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Black or African-American?

Two years ago, I noted that a survey of black Americans reported a tie between those who prefer "black" and those who prefer "African-American." I just ran across a Gallup survey (from last Summer) that reports a slightly more complex picture: The survey (again, of black Americans) asked,

Some people say the term "African-American" should be used instead of the word "black." Which term do you prefer -- "African-American" or "black," or does it not matter to you either way?

61% said it doesn't matter, 24% preferred African-American, and 13% preferred black. The maximum margin of error (at, I take it, the 95% confidence level) is reported to be 6%, but as I understand it the margins of error in such surveys are generally lower for the smaller percentages, so the 24%/13% difference is statistically significant at the 95% level (though you shouldn't take the precise magnitude of the difference to the bank).

My conclusion: Even if you believe that members of various identity groups should generally be called by whatever term the group prefers (I've criticized that position here, but let's assume it for the sake of argument), in this instance we see no clear preference. You might want to use "African-American" to maximize the appeal to black audiences, or for other reasons -- or you might want to use "black" for other reasons as well. But I don't think you can be faulted as a matter of good manners for using a label ("black") that three-quarters of the black American population finds to be either no less acceptable than "African-American" or actually better.

And, of course, you should recognize that while the two terms are roughly synonymous in the U.S., they are very different when you're considering the world at large: "Black" is a racial category, and "African-American" (in its common American meaning) is a subset of that category limited to those blacks who are also American. For an example of an error related to this unthinking substitution of "African-American" for "black," see this CNN transcript: "Hard to say because it's been 11 days since two African-American teenagers were killed, electrocuted during a police chase, which prompted all of this" -- "all of this" being rioting in France, which was triggered by the deaths of black teenagers who I'm pretty sure were not American tourists. (Thanks to Wikipedia for the pointer.)

Opus:

"For an example of an error related to this unthinking substitution...."


My favorite example is the Olympics announcer who said, "She's the first African-American from any country to win a medal [in that event]."
3.3.2008 1:45pm
OK lawyer (mail):
African-American has always struck me as stupid. What about a black person from Jamaica? What about a white guy from South Africa? Unless one is speaking about someone actually from Africa, that is now an American, the phrase is just a twisted politically correct way of not saying "black."

And if we want to say, well that person's ancestors were from Africa, then shouldn't everyone be "African-(insert home country)?" Which again makes the phrase meaningless.
3.3.2008 1:54pm
Qwerty:
It would be niggardly not to let them use whatever term they prefer!
3.3.2008 1:57pm
ace (mail):
Funny how those who claim to be "marginalized" and to dislike their status would themselves marginalize all the non-black Americans of African origin, i.e., Northern Africa. Ooops. I just marginalized some South Africans.

PS - My favorite African-American actress is Charlize Theron!
3.3.2008 2:06pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Well, when pushed to the wall, Eli says of African descent, of European descent, etc. (avoids the "white/pink conundrum) and its hard to get mad at.
3.3.2008 2:06pm
billhilly:
I saw where Whoppie Goldberg when asked about this, said "I was fine with Negreo". For what it's worth.
3.3.2008 2:12pm
billhilly:
Umm, make that "Negro" Damn fingers.
3.3.2008 2:14pm
Lonely Capitalist (mail):
My favorite is the correction that said something like "our phrase 'getting the budget back into the African-American' should have said 'getting the budget back into the black."
3.3.2008 2:15pm
Hoosier:
Don't ask me. I'm still trying to figure out when it started to be taken as bigotry to say of someone that he is "a Jew." As in: "My roommate from college visits us around Christmastime. Since he's a Jew, he has time off work, but no family obligations."

Am I supposed to imitate Radar O'Reilly and say "Jewish person of the Hebrew persuasion"?

When did it become BAD to be "a Jew"? And how can we reverse this?

(I now end my hijacking.)
3.3.2008 2:17pm
Kim Scarborough (mail) (www):
I think this is an even worse substitution.
3.3.2008 2:17pm
Temp Guest (mail):
Your ignoring the "gotcha", that frisson of pleasure Sharpton, Jackson, and their ilk get when discomfiting a white liberal. An expert at obtaining the "gotcha" will constantly switch preference from "African-American" to "black" and back again, making survey results extremely unstable and hence unreliable.
3.3.2008 2:28pm
Rainmakers (mail):
When I lived in Kenya the Kenyans found the term "African-American" absurd and borderline insulting. Whenever they heard it they would automatically begin questioning what the so-called "African-Americans" had in common with them vis-a-vis what they had in common with Caucausian Americans. I think the term itself is born of neoliberal social guilt.

I also think, as lawyers, we generally do a good job of recognizing the inherent problem with arbitrary cut-offs. Where do we draw the line? Individuals who were brought over to the Americas in the 17th century? 18th? We all came out of Africa t some point.
3.3.2008 2:35pm
Non-billing Lurker:
The darkest-complected of the three wise men in my made-in-China Christmas nativity set was labeled "African-American King." It added to the mirth (myrrhth?).
3.3.2008 2:40pm
Tom952 (mail):
Labeling oneself "African-American" is pretentous, unless one is an African immigrant or has direct lineage to African ancestors. If you were born here and you have American mixed heritage, you're in the melting pot and you're an American.
3.3.2008 2:45pm
KeithK (mail):
Lonely Capitalist, you beat me to it. I saw a sports daily calendar with an entry telling how the team wore African-American armbands after some former superstar died.
3.3.2008 2:46pm
Just Saying:
Qwerty: It would be niggardly not to let them use whatever term they prefer!

