"What Are They Calling Us Now?" by Alpha Unit

New Alpha Unit. My Mom works on the board of the Madera County Mental Health Committee. She has her reasons for doing this, which I don’t need to go into. There’s a Black woman on there, older, and pretty funny like a lot of older Black women are. One day she said something like, “I’m Black, or colored, or Negro, or African-American, or whatever the Hell they are calling us nowadays.” I was reminded of that when I read this post.
On my birth certificate, issued way back in the early sixties, my mother is declared to be Colored. So am I.
I remember hearing my grandmother talking about this or that “colored man” or “colored woman.” I have a distant memory of hearing my mom refer to a “colored” nurse. My earliest school records refer to me as a “colored” child.
So I grew up thinking of myself as colored.
I have a vivid memory of realizing that I was Black. I was just a little kid, but I can clearly recall James Brown declaring triumphantly through the radio, “Say it loud–I’m Black and I’m proud!” It was roughly the same time that I was hearing “Black is beautiful” all around me. It was a great time to be a little Black kid in America.
I was Black all through high school. Everyone was conscious of the need to affirm Blackness, even the White people who ran the school district. So in my high school, it wasn’t enough to have a homecoming queen. We had two homecoming queens–a Black one and a White one. There wasn’t just one girl voted Most Beautiful; we had to vote for a Black one and a White one. Wherever possible, we had to have racial equilibrium.
Some time after I entered college I became, for official purposes, African-American. I still don’t know how that happened, actually. I kind of remember the first time I ever heard the term “African-American,” although I have no memory of how or where I encountered it. I remember pondering it for a little while, the way you would examine something interesting you had never seen before. The only other thing I can remember about it is wondering whose idea it was, and guessing, in my youthful and careless way, that maybe it was Jesse Jackson’s idea or something.
All I can say is that I hope we’re done thinking of things to call ourselves. I don’t care a whole lot for “African-American,” really. It’s kind of meaningless, since Africa is an entire continent of disparate peoples. I have a feeling that some time in the future someone will decide we should be called something even more interesting and specific.
I have a nostalgia for “Black.” I became Black at a very special time in my life. It was Beautiful, something to be Proud of. That’ll do nicely.

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9 thoughts on “"What Are They Calling Us Now?" by Alpha Unit”

  1. “Black” is still most commonly used in everyday language. “African-American” tends to be used mainly for official records and census data and stuff like that. I think the latter is more accurate. It simply means an American of African descent, nothing more. Though implicitly it means of sub-Saharan, black African descent. I don’t see white S. Africans or N. African Arabs living in the U.S. calling themselves African-Americans.

    1. Yes. And “African-American” is the media’s preferred term, too. It seems to have replaced “Black,” in general, though. People like Naomi Campbell are called “African-American.”

    2. I think a white guy from Mozambique calling himself African-American is ridiculous. It’s an ethnic term that rarely even refers to black Africans, yet alone whites from Africa. There is a distinct African-American culture, history and heritage that differs from Mozambique, Jamaica, Brasil, or Nigeria. African-Americans are an ethnicity of their own distinct from other black people. White guys from Mozambique are certainly not a part of it as the word has little to do with geography. I could be born and raised in Japan and move to America, but nobody here is going to consider me, a black guy to be an Asian-American. And it’s the same thing with the Mozambique guy.

  2. The area that most black slaves came from (to North America) was called Guinea: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guinea_(region)
    (South American slaves came from further south)
    So, to be accurate, black Americans with slave ancestors should be called Guinean-Americans, to distinguish them from other people of African descent in the US.
    ‘People like Naomi Campbell are called “African-American.”’
    That just shows how ridiculous the name is. Calling a British woman of African and Chinese descent ‘African-American’.

  3. Recently I asked for a black coffee, and the black woman behind the counter looked offended. I thought of saying ” Sorry, an Afro-Caribbean coffee” but then I thought ” No, no sense of humour… “

  4. lol at lafayette!
    here in nyc pretty much all the people working at starbucks are black. i’ve often wanted to say to the cute black girls something like “black and sweet, just like my women” but i am scared of what kind of reaction that will get.
    instead, if they ask for my name to write it on the cup, i say my name is “Dick” or “Harry” or something that will make them smirk.

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