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What In The World Is An African American Anyway?


This question was recently asked of me numerous times by White Americans, White Europeans, Black Americans, and others. The funny thing is that I have wondered this too. However, the interesting part about this question is the fact that people are asking it in the first place.

When I think about it, something must not be right. I don’t recall ever hearing anyone ask what is an Italian American or German American. So why would anyone ask what is an African American?

I think the first aspect of my wonderment is that I can’t seem to figure out how or when I (a year long tan American) stopped being identified as a Black American and started being identified as an African American. I’m sure someone has the answer.

Unfortunately, it is a little fuzzy to me and it seems to be a little fuzzy to others as well. For myself, I’m pretty sure it has something to due with some of my ancestors who probably came from the continent of Africa so long ago. I’m also pretty sure that it has something to do with people wanting to be politically correct. I’m not sure how politically correct it is since I’m a little fuzzy about its use. But, this is what I know.

First, I am an American that happens to be black with some ancestors who are more than likely from Africa.

Second, I recently met a man from Nigeria (a country on the continent of Africa) who is a US citizen. During our conversation, he informed me that he is an African American or more accurately said a Nigerian American. Needless to say, after he pointed out that he was an African American, I began to ponder the use of the term as it applies to me.

Third, I recently met a White American who lived in Africa for 15 years. Believing myself to be witty, I said, “Wow, you are an African American.” I was not prepared for his response. He said, “That’s funny because my 19 year old daughter speaks the language and considers herself an African American given that since the age of four Africa has been her home. Once again, I began to ponder the use of the term as it applies to me.

Fourth, some White Americans were born in Africa and consider themselves African Americans. Once again, I ponder.

Fifth, a White Frenchmen recently said to me that he has African friends in France and they simply don’t understand why 4th and 5th generation Blacks in America are called and considered African Americans. Good question. As stated earlier, I continue to ponder.

So, based on what I know, the second aspect of my wonderment is that if I’m an African American then what in the world are all these other people. They all seem to think they are African Americans. To be honest, I don’t mind sharing this identification but these other folks do make me ponder.

Although, I can’t speak for everyone else, I’m perfectly happy with being identified as an American first who happens to have a year long tan (a.k.a. Black).

Right now, it doesn’t seem that I have much of a say in what I am identified as other than the fact that I continue to ponder.

Copyright © 2007 Knowledge Driven & Moore LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Kevin D. Moore is the author of “Did You Ever Wonder Why Black People Do The Things They Do?” and is the President of Knowledge Driven & Moore LLC ( a motivational speaking and consultant company on Leadership, Management, Communications, and Diversity. Additionally, he is a Chief Information Officer (CIO), a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, and a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.

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