r/NoStupidQuestions Jan 26 '22 Silver 4 Helpful 2 Wholesome 4 Shocked 1

Why do Americans call all black people African-American?

Not all black people come from Africa, I've always been confused by this. I asked my American friend and she seemed completely mind blown, she couldn't give me an answer. No hate, just curious

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u/baitnnswitch Jan 26 '22 edited Jan 27 '22 Helpful

The term was popularized by Black civil rights leader Jesse Jackson in the mid 80's when he ran for president. It was considered the accepted term for Black people through the nineties and then dipped in popularity.

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u/TheyCallMeStone Jan 26 '22 Helpful Take My Energy

"Jesse Jackson is not the emperor of black people!"

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u/AlienOverlord53 Jan 26 '22

He told my dad he was

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u/LongEZE Jan 26 '22

P E O P L E

T H A T

A N N O Y

Y O U

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u/Secludedmean4 Jan 27 '22

I KNOW THE ANSWER …. BUT I DONT THINK I SHOULD SAY IT

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u/potchie626 Jan 27 '22

My ascii art skills aren’t good enough to draw the camerman.

👨🏾🎥

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u/Stoned-hippie Jan 27 '22

Oh… nAggers. Of course, naggers... Right.

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u/RichardBachman19 Jan 27 '22

What was I supposed to do Sharon? I thought I was gonna win $10,000

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u/Hawvy Jan 27 '22

Stanley, the only reason daddy used that word is that he thought he would win money.

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u/potchie626 Jan 27 '22

His giant smile after answering, then the looks on every other face makes that scene so incredible.

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u/GalaxyPatio Jan 27 '22

It's the slow rotation of the "A" that sends me over every time

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u/UniDiablo Jan 27 '22

Kiss it

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u/kanyex416 Jan 26 '22

As a non American this is where I know him from

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u/[deleted] Jan 26 '22

[deleted]

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u/Homebrew_Dungeon Jan 26 '22

Apologiiiiiiiiiize.

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u/Bittlegeuss Jan 26 '22

Kith it 💋🍑

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u/johnfortniteketamine Jan 26 '22

South Park is a godsend

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u/humhum124 Jan 26 '22

"I finally get that I just dont get it"

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u/TheyCallMeStone Jan 26 '22

"Now you get it, Stan!"

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u/AtomicRainSpike Jan 27 '22

I'm black. Got called a house n***** for laughing at that joke. The fact they didn't understand the joke is dripping with irony.

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u/YeetYeetSkirtYeet Jan 27 '22

Damn, guess we're a couple-a house n***ers cause that episode was funny as hell.

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u/ninfaobsidiana Jan 27 '22

Your couple is now a trio. That was a brilliant bit.

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u/YeetYeetSkirtYeet Jan 27 '22

Oh shit, I watched it when it aired with my dad and we were both dying so I guess we 4 now. Do we have to report to someone? Is this a group when it hits a certain threshold, like geese? A... Naggle?

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u/ninfaobsidiana Jan 27 '22

A) Your comment just snuck into my bedroom window and murdered me, so I’m dead now. B) I watched this with my mom, so would have made us five had I not just laughed to death. We’re officially a naggle.

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u/KATEWM Jan 26 '22 edited Jan 26 '22

Just to add another article people might find interesting - this is from the time it was popularized and goes into the reasoning. Obviously not all Black people are African, but the ancestors of the vast majority of Black Americans were from West Africa and were violently separated from their cultural identity when they were brought to America as slaves, so it seems that this term was intended as a way to feel more connected to those cultures. Here’s a quote about it from Jesse Jackson. I think it fell out of favor for the reasons everyone is saying. And from the beginning it was mocked by some people for being “PC.”

″There are Armenian-Americans and Jewish Americans and Arab-Americans and Italian-Americans,″ Jackson said. ″And with a degree of accepted and reasonable pride, they connect their heritage to their mother country and where they are now.″

https://apnews.com/article/089fc3ab25b86e14deeefae3adb7a5ad

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u/BeBearAwareOK Jan 26 '22

I recall there being a push for the term for the reasons Jackson emphasized, but there were others who disagreed and would rather embrace "black".

James Brown made a compelling case, "say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud."

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u/Spitfyrus Jan 27 '22 edited Jan 27 '22

Well as a biracial I wouldn’t exactly say I’m “black” im more brown. Closer to the color of my Mexican friends. So I prefer the term AA.

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u/razuku Jan 26 '22

This is the most correct response in this thread.

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u/PrivateIsotope Jan 26 '22 edited Jan 26 '22 Silver Helpful Wholesome All-Seeing Upvote Starry Masterpiece

Also, remember: ALL black people are NOT called African American, just Americans with African Ancestry. Particularly, Americans whose ancestors were enslaved in America, because there were no records kept of what countries/ethnic groups African slaves came from, and American slavers put a concentrated effort in stamping out all African culture among slaves - forbidding them to speak their own languages, or learn to read and write. So since descendants of slaves cant be called Igbo American or Ghanaian American, they are called African American.

If you're a Nigerian, you're black, and you're Nigerian. If you're an American, with Nigerian parents, you're a Nigerian American and black. You're African American too, but that's not the best term for you, because you know where you came from. Same for Jamaican Americans, Ghanaian Americans, etc.

