach our goals. …

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