Thread over, qwerty wins.
3.3.2008 2:46pm
Richard Nieporent (mail):
In the 1980s the term African American was advanced on the model of, for example, German American. Jesse Jackson popularized the term, and it was quickly adopted by major media.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American

That is why I always use the term black. Are you now trying to tell me that I am no longer politically incorrect?
3.3.2008 2:48pm
Mike Jaskie (mail):
One of my biggest frustrations of changing these class identifiers for political correctness came when a candidate for office in my local university town refered to a lot of students being transient. Because the pc crowd had changed the name for the homeless (see bums) to transient the students took it as an insult suggesting they were bums when they would have been horridly insulted had he refered to someone else as a bum.
3.3.2008 2:49pm
Cactus Jack:
Apparently the folks at Stuff White People Like need to add an entry for "telling black people what they should call themselves (and then complaining about it)."
3.3.2008 2:58pm
DiverDan (mail):
Just wondering, can I insist upon be referred to as a "Mensa-American"? I don't give a damn about my skin color, hair color, or even eye color, but I'm proud of my affiliation with Mensa, and I'd like to insist that it be prominently displayed in all references to me.

If I am limited to references denoting place of origin, then I'd appreciate being referred to as a "Pre-Nazi German American", just to be sure that people know that my ancestors got the hell out of there before 1933, and had NOTHING to do with Hitler or the Holocaust. Frankly, a time-reference might also be useful for African Americans as well, so that we caucasians know that we only need to feel guilty about slavery era African Americans, as opposed to Post-Slavery African-Americans, like Barack Obama (whose Father was a native Kenyan, here on a student visa before he returned to Kenya), or any other descendant of blacks, whether from Africa, Haiti, Dominican Republic, etc. that immigrated after 1865.
3.3.2008 3:40pm
DG:
The Jew/Jewish thing is completely overwrought. I suspect it from the somewhat common slur "I jewed him down" or "Don't be such a jew" which are meant to imply cheapness or bargaining ability, depending on the person saying it. Because "jew" was sometimes being used as a slur, the PC thing to do was to avoid it. Of course, jews use it all the time to describe ourselves and others. I see nothing wrong with the term at all. "A jewish person" just sounds idiotic.

Back on topic - "colored person" is bad, "person of color" is sensitive and PC. Discuss.
3.3.2008 3:41pm
DG:
A mensa-american? I know you are kidding, but man... Is mensa anything other than a social club and meat market for smart people, with an emphasis on the latter?
3.3.2008 3:43pm
Houston Lawyer:
"In the 1980s the term African American was advanced on the model of, for example, German American. Jesse Jackson popularized the term, and it was quickly adopted by major media.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American "

I am of German descent and grew up in a community in which people of German descent were the largest ethnic group. I have never heard anyone refer to himself as a "German American".

Let's see, I can use a one syllable word or two words with seven syllables. No real choice there.

I always choose the "other" box when they ask my race and write in teutonic just to screw with the bean counters.
3.3.2008 3:43pm
Ex parte McCardle:
Houston Lawyer said, "I always choose the "other" box when they ask my race and write in teutonic just to screw with the bean counters."

I've done the same once or twice, except I always use "the Hun."
3.3.2008 3:55pm
kevin r:
If I am limited to references denoting place of origin, then I'd appreciate being referred to as a "Pre-Nazi German American", just to be sure that people know that my ancestors got the hell out of there before 1933, and had NOTHING to do with Hitler or the Holocaust.


Supported the Kaiser, did they? My family got out pre-1888. ;)
3.3.2008 3:57pm
George- Oregon (mail):
I would really like to know what the term "Black" means when referring to a person? African-American at least means something - providing an ancestry/lineage. The interesting thing is we are all African-Americans (at least Americans, that is.) It is really just a matter of since when and by what path. One could be African-Asian-American ("Native Americans", and any more recent Asian-American). Or like me, an African-European-American.
3.3.2008 3:58pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Part of what I dislike about African-American is that that sort of term is not symmetric. While you can have Whites, Blacks, etc., we don't use White-American to identify someone who is predominantly is White (indeed, people may be termed African-American even if they are predominantly White if they have even some Black blood).

Another obvious problem is that African-American does not mean someone who had relatively recent ancestors from Africa, but rather, that they had Black ancestors. Teresa Heinz Kerry was born in Africa, and is not considered African-American. Additionally, we are talking sub-Saharan African (who weren't White or Colored South Africans, etc.)

Thus, the reason that I prefer Black is that what we are talking here is race and not continent where some of our recent ancestors came from. Essentially, if someone here has more than a certain percentage of Negroid blood, he/she can claim to be an African-American. Black, Negro, etc. would be much more descriptive.