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u/drugusingthrowaway Jan 26 '22

If you're a Nigerian, you're black, and you're Nigerian. If you're an American, with Nigerian parents, you're a Nigerian American and black. You're African American too, but that's not the best term for you, because you know where you came from. Same for Jamaican Americans, Ghanaian Americans, etc.

This is how it worked in Toronto Canada too. Nobody said "African American" because we're not American. People whose families recently immigrated would say "I'm Nigerian" or "I'm Jamaican", and people who were descended from families who had been in North America for a very long time just said "I'm black".

Despite this, you still had to be respectful when using the word as a non-black person. Same to how the word "Jew" isn't an offensive slur, but if you say "those Jews" and you aren't Jewish, people are going to think you don't mean well.

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u/idle_isomorph Jan 27 '22

In Canada, the other reason for the preference for "black" over other terms is that a majority of our black population come from the carribbean, and "African-Canadian" doesn't reflect that so directly. The difference of histories of coming directly to Canada or the US as a slave is different than the experiences of those who were enslaved in the carribbean before coming here. Different language use, food, music and other cultural and religious practices. I actually do hear "African Nova Scotian" with some frequency (though not as commonly as black), likely because the majority of my province's black population have roots back to the loyalists, who were enslaved Africans in the US before fighting for the British (and being not at all repaid fairly).

But I have certainly also met people who identify as ghanian-canadian, black, Black, of African descent, African Canadian etc. too, because of course a racial group won't be homogenous. I would love to hear how people elsewhere identify if there are other regional differences.

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u/phate101 Jan 26 '22

This makes sense but if you don’t know their ancestry, what do you do? Just say black?

Surely there’s black peoples that have rediscovered their ancestry and want to connect with that, so I guess it’s also completely a personal choice?

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u/MissionSalamander5 Jan 26 '22

Yeah, I wish this were higher and a top-level response. OP’s premise is mistaken if understandable.

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u/[deleted] Jan 26 '22

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u/dontcry2022 Jan 26 '22 edited Jan 26 '22

A lot of Black people here do want to just be called Black, not African American, and it's for the reason you gave (or at least, that is a reason)

Many of us say African American because that is what we were taught in public school was the correct term, and that "black" was impolite or racist.

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u/WatchDragonball Jan 26 '22 Silver

I just wanna be called american with a tint

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u/Duckhookright Jan 26 '22 Silver

Ameratint

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u/MFoy Jan 26 '22 Silver Helpful

Better than Amerataint

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u/11181514 Jan 26 '22

C'mon reddit don't fail me now

r/amerataint

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u/11181514 Jan 26 '22

Dang

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u/MFoy Jan 26 '22

Don't be sad because it doesn't exist. Look at is as an opportunity to create a new subreddit.

And to pay me loads of money for coming up with the idea.

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u/Brasticus Jan 26 '22

So would it be a subreddit full of Americans being assholes or would it be a subreddit full of photos of American’s assholes?

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u/IanRockwell Jan 26 '22

¿Por que no los dos?

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u/castlite Jan 26 '22

Melanistic Americans

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u/anon_y_mousey Jan 26 '22

American with a suntan

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u/SnooDonuts6537 Jan 26 '22

Ive always been partial to halfrican or venti mocha espresso lite whip.

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u/Robot_Basilisk Jan 26 '22

Checks out. Cops always target the rides with tint.

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u/D4ri4n117 Jan 26 '22

Melanin endowed? Or would that be insulting?

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u/Sidewalk_Cacti Jan 26 '22 Wholesome Bravo Grande!

I am white. In college, I worked with a black gal who brought the subject of this post to attention. She explained people of different backgrounds might not really be from Africa and said she didn’t feel “African” so just call her Black.

I’d never thought of it, but it made sense and I later heard other black folks echo the sentiment.

Now I’m a teacher in a diverse area and it’s interesting seeing how different people respond. I forget the context, but one time I said black instead of African American and a black girl flipped out on me saying I was racist.

Plenty of others I work with look “black” but they are Dominican, Jamaican, etc. so it makes sense to refer to people as Black as it’s more inclusive I would think.

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u/dannod Jan 26 '22

I knew this classification was problematic the minute I heard an American newscaster refer to an actual African in Africa as "African-American."

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u/BigBanggBaby Jan 26 '22 edited Jan 26 '22

I remember when the term 'African American' started becoming popular (in my mind, at least), many people brought up the obvious point of not all black people being from Africa that seems to have taken a lot of people about 20 or 30 years to figure out, but the push was to celebrate their African identity and continuing to say 'black person' wasn't seen as ideal (and at worst was viewed as racist) so 'African American' moved forward. I'm sure it was all well-intentioned but the logic of the term never quite tracked for me. I understand wanting to show/feel pride in identity to counteract the centuries of denigration, and I have no issue calling someone African American if that's their preference, but the logic flaw has always been there.

ETA: Of course, then there’s also the logic flaw of saying ‘black’ when they’re actually brown, but I’ve never heard anyone prefer to be called ‘brown’ except maybe KRS One in My Philosophy.

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u/laf1157 Jan 26 '22

Some are from India and Australia. My generation, black and white, prefers black and considers it descriptive. If we know them, we use their name.

