Looking at the different labels in the black community

Kalyn Johnson is a columnist for the College Heights Herald. 

Kalyn Johnson

For some Americans there is a distinct difference between African-Americans and black Americans. The difference being, African-Americans are not far removed from first generation African immigrants, and black Americans are those whose ancestors underwent slavery in the United States.

Even with distinctly different names, both groups experience oppression and can be clumped under the phrase of “black” because the phrase is used to describe all of us who possess features typical of someone of African descent, which isn’t a problem. But black American and African-American, I would argue, are the same idea.

I enjoy both terms. They both have the ability to show those who read my job application I have caramel colored skin, kinky hair that could be locked, twisted, braided or anything in between. It shows a heritage of the ages in a phrase or word.

It shows what my ancestors went through and how the word black is meant to stay within our community, just as other racial slurs that have been taken as words of kinship and togetherness within the black communities.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve thought that the term “black” was used to describe features and just thought that the same people who “don’t see color” also didn’t know the difference between brown and black. For some people this is true, but what is also true is that Black Power advocates adopted the word black and was “reserved for ‘black brothers and sisters who are emancipating themselves,’” which is the same way members of the black community use a word that was once, and still is, a racial slur.

The act of taking back a word that is still used to put members of a community down is to find pride in where you’ve come from. Pride in the dismantling of oppression and racism that was, and is continuously, faced not only by you but my those who came before.

Like I said before, both phrases are fine, but it’s the context in which they are used that makes me fall to one end or the other. It’s the context that gets me. It’s something about the way a harsh tone says “African-American” that makes me say, “I’m unapologetically black,” or the way a racist says “black people” that makes some of us hold a right fist to the sky and proclaim I’m an African-American and belong here as much as everyone else.

The division between the phrase African-American and black American is unnecessary, only because a racist doesn’t care if we are were born here or not, they care we are different.

The difference is when someone tells an immigrant from Africa to “go back where you came from!” They could, theoretically, go back to whatever part of Africa they came from if they pleased. However, the option does not exist for black Americans, because they were born here. To go back to a land they never knew would be the same as telling a white American to go back where they came from.

In the end, we are both black, African and American. To be black is to have kinship to forced immigration and slavery. To be African is to have kinship to immigration. To be American is to have kinship to immigration and freedom. To embrace the word or phrase is to embrace where we came from and where we are headed.