Just as bad is the term "Asian-American". This would seem to include multiple racial and a huge number of ethnic groups, with little in common, except for the continent that they had ancestors from. A significant part of the world population resides in Asia, ranging from a number of Oriental groups, through Caucasian Indian, and to Semitic Arabs. Indeed, Semitic Israeli Jews are not considered Asian-Americans, but Semitic Arabs are.
3.3.2008 3:59pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

I am of German descent and grew up in a community in which people of German descent were the largest ethnic group. I have never heard anyone refer to himself as a "German American".


This is partly a result of Teddy Roosevelt's campaign against "hyphenated Americans" of 100 years ago and mostly due to anti-German sentiment leading into and out of WWI. At that time all things German were repressed, including beer. Before then the terminology was common, at least as far back as the Civil War.
3.3.2008 4:01pm
John Herbison (mail):
My favorite anecdote on the topic arises out of a rape case in which I handled the appeal. The Defendant was, shall we say, dark skinned. The DNA expert testified at trial as to what percentage of the African American population shared a particular DNA profile.

I remain amazed that DNA analysis has gotten so sophisticated that it can detect citizenship (or at least residency).
3.3.2008 4:09pm
Virginian:
As a person of pallor, I don't believe I am allowed to have an opinion on this matter.
3.3.2008 4:16pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
An additional confusing factor here is that the meaning of these terms changes over time. In the nineteenth century, Arabs were considered "black" by Europeans and Americans. Now they are not (generically; an obviously negroid individual may be considered black).
3.3.2008 4:18pm
Hoosier:
DG--Yeah, I agree with you on "Jewish person." I can't imagine that I would ever accept that either "Catholic" or "Irish" (My religion or ethnicity, that is) was a slur. "He's a Catholic person"? Gimme a break.

Re: Mensa--I always heard the same things that you did. It appears that MENSA is now slumming, and that I could gain admission if I sent an official copy of my GRE scores. (Though my SAT scores would definitley NOT qualify me! I was a burnout in HS.)

But I'm married, and happily so. So I don't see any reason to join Mensa: I'm not looking for women; and I bet it ain't free to join.
3.3.2008 4:22pm
Serendipity:
I'm black, and so far as I can tell, the last "African," in my family was at least eight generations ago. That being said, my family has been here longer than many white families I know, regardless of how they got here. None of my friends whose ancestors arrived from say Poland eight generations ago would even consider calling themselves Polish-Americans today. I have no connection to Africa in any real sense, so it seems rather disingenuous to say "I'm African-American."
3.3.2008 4:25pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
In my opinion, the term "African-American" was developed as an "in your face" way of saying: "we all know that Black people aren't regarded as normal Americans; I insist that you refer to us this way as an acknowledgment of that fact."
3.3.2008 4:35pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Richard Neiporont:

If you want to stay politically incorrect, there are a host of safe terms you could use: try "porch monkey," if you dare.

When I was growing up, the correct word was Negro. Of course, a bunch of people sort of slanted this into "Nigra", which wasn't quite the "N" word, but it definitely was getting there. Sometime, briefly in the 60s, it became fashionable to say Afro-American. I don't know how or why, but that was the correct thing to say. Then with the rise of the Panthers and the black is beautiful movement, it was definitely correct to use the word "black." That stayed in fashion, I believe, until the new wave of political correctness propped up the term "African American." I always thought that was a throw back to the short lived Afro American -- but its had staying power at least as long as black.

There's no reason why the words should cling too closely to their etymologies. I'm told that there is no word for "obese" is Swedish. The word that has stuck for the idea is "American Fat". I think that's apt. But I also think the Swedes understand that its possible for a person to be American Fat without actually being American. Likewise, I see no reason at least in principle for the term African American not to apply to all blacks. So what if the "American" part of it seems a little ridiculous. Language is flexible.
3.3.2008 4:44pm
JRL:
Houston Lawyer said, "I always choose the "other" box when they ask my race and write in teutonic just to screw with the bean counters."

I've done the same once or twice, except I always use "the Hun."



Were that I so clever. This white guy always just chooses Native American -- born and raised!
3.3.2008 4:54pm
A.C.:
I have no particular problem using the term "African American" to refer to black Americans who don't trace their ancestry to any single African country. A recent immigrant from Nigeria could be Nigerian American without much fuss, so he or she doesn't really "need" the more general term.

Lots of white Americans, perhaps a higher percentage than black Americans, CAN trace their background to one European country or other. So we have Irish Americans, Italian Americans, and so forth. But I wouldn't object if a white American of multi-national ancestry wanted to be called a "European American." It sounds a bit goofy to the literal-minded, but it gets a certain point across. And it's not quite the same as "white," either, because it has an element of culture to it as well as physical description.

As an aside, why is "English" the only European ethnicity that can't get put with "American" in any combination? If "Italian American" isn't a contradiction in terms, which I don't think it is, why can't we have "English American"? ("Anglo-American" usually refers to relations between the US and the UK, so that doesn't really work.) A British expat has kids who are Americans, without ethnic modifier. Strange.
3.3.2008 4:55pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Because the Brits got here first.
3.3.2008 5:04pm
Asher Steinberg (mail):
Yeah, once when I was in high school a girl told me that when she went to France there were so few African-Americans. I thought she meant there weren't many black American tourists. Not at all. Somehow she got into Chicago.