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u/JcakSnigelton Jan 27 '22

If we know them, we use their name.

Funniest comment I've read today! Made me think of a funny movie scene. It's all about context.

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u/Mjolnirsbear Jan 27 '22

According to my ex-roommate of West Indies descent, he and his people use brown. Literally walking down the street he would call out I see brown people and go chat with them.

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u/Umeyard Jan 27 '22

My son who's 11 is pretty chill, and he says "brown"... but for him it's a description... that person is brown, that person is peach, that person is tan, that person black... he's like a 64 pack of crayons when trying to explain somebody... however he never says "white" because he had just never met somebody who actually has "white" colored skin... if you ask him what color he is he would say "kinda like silly putty color?"

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u/BigBanggBaby Jan 27 '22

That’s awesome. Kids are the best like that.

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u/PhantomTigre8 Jan 27 '22

That’s how I also think.

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u/dancingpianofairy Jan 27 '22

but I’ve never heard anyone prefer to be called ‘brown’

Idk about "prefer," but my Mexican in laws sometimes refer to themselves as brown. I've also seen Indians on Reddit refer to themselves as brown, too.

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u/AGVann Jan 27 '22

many people brought up the obvious point of not all black people being from Africa

Not all Africans are black either. For some reason a lot of Americans never really consider the Berbers, Egyptians, and Arabs in North Africa or white South Africans as part of the term. If we have to ignore 1/3 of the continent to make the definition work, then perhaps we should use a different term all together.

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u/robotbootyhunter Jan 27 '22

Idris Elba gets called African-American a lot. As he points out, he British.

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u/Valoid Jan 27 '22

Ah, so he's a British-American

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u/YT-Deliveries Jan 26 '22

Also worth adding (not correcting you, just expanding for our non-American friends on Reddit) that "Black Americans" (Black man, Black woman, etc) is very, very, very different than saying "The Blacks". The latter is considered to be extremely offensive in general.

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u/burf Jan 26 '22 edited Jan 26 '22

Good rule of thumb is to completely avoid referring to any pluralized group of people as a term beginning with "the".

edit: Added "pluralized". Yes, it totally makes sense to say "The British Invasion" (although that's more of a phenomenon than a group of people) or "the American government"; but it doesn't make sense to say "the Americans" in place of just "Americans".

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u/tacklemcclean Jan 26 '22

"The Spanish inquisition!"

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u/therapistfunder Jan 26 '22

Didn’t expect that

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u/UzErNaMM2 Jan 26 '22

No one ever does...

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u/omguserius Jan 26 '22

Even the Jews?

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u/sleepisforthezzz Jan 26 '22

Maybe even especially the jews.

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u/Beansier Jan 26 '22

What about the French

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u/Mjolnirsbear Jan 27 '22

Not...entirely.

The is a useful word. "The Swiss are neutral, the French eat pain for breakfast, the Russians line up for their breakfast, or for vodka which is breakfast by another name. The Americans didn't join the war until the past minute, the Canadians held the line in Flanders."

It's fine for country names. Your rule of thumb IS a good general rule for words like race or sexuality or when making general statements like "the Jews own all the banks" or "the gays are all too much in your face" or "the Germans really know how to build shit." That last example is bad not because of a positive stereotype so much as because of the implied "all Germans are".

But if you're referring to a country, or are distinguishing between different forces/groups (the Brits are on the flank while the Spaniards defend the heights/the French basically shaped modern fine cuisine, the Jews and the Arabs have difficulty agreeing over borders in the Levant), 'the' is generally fine.

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u/NuanceIsYourFriend Jan 26 '22

Some people genuinely just say it without realizing it's offensive but in my experience, someone saying "the whites" or "the blacks" is a huge red flag and you should def press them on why they're using that terminology.

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u/thetemp_ Jan 27 '22

Yeah, it's cause those phrases betray the speaker's belief that such groupings are a meaningful way of predicting someone's characteristics. Almost inevitably, it's followed with something like "... should do this." Or, "... think like this."

And if someone says, "the Jews," you pretty much know that the next sentence will include "the Rothschilds" or "controlling the media" or something about Hitler being a really impressive tactician.

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u/No_While_1501 Jan 27 '22

This is true and in my experience, impossible to explain to people who say "the blacks". My dad gets genuinely frustrated when corrected and cites that the appropriate term for black people has changed on him at least four times since his childhood.

When he says this, I tend to remind him that the n-word was always racist, and he disagrees and then the conversation goes back to square one. He's turning 64 in a month but sometimes I think he's in his 80's mentally.

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u/TheGutfreund Jan 27 '22

Same with “the Jews”. They are the Jewish people. I second the idea that anyone saying “the blacks” or “the Jews” is in general probably making a stereotypical assertion bordering on racism.

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u/NuanceIsYourFriend Jan 27 '22

True, I'm Jewish and my Jewish friends and I use the term "Jew/Jews" because it's faster than saying "the Jewish people" but I don't think I've ever really said "the Jews". Something about the "the" just dogwhistles at racism lol.

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u/_Futureghost_ Jan 26 '22

In a college class on diversity this came up. About half the class was black. None of them preferred African American. Most didn't mind it, but liked black more. Some were offended by African American and some had family who were deeply offended and angry about African American. They said that they were American, born and raised in America. That calling them African American was just another way to separate or segregate black people in the country. It's a way of saying "you're different from us." I've said black ever since.

