Thursday, September 25, 2008

"African" and "African-American" - the distinction lies with the out-group.

Over at Dispatches, I saw an interesting comment by Squiddartha regarding a stupid comment by Rush Limbaugh:
My mother and I were both born in Africa, in what is now Namibia. I'm a natural-born US citizen, through my dad, and my mom is naturalized.
However, our German ancestry earns us funny looks if we try to claim to be "African-American." :P
Posted by: Squiddhartha | September 25, 2008 9:56 AM
My reply:

@ Squiddartha:

I had a maths lecturer who was from Rhodesia and fled with his family to the US during the revolution. People don't understand how a "white" person can be "African-American." On the minority status form, he is expected to mark "White", even though he was born in Africa, grew up there, studied at university there - and S. Africa - and held a job as a lecturer there for several years. Looking at people like him, I know that the distinction between "African-American" and "Black" is non-existent. If there were one, than Dan L's commentary on a distinction between "African-American" and "black" would be correct. However, I would argue that to many (many) people in this country:

"African-American" = "black" = "African-American".

Of course, since the 2000 census, people can now list two ethnicities; finally getting a chance to equally represent each parent's heritage on a government document. Finally, people who are not (and can never be) "White" can note down "White" as well as that ethnicity that defaults them off of "White" and into the other category - regardless of what "fellow members" in that category say. I'm a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian mutt. However, I am - by default in most people's eyes - "Asian". In the eyes of "real" Asians, I'm "not-Asian".

I know I'm being tangential, but Squiddartha raised what is - I believe - a good point. "African" and "African-American" as labels of a people still carries (in this country) the expectation that the person in question is somehow 'black'. Being descended from European lineage who live[d] in Africa, regardless of how long, seems (in this country) to classify you NOT as "African-American" (which would be the literal truth, if the person in question got US citizenship), but as "White". However, a person who has never been to Africa in his life, but may have been the descendants of African slaves (and quite possibly not exclusively so) is considered "African-American". Therefore, I have to disagree with Dan L's comment of a distinction in this country between "African-American" and "black." The distinction might be seen "within-group", but not held by those outside of it.

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