And Hoosier, for some reason, we don't like to be called 'Jews,' we prefer to be called Jewish. I don't really know why. Maybe it's that traditionally, when anti-Semitics speak about us, they refer to "the Jews" or "the Jew," so something about "Jewish" seems more innocuous.
3.3.2008 5:11pm
ys:

But I'm married, and happily so. So I don't see any reason to join Mensa: I'm not looking for women; and I bet it ain't free to join.

You win your bet: that'll be $52.00, sir.
3.3.2008 5:16pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):

None of my friends whose ancestors arrived from say Poland eight generations ago would even consider calling themselves Polish-Americans today.


Hell, I'm only 3rd generation Polish, and I don't call myself Polish-American, even though I have the royal eagle hanging on my bedroom wall. I think if I were to claim some of my direct heritage, I'd like to be a Gaelic-American.
3.3.2008 5:19pm
The General:
Is it rude to ask "Which part of Africa?"
3.3.2008 5:29pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"And Hoosier, for some reason, we don't like to be called 'Jews,' we prefer to be called Jewish. I don't really know why. Maybe it's that traditionally, when anti-Semitics speak about us, they refer to "the Jews" or "the Jew," so something about "Jewish" seems more innocuous."

Do you use the noun or adjective for yourself and your family? Some groups are quite happy to use a given term for themselves, but don't want anyone else to use it.
3.3.2008 5:33pm
Uthaw:
why is "English" the only European ethnicity that can't get put with "American" in any combination?

It can.
3.3.2008 5:33pm
markm (mail):
I am of German descent and grew up in a community in which people of German descent were the largest ethnic group. I have never heard anyone refer to himself as a "German American".

The biggest bank chain across southwestern Indiana is the German-American Bank.
3.3.2008 5:37pm
Lonely Capitalist (mail):
I was in Mensa when I was single, the dues were less, and the monthly magazine was interesting. I quit when they raised the dues, like I do with any organization I belong to that raises its dues.

Would paying $52 to join Mensa be proof posoitive that you don't qualify to be a member? Res ipsa loquitur and all that.
3.3.2008 5:38pm
markm (mail):
"Negro" died because blacks cannot easily pronounce it correctly. With a southern accent, it becomes "nigra", which soon degenerates to "nigger". It's safer to use a different word. That used to be "colored", but I think blacks heard it used too many times by bigots being falsely polite...
3.3.2008 5:41pm
alias:
proud of my affiliation with Mensa

Then you deserve to be persecuted.
3.3.2008 5:47pm
Asher Steinberg (mail):
Elliot123, I usually say I'm Jewish. If you think about it, it's more natural than to say "I'm a Jew" or "we're Jews."
3.3.2008 5:48pm
LM (mail):

You might want to use "African-American" to maximize the appeal to black audiences, or for other reasons -- or you might want to use "black" for other reasons as well. But I don't think you can be faulted as a matter of good manners for using a label ("black") that three-quarters of the black American population finds to be either no less acceptable than "African-American" or actually better.

That depends. What's polite isn't as simple as deferring to the majority's preference, and even that can be irrelevant (most of the people in my house would prefer you give us each $100 and mow the lawn on your way out). I think the applicable standard here is that it's polite to abstain voluntarily from saying things that give undue offense, unless you have some overriding reason to say them. (No, "It's a free country," doesn't qualify.)

I don't have any firm opinion about how many people have to be how offended by something to make saying it rude. My personal rule of thumb is the Golden Rule, but I have no idea how that compares to our broad cultural rules of etiquette. In any event, this survey didn't tell me what I'd want to know for my own guidance, i.e., which of the respondents would take offense at being called something other than the term they preferred. For what it's worth, I'd guess that more who preferred "African-American" would be offended by a different term than those who preferred "black," but that's just my guess.
3.3.2008 5:53pm
Libertarian1 (mail):
As a Dermatologist my personal pet peeve is the term "person of color". If you do a biopsy of human skin, regardless of the race of the individual, we all have the same general number of melanocytes. The differences in skin color lie in the size of the cell. So it seems the term implies those of us who are Caucasian have no color in our skin. If that were true we would have no melanomas.
3.3.2008 5:57pm
CJColucci:
As an Italo-Finnish American, I find this whole debate silly. There's nothing wrong with "African-American," except where it is used in obviously incorrect ways, like referring to black people who are not Americans. (Ultimately, of course, we're all African-Americans if what the anthropologists tell us is true.) Anyone who thinks we white folk are "supposed" to use it in preference to, say, "black," needs to hang out with black folk a bit more and worry (or crow) about real or imagined sins against political correctness less. If you do that, you'll probably end up doing what I do without even thinking about it, which is to lapse into whatever form the people around me happen to be using. But what, you ask, do I do when I write something? Well, if there's some context, I usually lapse into the form being used in whatever I'm referring to. When it's completely up to me, I tend to use "black," because it is what the black folk I'm generally around tend to use -- not as some policy I came up with, but as a habit. When it's not up to me, I use what the editor says.
3.3.2008 6:01pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"I remain amazed that DNA analysis has gotten so sophisticated that it can detect citizenship (or at least residency).