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u/Mighty_Meatball Jan 27 '22

By that logic, white people can be 100% African American too. Being born and raised in African and American culture would make you African American.

Even though I'm black, I don't know shit about Africa, so I'd like to just be considered a black American

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u/icansmoke Jan 26 '22

Thank you! This makes a lot of sense

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u/TootsNYC Jan 26 '22

Also, for people who grew up using the term African-American, they don’t really think about what those two individual words mean. It’s just the set of syllables they use when they refer to people from that race.

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u/IronAnkh Jan 26 '22

This! All of this. I think it's a shift in language, brought out by a changing perspective on Black people in general. ( a positive one I hope) I grew up in a rural area and probably until the early nineties, " negro" was considered polite, but has since become almost a slur.

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u/Possible_Dig_1194 Jan 26 '22

It's like I was chatting with this 80ish yr old who was reminiscing about how his cricket team went south to play at the embassy in DC in the 1950s but they ran into issues because they had a couple of negros on the team. Wasnt trying to be disrespectful and even talked about the issues with segregation and how they refused to eat or stay anywhere that was segregated, had to get the embassy's involved due to not wanting to treat those players different. Conversation moved onto how that just plain isnt a word you use now but during the time person was talking about even the gentlemen referred to themselves as "proud negro men".

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u/hitthatyeet1738 Jan 26 '22

Watch a dr king speech he calls himself a negro, it was literally what we called black people for a long time(I don’t know how widely it was used in his time but I’m pretty sure it was everyone still said).

Watching words evolve is neat.

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u/shibbington Jan 26 '22

As a white guy I’m out of my element here but I find the term “blacks” as a noun to sound super cringey. Referring to someone as “black” or saying “black people” as descriptions sound fine but there’s something off-putting to me about making an adjective into a noun for a group of people. “Blacks”, “Whites”, or “Jews”, sounds very us-vs-them.

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u/dontcry2022 Jan 26 '22

Oh absolutely. I think "blacks" or specifically "the blacks" has racist connotations. The only acceptable spaces I am aware of to say "blacks" and "whites" is in academic papers specifically when describing data. "Blacks are 21% more likely to do X than the general population, while whites are 24% more likely" as an example. But I think it's good practice even in academic writing to say "Black people" or "Black Americans" and same for white people. I think a good rule of thumb is to say Jewish people instead of Jews when talking, I'm not Jewish so idk for sure how they generally feel about people saying "Jews" in conversation or in media

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u/LoupGarou95 Jan 26 '22

Jews generally don't care if you says Jews or Jewish people or actually prefer being called Jews. However, saying "The Jews" is almost always ironic from an actual Jew or anti-Semitic from a non-Jew. Source: I am Jewish.

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u/Toxic_Throb Jan 26 '22

Louis C.K. had a bit about that. He said they're the only group where the proper term and the derogatory term are the exact same, it's just whether you say the word with venom in your voice or not.

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u/[deleted] Jan 26 '22 Silver

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u/iCynicade Jan 26 '22

The latter which originally fell out of favor for the former? Lol.

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u/EmbarrassedLock Jan 26 '22

It's a cycle

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u/cheesewiz_man Jan 26 '22 Silver Helpful

It's called the Euphemism Treadmill

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u/EmbarrassedLock Jan 26 '22

Holy shit its an actual thing

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u/ThatUglyGuy Jan 26 '22

Both of my parents worked in an facility for those with a severe mental disability. Every few years the "correct" word changed.

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u/NomenNesci0 Jan 27 '22

Yep, I also grew up with a special needs teacher and was specifically taught that the term I was to use was "retarded" because that was the clinical term and anything else was offensive. Not sure how many changes it's been through, I don't think special needs is "correct" anymore either.

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u/CarbonatedBongWater Jan 26 '22

The word shit appears to have originally been a euphemism for defecation in Pre-Germanic, as the Proto-Indo-European root *sḱeyd-, from which it was derived, meant 'to cut off'.

Literally.

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u/Puriwara Jan 26 '22

The Proto-Indo-Europeans used the poop knife too, it seems.

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u/CarbonatedBongWater Jan 26 '22

Yes, but "poop knife" was too crass back then, so they called it a "shit blade."

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u/gregsting Jan 26 '22

Formerly known as defecation slicer

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u/Igot2phonez Jan 26 '22

Apparently word shit might have started out as a euphemism. That's a weird thought, because I can't imagine saying it to avoid being seen as crude.

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u/swiftb3 Jan 26 '22

lol, it was their version of "pinch a loaf".

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u/RhubarbBossBane Jan 26 '22

Thank you for the term I learned today.

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u/Shondelle Jan 26 '22

The term "retard" was made to replace the medical terms of "imbecile" "idiot" and "moron" at the turn of the last century. The term was meant to be less offensive.

In 2010, Obama signed Rosa's law, replacing all federal instances of the term "mental retardation" with " mental disability".

Round and round language goes. No one's in control. This tool of language just keeps morphing and getting hip/cool/groovy/far out/radical/awesome/gnarly/all that/off the chain/awesome sauce/totes fleek/dope/GOAT/lit.

