Labels are important to keep in mind.
With Black History Month come and gone, labels are still part of a discussion that is always important. But, I wonder if labels are as important as we has made them out to be. In this case, is the prefix that is related to the identification of African Americans is a question that has been on my mind for quite some time. As one who possesses a degree in anthropology, I figured I would briefly explore what some people had to say about whether people thought much about being called African Americans or Americans of African Descent. So, I posed these two questions to various citizens in Montclair: Is it more appropriate to be called African American? And Why? Or Americans of African Descent? And Why?
So, here is the first answer to these two questions: “Person of African Descent; I’m not American born. Also of African Descent seems more ‘connected’ to ancestry [and is] more authentic to me.” Another answered, “American; fellow human. We’re all of African descent.”
Some other responses included: “If I may put in my two cents, I think Americans of African descent is more appropriate unless one is African born” and “Italian American, Irish American, Polish American; it’s okay in America to prefix with country of origin. My Spanish heritage is one of the world’s worst, but I must look at the good and not the atrocities.
I found this next answer to be a very complete and informative response: “African descent is the most accurate. Polish, Italians, Irish, etc. have for the most part, a direct route from their ‘country’ through Ellis Island. The route for some of us is indirect and much more complex. We originated on the continent of Africa, not always knowing which country we are from. There are Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, etc. that although they live here and many are citizens, they choose to identify with that part of their heritage. Our journeys are as varied and different as our countries of origin.”
Another interesting response was: “’Fad’ labels are not based on appropriateness. There were always periods of times where labels were used and changed as time progressed and as the labeled group saw fit to refer themselves. It’s more of a society acceptance thing.”
There were a couple of answers that at first glance seemed controversial, yet there are some that appear to be really very simple on the surface. When you begin to take a closer look, this question and other questions about labels are not that easy to answer. Always be respectful when referring to people of different ethnicities, races or cultures than you, and avoid labels that can be seen as offensive.