Yes. With enough genetic makers you can predict ancestry with extreme accuracy. This Wired article relates the story of DNA Print Genomics Inc. You might think law enforcement would support the use of this technology since it helps identify the criminal and avoids false trails. But in general it doesn't. Read the article for details. This technology pretty much proves that race is not a mere social construction, but has a real biological foundation.
3.3.2008 6:09pm
Spartacus (www):
As an aside, why is "English" the only European ethnicity that can't get put with "American" in any combination? If "Italian American" isn't a contradiction in terms, which I don't think it is, why can't we have "English American"? ("Anglo-American" usually refers to relations between the US and the UK, so that doesn't really work.) A British expat has kids who are Americans, without ethnic modifier. Strange.

In Texas they're called "Anglos".
3.3.2008 6:20pm
BGates:
"I always choose the "other" box when they ask my race and write in teutonic just to screw with the bean counters."
I write in '800m'.
3.3.2008 6:47pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
I say that "I am a Jew", and I say that other Jews are Jews unless the question specifically concerns religion rather than ethnicity. I know that some Jews prefer "Jewish" to "Jew", but that is by no means universal. It is possible that this arises from an in-your-face attitude, but it doesn't bother me if non-Jews say "Jew".
3.3.2008 6:51pm
BT:
I prefer to refer to myself and those like me as "pigmentally challenged".
3.3.2008 7:36pm
JB:
Black is 1 syllable, African American is 7.

It's the same reason why they're gay in common parlance, rather than homosexual (in that case, 1 syllable vs 5). And why they're white instead of caucasian.
3.3.2008 7:48pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
There are places in Asia where all whites are called "English." And it's not a compliment.

I'm also reminded of Little Big Man, where the indians call all non-Indians "white men". Blacks they refer to as "black white men".
3.3.2008 8:25pm
NickM (mail) (www):
On the last Census, I answered that my race is human.

Nick
3.3.2008 8:28pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
JB:

Good point. That's also why common parlance refers to Frogs, Wops, Spics, Chinks, Nips, Gooks, Krauts, Dykes, Micks, ...... I like the syllable theory
3.3.2008 8:30pm
Whatever (mail):
It makes most sense to call people by their first names.

In theory perhaps all these people don't care because they don't think the terminology someone who views them as an "Other" uses has any relevance to who they are.
3.3.2008 9:13pm
cac (mail):
In Australia, the question of how to refer to Aboriginal Australians raises similar issues.

"aboriginal" is out of favour with some, because it is a European word and attempts to describe a multitude of different tribes who didn't see themselves as being one people. Torres Strait Islanders, who are ethnically different (Melanesian) don't like it either. There is a trend towards using the name of the dominant tribe in a particular region, although that leads to solecisms such as calling northern australians "Kooris", which properly refers to a Victorian tribe. There have been flirtations with "first australians" and "first nations", none of which have become established.

"Abo", formerly relatively inoccuous is now seen as very insulting. Curiously enough, "blackfella" in some contexts is acceptable.
3.3.2008 9:17pm
Dave N (mail):
As a side note, it is an interesting holdover from a more racist past that we play this game. Any amount of black blood makes a person "African American" (there, I was sensitive and used both terms in one sentence).

Barack Obama's mother is caucasian, but his caucasian ancestry is trumped (though he was obviously raised in a white household) because of race of his absent father (though I acknowledge this makes Obama much more an "African-American" than someone whose ancestors have been in this country for multiple generations).

"Native American" has replaced "Indian" because the latter is considered pejorative (just because Columbus thought he was somewhere he obviously was not). Perhaps in these politically correct times, Indiana needs to rethink its state name.

Of course, the most successful Indian-American politician is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, whose parents came from the Indian subcontinent and despite his complexion, will never be described as "black."
3.3.2008 9:42pm
Toby:
I have ridden in elevators in Hawaii wherein those in the back told Hali jokes.

Even so, I am Irish/Scottish/Manx on one side and German/Jewish/Irish on the other with a little ENglish if you go ack far enough. I have a disntinctive blood marker on one side for Afghani (don't knwow where that came from).

I am married to a French/Cuban/Anglo and my borther is married to a Hispanic, my other brother to a chinese. Still anothether brother is married to a Polish/Criaoat of indeterminate background. How should we classify my mongrel family.

American.
3.3.2008 10:00pm
Uthaw:
it doesn't bother me if non-Jews say "Jew".

Unless it's used as a verb?
3.3.2008 10:27pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
Dave N (mail):
"Native American" has replaced "Indian" because the latter is considered pejorative (just because Columbus thought he was somewhere he obviously was not). Perhaps in these politically correct times, Indiana needs to rethink its state name.


"American Indian" is still very much in use,I assure you, not least by the people themselves. Indian-American generally means ethnicity from India. The Indian-American student group on campus calls itself the "India Student Association," to avoid confusion with the American Indian Student Association.
3.3.2008 10:50pm
Richard Nieporent (mail):
"American Indian" is still very much in use,I assure you, not least by the people themselves.

Very true. Also we have the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington, DC.
3.3.2008 11:10pm
Hoosier:
OK. NUMBER ONE: No way on changing our name.