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u/hannabarberaisawhore Jan 26 '22

My previous job was in fire protection and my boss was exasperated by a client rep being offended by the term “retard chamber”.

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u/Sarduci Jan 26 '22

Had a paper sorting machine that used a retard wiper to prevent more than one sheet from exiting a hopper at a time. It literally retards the documents from exiting unexpectedly at high speed sorting rates. Had several people ask me to just call it a wiper. Pointed out that there was a wiper farther down the track called a wiper and asked them what we should call that since they’re two very different thing. Nobody had a good answer for that.

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u/Prudent-Beautiful-33 Jan 27 '22

I had a employee go off on a copier service tech for calling a roller a “retard roller”. He apologized and called it the “Mongoloid roller”.

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u/Justwant2watchitburn Jan 26 '22

not gonna lie, i love situations like that.

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u/lordofpersia Jan 26 '22

And I have heard people say "what do you have mental disability" or "are you mentally challenged" now in the place of retard.

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u/Zaconil Jan 26 '22

My favorite from Rolf on Ed, Edd and Eddy. "Are you weak in the upper story?"

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u/Zettaflaer Jan 26 '22

Rolf is based

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u/DanFuckingSchneider Jan 26 '22

He is the son of a shepherd after all.

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u/HighAsAngelTits Jan 26 '22

Rolf is a fuckin riot.

“Is that the ‘Better check your wallet’ Ed boys??”

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u/CyberPlatypus Jan 26 '22

Even nowadays "retarded" is used pretty often in some technical physics terms. For example retarded potentials and retarded time. We learned about them in uni a few years ago and no one seemed to have any issue with it. Language is weird.

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u/ReturnOfFrank Jan 26 '22

Probably considered fine because retard as a verb just means "to slow or delay" and it's use far, far precedes it's use in describing people.

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u/Echo127 Jan 26 '22

I am still convinced that "mentally retarded" is a better term to use than "mentally disabled". Retarded implies that your mental capacities are... well, retarded. Hindered. Restricted. Disabled implies that your mental capacities are altogether nonfunctional.

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u/[deleted] Jan 26 '22

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u/Klassified94 Jan 26 '22

I'm now hearing "differently abled" a lot.

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u/xj371 Jan 26 '22

Many of us disabled people dislike "differently abled" because it feels patronizing, and we don't need any more of that in our lives.

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u/ChipsAhoyNC Jan 26 '22

That sounds dumb as hell

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u/zwalker0912 Jan 26 '22

Linguistics is really interesting isn't it? I click the link and read for awhile.

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u/JK_NC Jan 26 '22

I don’t see “negro” coming back anytime soon but I’m no euphemism-ologist.

I suppose “colored” used to be a term and now “people of color” seems to be making a come back.

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u/falconfetus8 Jan 26 '22

"negro" is probably too similar to the N-word to ever make a comeback.

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u/ShowMeTheTrees Jan 26 '22

Amen to this. On a recent podcast, the guest said, "Prostitute" when referring to a victim. The host said, "On this show, we don't use that word. We say 'sex worker'."

All I could think of was George Carlin. He called it years ago.

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u/TootsNYC Jan 26 '22

And of course, “colored people” fell out of favor, but now we have “people of color. Though, the new term encompasses far broader range of races and ethnicities

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u/Salty_Lego Jan 26 '22

Eh was calling people Black ever a problem with Black people?

From what I’ve seen and heard referring to Black people as Black isn’t the problem, it’s if you do it in a derogative or condescending way.

Now why we’ve gone back to “people of color” when colored is beyond offensive I’ll never know.

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u/PartyLikeAByzantine Jan 26 '22

"Black people" wasn't ever (by itself) offensive. "The blacks" on the other hand...

Racial terms indeed make no sense until you add the context back in. A lot of this is driven by who used a term and (more importantly) why.

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u/Mighty_Krastavac Jan 26 '22

'The blacks' gives off the same energy as 'the females'.

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u/Stormdude127 Jan 26 '22

It’s the same concept. It’s dehumanizing

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u/OneOfManyAnts Jan 26 '22

The term colored was originally a polite replacement for the N-word. Then it fell out of favour. But Black and POC are not interchangeable. POC includes all people who are not defined as White.

(If I’m wrong on this, do let me know! I have an ongoing project to not be a jerk, and not sound like a jerk.)

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u/itsachrysis Jan 26 '22

I believe it’s supposed to be more person-first.

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u/A_cunning_linguist92 Jan 26 '22

They are not interchangeable. Caribbean and African people who live in America will often chafe at being referred to as "African American" when they don't share the same cultural values or dialect. But, those same people will proudly identify as "black" or part of the black diaspora.

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u/Temper03 Jan 26 '22

Yeah — a family member of mine is an immigrant from Africa. She identifies as African and American always, often as Black American, but never as “African-American” because that means “US-born descendants of US slavery” which she isn’t at all.

Black is more universal but not also not exactly the same as African for North Africans or some creoles for example

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u/Ok_Writing_7033 Jan 26 '22 Gold

One of the compelling arguments I’ve heard is that the rules we use for black people are very obviously different than those for whites with regards to prefixing “American.” For instance: my family is of German descent, but the last ancestor of German nationality immigrated nearly a century ago and I don’t speak German naturally or have any distinctly German traditions. As such, it would be misleading and disingenuous for me to be identified as “German-American.”

