The term "African American"
The term African American carries important political overtones. Earlier terms used to identify Americans of African ancestry were conferred upon the group by colonists and Americans of European ancestry. The terms were included in the wording of various laws and legal decisions which some thought were being used as tools of white supremacy and oppression. There developed among blacks in America a growing desire for a term of self-identification of their own choosing.
With the political consciousness that emerged from the political and social ferment of the late 1960s and early 1970s, blacks no longer approved of the term Negro. They believed it had suggestions of a moderate, accommodationist, even "Uncle Tom" connotation. In this period, a growing number of blacks in the United States, particularly African American youth, celebrated their blackness and their historical and cultural ties with the African continent. The Black Power movement defiantly embraced Black as a group identifier. It was a term social leaders themselves had repudiated only two decades earlier, but they proclaimed, "Black is beautiful".
In this same period, a smaller number of people favored Afro-American, a common shortening (as is 'Anglo-American'). However, after the decline in popularity of the 'Afro' hairstyle in the late 1970s, the term fell out of use.
In the 1980s the term African American was advanced on the model of, for example, German-American or Irish-American to give descendents of American slaves and other American blacks who lived through the slavery-era a heritage and a cultural base. The term was popularized in black communities around the country via word of mouth and ultimately received mainstream use after Jesse Jacksonpublicly used the term in front of a national audience. Subsequently, major media outlets adopted its use.
Many blacks in America expressed a preference for the term, as it was formed in the same way as names for others of the many ethnic groups in the nation. Some argued further that, because of the historical circumstances surrounding the capture, enslavement and systematic attempts to de-Africanize blacks in the United States under chattel slavery, most African Americans are unable to trace their ancestry to a specific African nation; hence, the entire continent serves as a geographic marker.
For many, African American is more than a name expressive of cultural and historical roots. The term expresses pride in Africa and a sense of kinship and solidarity with others of the African diaspora—an embrace of pan-Africanism as earlier enunciated by prominent African thinkers such as Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Du Bois and George Padmore.
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Since 1977, in an attempt to keep up with changing social opinion, the United States government officially classified black people (revised to black or African American in 1997) as "having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa." Other federal offices, such as the United States Census Bureau, adhere to the OMB standards on race in its data collection and tabulations efforts. In preparation for the United States 2010 Census, a marketing and outreach plan, called 2010 Census Integrated Communications Campaign Plan (ICC) recognized and defined African Americans as black people born in the United States. From the ICC perspective, African Americans are one of three groups of black people in the United States
The ICC plan was to reach the three groups by acknowledging that each group has its own sense of community that is based on geography and ethnicity. The best way to market the census process toward any of the three groups is to reach them through their own unique communication channels and not treat the entire black population of the U.S. as though they are all African Americans with a single ethnic and geographical background. The U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation categorizes black or African American people as "A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa" through racial categories used in the UCR Program adopted from the Statistical Policy Handbook (1978) and published by the Office of Federal Statistical Policy and Standards, U.S. Department of Commerce, derived from the 1977 OMB classification.
Follow up (as a new item) on #159775 - origin etc of "african/american"
My research indicates that the popularization of the term "African American" was largely accomplished by Jesse Jackson, who was influenced by Ramona Hoage Edelin, of the National Urban Coalition. This was a very intriguing search. I am an amateur student of linguistic trends; based on my own memory of the progression of self-referential terms used by persons of color, I started with the hypothesis that Jesse Jackson might have helped to facilitate the widespread acceptance of "African American." My investigations led me to Edelin, of whom I had no previous knowledge. Below are some of the landmarks that marked the trail of this quest: --------------------------- "When I think of 'African American,' it is so deeply a part of the American historical experience with African Americans and slavery, that you really can't extract it from some sort of racial understanding," said Professor Michael Lambert in the African and Afro American Studies Department. "For instance, a white individual from Africa would not fit the criteria for affirmative action basically because most people look at the term 'African American' and 'black' as the same." Lambert explained that the Rev. Jesse Jackson brought out the term in order to link black Americans to their African ancestry. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Black Ink Online/Racially Correct http://www.unc.edu/black_ink/feb02-raciallycorrect.html --------------------------- Afro-American, which gained rapid acceptance alongside black during this period, expressed a growing, sometimes defiant pride in black American culture and its African origins. Afro hairstyles and African dress became popular in many parts of the black community, while Afro-American studies programs proliferated on university campuses. But in the following decades Afro-American lost some of its popularity, especially in referring to people, so that today a phrase such as the election of two new Afro-Americans to Congress sounds somewhat dated. To a large degree its place has been taken by the similar term African American, popularized in the late 1980s by Jesse Jackson and other black leaders and quickly adopted by many columnists and commentators, black and white alike. The American Heritage® Book of English Usage: Names and Labels: Social, Racial, and Ethnic Terms http://www.bartleby.com/64/C006/002.html --------------------------- Then came the Black Power movement of the 1960s when a younger, more militant generation of blacks traded in "Colored" and christened themselves "Black," taking ownership of a term that had previously been used negatively by whites. Later waves of socially conscious blacks adopted the term "Afro-American" in the 1970s. Then the 1980s rolled around, with segregation safely tucked away in the shadows of the 1960s, but also ushering in the rising influence of the conservative right wing politics of the Reagan years. Jesse Jackson, at the apex of his political career, joined other black thinkers and leaders in suggesting that black Americans begin to use the term "African American" because it not only suggested that blacks had an ethnic history that predated slavery, but it also recognized a link to an ancestral motherland. "Some felt that the term 'black' was too strong and felt African Americans should follow the pattern of other immigrant groups -- Polish Americans, Irish Americans," said Newman. "The term 'African American' does not single out people on the basis of color but on the basis of ethnicity. It is not anti-American, not extra-American, and not quasi-American. I think 'African American' is here to stay." Africana: Black Labeling (Archived Cache) http://220.127.116.11/search?q=cache:laOdvnRT8qkC:www.africana.com/DailyArticles/index_20010315.htm --------------------------- The term African-American was coined during the 1960s and '70s, but it gained rapid acceptance alongside "black" later as an expression of a growing, and sometimes defiant, pride in black American culture and its African origins. Black leaders such as Jesse Jackson popularized the term in the late 1980s, and it quickly became accepted in mainstream society. The Cincinnati Enquirer: 'African-American': Pride to Some, Division to Others http://enquirer.com/editions/2001/04/22/loc_african-american.html --------------------------- As part of a timeline called "On This Day in African-American History," I found this interesting item: "12/21/88 Jesse Jackson urges Blacks to use the term African American to describe themselves because of its reference to both a land and cultural base." IMdiversity: December - On This Day in African-American History http://www.imdiversity.com/villages/african/Article_Detail.asp?Article_ID=3317 --------------------------- While searching for possible connections between Jesse Jackson and the term "African American," I found this, in a biography of Ramona Hoage Edelin, Chief Executive of the National Urban Coalition: Chief executive officer of action and advocacy organization. Joined faculty of Northeastern University, 1972; contributed to founding and naming of program in African American Studies, early 1970s, possibly originating term "African American" at that time; became program chairperson, 1974; moved to Washington, D.C., 1977, as executive assistant to president, National Urban Coalition; named director of operations, 1979; named vice president of operations, 1981; named vice president of programs and policy, 1982; became chief executive officer, 1988; promoted usage of term "African American" in meeting with Rev. Jesse Jackson, its key popularizer, 1988... African American Publications: Ramona Hoage Edelin http://www.africanpubs.com/Apps/bios/0467EdelinRamona.asp?pic=none And here are additional citations which connect Edelin to the popularization of the term: *AFRICAN AMERICAN: Ramona H. Edelin, president of the National Urban Coalition, proposed this term as an alternative to Negro and Black during an African American Summit in New Orleans in April 1972. The Rev. Jesse Jackson's subsequent endorsement probably did more to popularize the term than anything else. This has since been adopted by major newspapers and prominent political leaders, such as Mayor David Dinkins of New York. Arts & Sciences Network: The Challenge of Diversity http://www.asn.csus.edu/em-ncfr/down99/Baptiste1993b.htm "The shift in our self-concept that results from calling ourselves African-American" declares Ramona Edelin, "could be the beginning of a serious cultural offensive." The struggle over the (cultural) meaning of "African-American" is far reaching since, according to Edelin, "When a child in a ghetto calls himself African-American, immediately he's international. The change takes him from the ghetto and puts him on the globe. It helps us realize that we are not just former slaves living in the U.S. and makes it easier to change our children's dwarfed perceptions of themselves." The Alternative Orange: Politics, Deconstruction, Critique http://www.etext.org/Politics/AlternativeOrange/1/v1n4_pdc.html ...It is no wonder that during the period from 1966 to the present, Blacks began to use "African American" to reflect a new reality and Black language tended toward recreolization. Smitherman (1994) cites a 1988 proposal by Dr. Ramona Edelin, president of the National Urban Coalition to call the 1989 summit not the Black Summit but the African American Summit. According to Smitherman, Edelin felt that "Present-day Africans in America were facing a new reality . . . [and] the situation called for reassessment within the framework of a global identity linking Africans in America with those on the Continent and throughout the Diaspora." Georgia State University: Theorizing the Postcoloniality of African American English http://www.gsu.edu/~engmez/Theorizing.htm ---------------------------