Two: The only friend I have who is legitimately a registered member of a tribe says that he wants to be called an American Indian. So now I've gone back to that phrase.
3.3.2008 11:30pm
Hoosier:
Uthaw: Is the verb capitalized?
3.3.2008 11:31pm
John Herbison (mail):
With enough genetic makers you can predict ancestry with extreme accuracy.


I remain puzzled. What is the genetic marker for American citizenship/residency? Can DNA distinguish between an American of African ancestry and a Canadadian of African ancestry?
3.3.2008 11:45pm
Elliot123 (mail):
The Jew/Jewish noun/adjective question intrigues me.

Is it possible the number of syllables is important? Here's a quick speculation:

We use the noun to identify someone when the noun is one syllable, and use the adjective when the one syllable noun is not available.

We commonly use following one syllable nouns to refer to individuals:
Finn, Swede, Dane, Latt, Scot, Thai, Celt, Jute, Jane, Jew, Turk, Black, White, Swiss, Serb, Slav, Greek, and Pole.

And consider the pejorative one syllable nouns:
Spic, Nip, Chink, Wop, Gook, Kike, Coon, Frog, etc.

But where there is no single syllable noun available
we use the adjectives:
Irish, English, Mexican, Japanese, Russian, Chinese, Indian, South African, Australian, Samoan, Egyptian, etc.
3.3.2008 11:56pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"I remain puzzled. What is the genetic marker for American citizenship/residency?"

By "ancestry" we mean the original continental origin of the major racial groups.

"Can DNA distinguish between an American of African ancestry and a Canadadian of African ancestry?"

That might be possible if Canadians of African ancestry came from Africa at a different time from Americans of African ancestry. If other words, with enough markers we can differentiate between Africans and African-Americans. It all depends on the amount of genetic drift and the rate of intermarriage.
3.4.2008 12:15am
JBL:
"I always choose the "other" box when they ask my race and write in teutonic just to screw with the bean counters."

To REALLY screw with the bean counters, for those of us who can do it honestly, check the 'Other' box and write in 'Jew'.


As to black/African-American, I prefer black when referring to people. The relevant distinction is skin color, not geographic origin. African-American refers to a particular style, as in art, culture, etc.

Most of the U.S. citizens I've met who were originally from Africa were either Arab or white (mostly South African or French Moroccan). Most of the black Africans I've met were Kenyan citizens who have never been to America.

Here's the thing: race does not vary based on citizenship. If 'African-American' were a proper racial designation, it would apply equally to people of a certain race (or group of races) regardless of their national origin. But it doesn't.
3.4.2008 12:44am
Grover Gardner (mail):
"Supported the Kaiser, did they?"

Would it violate political correctness to say that as a fully one-half German-American married to another one-half German-American, this made me laugh for five minutes? :-)
3.4.2008 12:51am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

I'm also reminded of Little Big Man, where the indians call all non-Indians "white men". Blacks they refer to as "black white men".


The usual Navajo term for "black/Afro-American" literally means "black Mexican". This is presumably because the Spanish colonists were accompanied by black slaves.
3.4.2008 1:54am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Uthaw,

it doesn't bother me if non-Jews say "Jew".

Unless it's used as a verb?


Well, yes, I was speaking of its use as a noun, but actually, I don't object to "jew" as a verb so long as there is no other evidence of anti-Semitism. People often use words without any sense of their etymology. In unguarded speech I use the word "gyp" without intending any bias toward Romani people. Although I am now aware of its etymology, it has no association for me with Gypsies, against whom I have no prejudice.

The first time that I remember hearing the verb "jew" was from the janitor in a lab in which I worked as a teenager. It didn't bother me because I was sure he meant nothing by it. After all, this was a guy who preferred to spend his coffee breaks in our lab, with me, a Jew, and my boss, a Chinese guy.
3.4.2008 2:02am
Stash:
Bill Poser:

Much is forgiven among friends; ethnic needling is often part of a good-natured back and forth among friends. But outside this context it is simply unacceptable. And Jew as a verb is much more overt than "gyp" which I used for years as a kid thinking it slang spelled "jip". When I realized what it meant, I stopped using it. I'm sorry, but if you were close enough to be understanding of him, I assume you would be close enough to say to him, "Look, I know you don't mean anything by it, but there ae a lot of people who would be offended by it." I think you would have been doing him a favor.

On the other hand, I see no derogation in saying someone is "a Jew" rather than Jewish. Though I see nothing wrong with the noun, it does sound a little stilted to my ears. For example, I think one says "I'm Catholic" rather than "I am a Catholic." And certainly people are more likely to say, "I'm Irish" as opposed to saying "I am an Irishman." To my ears, the answer to the question "What's your ethnicity/religion" sounds more natural in the adjective form.

On the "African American" vs. "Black" issue, from growing up in and living in an integrated neighborhood, as well as having close black colleagues, my impression is that the difference between "African-American" and "Black" is like the old-time distinction between "thou" and "you." "African-American" tends to be used in formal speech, while "Black" is used in informal situations. I have heard many of my black friends and associates use both interchangeably, but in more formal settings "African-American" is usually used. Hence, I tend to copy that usage. I wonder if that is also true among Indians/Native Americans.
3.4.2008 4:30am
A.C.:
In my experience, American Indian/Native American is more of a geographic preference. I haven't identified any eaqsy way to figure out which term any given group prefers -- it's not as simple as north vs. south -- but the people in any one area seem to be fairly consistent. So I just ask.