There are two complexities here when we consider the term African-American under the same ruleset. The first is obvious - Africa is not a country. This speaks both to the general disregard for the enormous variety of cultures and nationalities within that continent, as well of course as the difficulty most black Americans would have in tracing their ancestry to a specific country because, you know, slaves.

The second complexity is that with regards to my personal example, referring to a person as German-American (or Italian-American or Japanese-American or what have you) inherently sets them apart from a “normal” American with no prefix. This othering is not inherently negative - if I were more connected to my German roots, I would likely see it as a way to honor my family history, and acknowledge that I am a product of both cultures. But while it was born out of a desire to be more sensitive, the “othering” of all black Americans as “African-American” has the consequence of always setting them apart, identifying them as non-standard, as was most recently demonstrated by the lovely Mitch McConnell. There are Americans and African-Americans; two separate groups.

As I understand it, the movement to return to using black is an effort to undo this. Race and Nationality are both social constructs, but one is defined by much more visible, measurable qualities such as geographical boundaries, a specific set of rituals, certain foods, etc. Race as a construct is very nebulous, but within America people who identify or have been identified as black have a unique subset of circumstances and experiences that is divorced from their nationality, and using the term black speaks to this more succinctly.

Ultimately it’s all just words, and the meaning, intent and reception (and any offense therein) is up to the specific speaker and listener, and the context of a given conversation. And it’s often the case that white people like me get together and share a lot of opinions about what should or shouldn’t be offensive, without taking into consideration that black people are different, and what upsets one will not upset another. So anyway, that was longer than I meant to type, but I’m bored at work, sue me.

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u/marinemashup Jan 26 '22

what does FWIW mean?

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u/kebabking93 Jan 26 '22

For what it's worth

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u/I_Thou Jan 26 '22

For what it’s worth

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u/VectorLightning Is coffee a programming language? Jan 26 '22

Which is why I find it mildly confusing tbh. Like, yeah, I'll remember to say that instead if I ever have to, but what about non-American African people, black too or no? There's a surprisingly large number of immigrants where I used to work who are only comfortable speaking Swahili. Not like it comes up often though

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u/cjandstuff Jan 26 '22

Which was the common term, until African American started replacing it.

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u/[deleted] Jan 26 '22

[deleted]

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u/VtheK Jan 26 '22

This was taught to us as "proper" in the 90s

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u/Chaojidage Jan 27 '22

Same in the '00s, though I see what people are pointing out. Elon Musk is an African-American.

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u/writersandfilmmakers Jan 27 '22

Correction, he is an African Canadian American 🤣

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u/Accomplished_Ad_8013 Jan 27 '22

Canadian African who immigrated to America*

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u/LongbowTurncoat Jan 27 '22 edited Jan 27 '22

100% what I came to say as well! We were taught not to call people “Black”, as it came across as racist/rude. They were “African-Americans”, because it was more respectful. I was in an upper middle class white area, not a lot of Black people. It took me a LONG time to feel comfortable calling people “Black”, because I was so scared of offending someone haha

Edit: getting a lot of replies to this, just to reiterate, this was in like high school. Once I went to college and was surrounded by all sorts of people, the anxiety about it went away. Nobody ever got mad at me for saying African american when I did, except maybe to tease me.

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u/Coppervelvet108 Jan 27 '22

The Disney Channel also came out with “The Color of Friendship” in 2000 so people have had time to learn & adapt

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u/RockSlice Jan 26 '22

For a while, "black" was considered "non-PC", so the term "African-American" became used. Of course, as has been pointed out, that has issues.

Lately, I've been seeing the term "African-American" used when people want to refer specifically to those people descended from American slaves.

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u/Ben_A Jan 26 '22 Silver

God damn I remember saying “Black” in public school and was disciplined and corrected by my white English teacher.

Went through my teens saying “African-American” until a black friend told me “It’s ok to just say ‘black’” in my 20s.

I’m trying my best!

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u/Rrrrandle Jan 26 '22

God damn I remember saying “Black” in public school and was disciplined and corrected by my white English teacher.

Went through my teens saying “African-American” until a black friend told me “It’s ok to just say ‘black’” in my 20s.

I’m trying my best!

I feel like the only people that thought "black" was offensive were white people. Sort of like the whole latinx shit, no one thought maybe they should ask a black person first.

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u/aBeaSTWiTHiNMe Jan 27 '22

I got in shit at one of my first jobs(giant retailer with a fast-food restaurant inside) because I said "Hey there's a black guy at the games case, I need the key", I shit you not the manager said "don't say that, hes African-American". I couldn't be any more confused, because we're Canadian in Canada. I didn't mean any harm, it was just the easiest descriptor because there were a few guys there and two of them had jeans and a white t-shirt on, only one of them was black though.

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u/ironicsailboat Jan 26 '22

fear of being called racist due to changing acceptability of terms

clumsy understanding of the different ethnicities within the African diaspora

lack of exposure to different ethnicities

Genuine intent to be respectful

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u/[deleted] Jan 26 '22

It’s all good. An older white guy I worked with used to call me “Chinaman” despite me being born and raised in the rural Midwest.

Intent and context matters, but rarely.

Now I’m in California, everyone is “dude”.