As for "Anglo," I didn't think that was as specific as "English American." I thought it applied to any more-or-less white person who spoke English as a first language and had no Hispanic ancestry. Am I mistaken? Would a first-generation Irish American living in Texas be called an Anglo, and how would he or she react?

And as for "Jew" as a noun, it doesn't strike me as strange in the plural. This is particularly true when the reference is general and not to a specific, named group of individuals. So, "Catholics, Protestants, and Jews" is unremarkable. For individuals and named groups, however, the adjective seems more appropriate. "Patrick is Catholic, Nigel is Protestant, and David is Jewish." In the latter case, using the noun would be a much stronger statement. It's almost an attempt to force the identity in question on a person, whether for positive reasons (as a reminder of group heritage) or for negative reasons (as a reminder of outsider status). A statement like "Always remember that you are an X" can go either way, depending on context and tone.
3.4.2008 5:36am
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
As a nominal Person of Pallor with a permanent tan due to his Mediterranean ancestry, the word that rankles me is "Anglo." For several years the Los Angeles Times was on a crusade to replace "white" with That Word. Yecch.

Many years ago a piece in National Lampoon caused me to spew a mouthful of coffee all over my copy of the magazine when I read, "Women, or as they prefer to be called, Vagino-Americans ..."
3.4.2008 6:30am
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
We commonly use following one syllable nouns to refer to individuals:
Finn, Swede, Dane, Latt, Scot, Thai, Celt, Jute, Jane, Jew, Turk, Black, White, Swiss, Serb, Slav, Greek, and Pole.


"Jane"? Do you perhaps mean Jain? Or do you mean persons of the female persuasion? In which case, shouldn't it be "Jills," as in "Four Jills in a Jeep"?
3.4.2008 6:43am
David0628 (mail):
I remember, back in 1969 or 70 when a jerk Air Force Captain asked a young (as was I at that time) Sergeant if he preferred to be called "Black or Colored".

His reply - "I prefer 'Sgt Tucker', Sir."

"perfect" was the thought that ran through my mind (silently).

dc
3.4.2008 7:43am
Hoosier:
>>>Is it possible the number of syllables is important?

Ahh! So is *that* why we no longer say Redskin, Polack, Papist, or Retard?
3.4.2008 9:53am
Hoosier:
>>>I think one says "I'm Catholic" rather than "I am a Catholic."

Well, we say both. "I'm not a libertarian, and that may be in part because I'm a Catholic." That sounds fine to me. I don't know how other feel about this.
3.4.2008 9:59am
A.C.:
Hoosier's example matches up with my impression of how these words are used. If someone asks me what my religion is, I might say "I'm Catholic." If I wanted to make a bigger point about how that affiliation applied to me, I might say "As a Catholic, I believe the following." That's just style, and I wouldn't turn it into an adjective in the latter example. The word "person" is implicit in the noun -- there are no Catholic golden retrievers.

The same is not true for black or white. There are black cats and white birds (and white cats and black birds, for that matter), so you need another word in there someplace when you are talking about people. You can sometimes leave it out if the context is clear ("relations between blacks and whites under apartheid"), but even then I wouldn't say a person was "a black" or "a white." That just sounds silly.
3.4.2008 10:23am
Tracy W (mail):
I think the applicable standard here is that it's polite to abstain voluntarily from saying things that give undue offense, unless you have some overriding reason to say them. (No, "It's a free country," doesn't qualify.)

Like, for example, every other possible term for the matter you want to name also causes offence to some other member of that group?
3.4.2008 10:51am
whit:
i'm reminded of a classic former mayor of seattle paul ("i am not a wimp") PC moment.

he referred to black WTO delegates as "african american." of course the problem with the PC term 'african american' (that we all use) is it can't be used to describe blacks who are not FROM america (or more specifically the USA as commonly used).

is a black WTO delegate from AFRICA african american? of course not.

and then there's the whole "america" thing. does that include all of the americas, or just the US *of* America.

is a black man from venezuela "african american?"
3.4.2008 12:29pm
Flash Gordon (mail):
I am white and I refuse to use the term "African American" for the following reasons:

1. The overwhelming majority of Blacks in America have a lineage in America that is longer than the overwhelming majority of Whites. No one is more thoroughly "American" than Black Americans.

2. Black Americans have a tenuous lineage to Africa. They would have to go back (if that were possible) a dozen or more generations to find anyone in their lineage that was born in Africa.

3. Black Americans who go to Africa find a wholly foreign culture that is bears no connection to them and no relation to anything in their experience. Black Americans do not even have the same skin color as the average African because they have been separated for so long. Black Americans are no more "African" than White Americans.

4. There are thousands of real African Americans living in America. I know lots of them. My friend Sadie, for example. She immigrated to America a few years ago from Botswana. She goes back to Botswana once a year to visit her mother. She is an African American if anyone is, but she does not like the term. She says she is proud to be an American, no adjective required.