Male, female, or other, young or old. Whatever dude.

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u/ironicsailboat Jan 27 '22

That’s wild! I can’t believe someone would still use that term.

And to your other point, I’m all for the dude-ification of the US. Be well, dude.

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u/Brado_Bear Jan 26 '22 edited Jan 26 '22

Yep. I felt somewhat wrong calling someone black, whereas African American seemed correct to me. I’m guessing it’s just due to how I was educated.

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u/[deleted] Jan 26 '22

I live in America but I’m not originally from here. I was once talking with a chap that was from Haiti and when retelling the story of me talking to this chap I said “the black chap”. My mates said, “it’s African American” I said well… he’s not from Africa and I don’t know if he’s an American citizen. They still told me I don’t call him black. I think it’s seen as racist by calling someone black

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u/icansmoke Jan 26 '22

Hahaha that's just so strange. It seems more racist to generalise all black people as African and refuse to acknowledge their true heritage

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u/SystemOfADowneyJr Jan 26 '22

I feel like Americans, especially white Americans think “Black” is a slur so they say African-American. I personally don’t like to be referred as “African-American” mainly because I hate the way white people say it so dang carefully.. like they draw out the words and it makes me uncomfortable (if you know, you know).

Depending on context and tone, just referring to someone as a “Black” can be a slur. If you say “u/systemofadowneyjr is a Black” that can be offensive. If you say “u/systemofadowneyjr is a Black woman” it’s okay…

Context and tone is everything.

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u/bluepushkin Jan 26 '22

I've had Americans accuse me of being racist for not calling black British people African-American. They didn't seem to understand that no, they are not American, so why would I call them African-American?

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u/Poignant_Porpoise Jan 26 '22

The weirdest part to me is that it's often used as the "official" term for black people. For instance, I've heard a lot of recordings from 911 operators and police where they're searching for an unknown person, yet they describe their physical appearance as African American. Just seems so weird, particularly because there are large diaspora communities in the US of people from central American countries like Jamaica and Haiti too, for whom the label "African" makes basically no sense at all.

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u/Aedaru Jan 26 '22

Better yet is the fact that you can call a white person African-American and still be correct, since there are white people from Africa.

We once had a new student join our class who was from South Africa, and I think the first question someone asked them was "but you're not black?" because kids at the age of 12 dont know any better I guess

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u/Poignant_Porpoise Jan 26 '22

As a white South African myself, I can confirm this lol. I lived in the US for around a year, and I lost count how many times I was asked about this.

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u/Kronendal Jan 26 '22

If you want to blow some American minds just point out that whites have been in South Africa for exactly as long as whites have been in the America. So either white Americans should not be called American or white South African are absolutely African.

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u/[deleted] Jan 26 '22

Lol I immediately thought of mean girls " so, if you're from africa why are you white?"

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u/January1171 Jan 26 '22

 Oh my God, Karen, you can't just ask people why they're white.

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u/ThisIsMockingjay2020 Jan 26 '22

I was looking for this after the Mean Girls reference.

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u/MrLeapgood Jan 26 '22

Like Elon Musk. But I have seen people go ballistic after hearing him called "African."

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u/VaderVihs Jan 26 '22

I've never seen Elon Musk mentioned as anything but South African unless I'm on Reddit where it's not specifed to make a point

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u/MrLeapgood Jan 26 '22

Sorry, I meant calling him "African American." I wasn't clear. Some people don't like that, but probably only people on Reddit.

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u/VaderVihs Jan 26 '22

You have a point there and I think that's one of the reasons these broad terms don't make sense on any level that is supposed to recognize nuance. Luckily most goverment documents do better at trying to discern individual orgin

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u/I_Thou Jan 26 '22

Not a defender of the term, I just want to point out that Jamaica and Haiti are black because they were populated by African slaves that the Spanish brought over.

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u/tenebrous2 Jan 26 '22

Its funny because neither were Spanish colonies. Jamaica was British and Haiti French. Your point still stands, just wanted to add the pedantry.

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u/Natlious Jan 26 '22

As a black American, I've personally never liked the term "African-American". I prefer just Black. Probably just me though...

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u/barefoot_yank Jan 26 '22

I'm white and old as dirt. Grew up in a black neighborhood in the 60's and 70's. Everyone used the term black and it was cool. I've never stopped using it.

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u/Rhynchelma Jan 26 '22

Few of them a African also.

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u/Divided_Eye Jan 26 '22

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u/DrachenDad Jan 26 '22

English white mum, Black American dad born in Germany on a American airbase. Oh we do, not that many though.

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u/OpE7 Jan 26 '22

Right, this is where it gets confusing, because in the US you get conditioned to call Black people 'African-American' but then you meet a Black person from Europe or of course Africa and obviously the term does not fit.

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u/MySilverBurrito Jan 26 '22

lmao I had to look after 20 Americans who visited here in NZ. Had to explain this to 2 of them and they just wouldnt get it. Worse is they had 2 African-American with them who looked at me and gave me the "We're so sorry" look.

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u/YinzerChick70 Jan 26 '22

Black is shifting to the more widely used term, but one should always defer to what people prefer. I have an American friend who refers to herself as Dominican black or Dominican American and if I found myself in a situation where I needed to identify her race, I'd use one of those.

(Not that I've had one because I don't go around identifying her by race. )

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u/clarissaswallowsall Jan 26 '22

My friends dad was born and raised in Africa and is white as cream cheese. He's also known for not picking up on things. He signed up for an African American dating site and got a lot of angry messages, but got angry himself and started messaging back things like "have you ever even been to Africa? I was born in Tanzania!" We had to explain it to him and he called a guy he worked with who was Black to confirm what we were saying.

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u/EmotionalMycologist9 Jan 26 '22

We were taught that it's the appropriate term. Now, we say "Black" even though it sounds harsh to me. I call anyone whatever they want to be called.

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u/AverageKaikiEnjoyer Jan 26 '22

How is that harsh though, no different than white

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u/HedgeappleGreen Jan 26 '22

Growing up in the late 90s; phrases like "black folks", "that black guy", "those black people" were treated as informal/slightly derrogatory. African-American was the formal "school taught" way to identify people.

It's very much like Latinx, where an assumption is made without asking the affected group.

There was a point in time where African-American was the preferred term in the black community, however that generation has passed.

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u/GeneralEl4 Jan 26 '22

I'm white but what I will say is all of my black friends preferred to be called black, and recently I've asked my latino friends about latinx and most of them both didn't know what it was, and said it sounded dumb when I explained it. They said that it doesn't make grammatical sense in spanish.

Again, coming from an outsider, but latinx sounds like a word white people are trying to force tbh, I've rarely ever heard a latino use it, aside from in TV shows created by white people lol.

I AM really interested in what the Latinos of reddit have to say though. Obviously I don't singlehandedly know the majority of Latin Americans lol, always good to get more opinions and I prefer to refer to people by what they prefer.

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u/Beyondthoughts Jan 26 '22

Latina here, I hate the term Latinx . We don’t use that term, yet it’s being forced down our throats

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u/GeneralEl4 Jan 26 '22

That's about the general consensus among my latino friends too. Of my 2 closest friends, one is Latina and said the same thing, except she didn't know it was a thing until I told her. And ik her family agrees, especially her parents, they're very traditional.

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u/Andresmanfanman Jan 26 '22

The more widespread use of Latinx also led to the development of Filipinx and Pinxy. Makes me cringe as someone who grew up and lives in Manila and is fluent in Filipino. Also that's not how the language works. "Filipino" is gender neutral inherently. Filipina exists to refer specifically to Filipino women but there isn't a word to refer specifically to a Filipino man. Though I will admit that since it's a Spanish loan word, the dichotomy may have used to exist. It doesn't now though, at least in how I've seen the word used.

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u/GaiusFrakknBaltar Jan 26 '22

For some reason, this reminds me of when Michael Scott asked Oscar if he'd prefer a less offensive term than "Mexican".

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u/MFoy Jan 26 '22

What's hard for me, as a someone who came of age in the 90s, is I understand rationally that "black" is the correct term to use. But I was taught for 15 or so years not to say "black" because it is racist, so I feel weird whenever I say "black" now.

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u/ajhenry92 Jan 26 '22

I lived in New Orleans which is predominately black, dude they get weirded out when you say African American. So many of the black people there are from the Bahamas or Dominican, I had an uber driver who thought he was African American most of his life but turns out his family came with the Spanish and he's actually part Spanish and native American as well as from African decent. My coworkers called me white and I referred to them as black and no one got upset, they did assume I voted for Trump but I would laugh it off and correct them. Also I worked security in Baton Rouge with black people and they all refered to people over the radio by skin color. Now when writing reports we used more accurate descriptions because it could be used in court.

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u/frazwood Jan 26 '22

I have a friend from Ethiopia. She came to the US in her teen years and eventually became a citizen.

She referred to herself as “African-American” and she was told she wasn’t by another Black person (my friend is definitely dark skinned).

True story.

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u/FriendlyAM Jan 26 '22

Terms like that change every few decades. For some reason the current term becomes 'offensive' and a new one needs to be invented.

Same thing happened here (Belgium). We used to say 'neger' because that was just the Dutch word for black people. Then it was decided it was a racist term, so we were told to use the word 'zwart' (black). Now that term is becoming offensive and nobody really knows what to say now.

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u/concentricdarkcircls Jan 26 '22

For some reason the current term becomes 'offensive'

That reason being that people start using the current term as an insult or in a derogatory manner

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u/[deleted] Jan 26 '22

Because they think anything else is rude (not all Americans think like this- just the ones that overuse the term African American)

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u/ferneticine Jan 26 '22

I remember in 9th grade my history teacher was like, “wait was Jimi Hendrix African American??” And we all giggled and were like are u serious… and she went “Ya I know he’s Black you do know not all Black people are from Africa, right?” Absolutely rocked everyone’s world. This was back in like ‘04 in a super white town.

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u/Taintmobile69 Jan 26 '22

White people in the US generally know what part of Europe their ancestors came from. No one bats an eye if a white person calls themself "Irish-American" or "German-American" and tries to honor their heritage in some way, like attending an Oktoberfest or learning Irish dancing.

Black people in the US generally do not know what part of Africa their ancestors came from, because they were kidnapped as slaves and the culture they came from was likely destroyed. Their only shared cultural heritage is the shared experience of being Black in America. That is why the term "African-American" was coined.

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