5. I mean no disrespect to any Black American who prefers to be called an African American. I just won't go along with the nonsense. You can call yourself anything you want, but you can't make me do it because it's just too damn stupid. OK?
3.4.2008 1:31pm
Whatever (mail):
5. I mean no disrespect to any Black American who prefers to be called an African American. I just won't go along with the nonsense. You can call yourself anything you want, but you can't make me do it because it's just too damn stupid. OK?

Why even call them black, then? It seems rather unnecessary, if you think about it.
3.4.2008 2:21pm
Hoosier:
>>>there are no Catholic golden retrievers.


NOT EVEN IN HEAVEN?!!!

Then what do guys in Heaven have sitting on the passenger seat of their Jeeps?
3.4.2008 3:15pm
LM (mail):
Flash,

What would you think about the following: You're with a group of Americans touring Britain with some European nationals, and the British guide insists on calling your contingent "United States-ers" or "non-Europeans" even after you've asked him to call you Americans? He says "American" is a stupid name, and he refuses to use it.

The analogy is imperfect, most significantly in that, as the survey shows, there's no consensus among African-Americans on a preferred group name. But neither is there the historical basis for Americans generally to be as sensitive about what we're called as there is for African-Americans. And anyway, your position is unrelated to the existence of any consensus preference among African-Americans, right? As for whether "American" is an unreasonable name, there's certainly as strong a case for that (ask the other residents of our hemisphere to our south) as there is for your argument about African-Americans (i.e., black United States-ers).
3.4.2008 4:01pm
A.C.:
I'm sure that all good golden retrievers go to heaven, where they get to ride with their heads hanging out Jeep windows every day. But I have yet to see one take communion.
3.4.2008 4:14pm
whit:
"As for whether "American" is an unreasonable name, there's certainly as strong a case for that (ask the other residents of our hemisphere to our south) as there is for your argument about African-Americans (i.e., black United States-ers)."

true dat. i've done a bit of travelling in central america (costa rica, nicaragua, etc.) and many people there made the point to me that they are americans too. i don't think United Statesians exactly rolls off the tongue, so not really sure what to say when you are in central america as to where you are from. "ugly american" is pretty good, since that automatically implies US of A.

or you can just take the easy way out and say "canadian!"

that works too

:)
3.4.2008 7:33pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Ahh! So is *that* why we no longer say Redskin, Polack, Papist, or Retard?"

Well, I don't know of a single syllable word that could take the place of redskin, papist, or retard. But Pole could take the place of Polack.

"Why even call them black, then? It seems rather unnecessary, if you think about it."

It is. But so much affirmative action surrounds us that we have to have some way to sort out the beneficiaries.
3.4.2008 8:19pm
Michael Edward McNeil (mail) (www):
Bill Poser writes:
>> it doesn't bother me if non-Jews say “Jew”.
> Unless it’s used as a verb?


Well, yes, I was speaking of its use as a noun, but actually, I don't object to “jew” as a verb so long as there is no other evidence of anti-Semitism. People often use words without any sense of their etymology. In unguarded speech I use the word “gyp” without intending any bias toward Romani people. Although I am now aware of its etymology, it has no association for me with Gypsies, against whom I have no prejudice.


Speaking as a Welsh- (Cymric-) American, whose ethnic origin can also be used as a disparaging verb, to wit — “to avoid payment – used with on <welshed on his debts> 2: to break one’s word: renege <welshed on their promises>" (Merriam-Webster’s) — I’d have to say I agree.
3.4.2008 9:18pm
Hoosier:
"But I have yet to see one take communion."

Fair point, thought I suspect that this is only because they can't make a good confession beforehand.

Priest: "How long since your last confession?"
Bucky: "Aroof!"
3.4.2008 10:50pm
Flash Gordon (mail):
LM,

I'm Scot-Irish and I don't take offense to anything anyone wants to call me. I don't mind being called a redneck even though I don't know what it means, except I guess it means someone who lives in a trailer and drinks moonshine. I don't do either but I'm still OK being called a redneck. I wish there was a football team called the Rednecks. A stadium full of screaming fans yelling "Go Rednecks!" would be wonderful.

Some sort of word to describe people of different races is hard to avoid otherwise you can't talk. I guess the people of a race have a right to give their race the name they prefer. The proper name for people of Africa with dark skin is negro, but I guess that is not allowed. When I was a kid the polite term was colored. Now I think that is considered a slur, so I adopted the word "Black" when it appeared that was the new word to replace "colored." But the African American moniker is nuts and seems to have no justification either in fact or common sense.
3.5.2008 12:54am
D. Eaves (mail):
Recently, at the hospital I work in, I was searching for one of my newest co-workers. I approached a small group and asked them if they had seen 'Mary' (not her name). They said they didn't know who that was. I then described her as 'the new black nurse'. She overheard the conversation and wanted to know who called her 'black'. She asked me where I was from and said she hadn't heard that in years! We had been working together quite well all night, and I was speechless. I have no idea if she is from Africa. I intend to ask her what she prefers, but I don't feel that I owe her an apology. I feel a little uncomfortable around her now though. I just don't get it.
3.7.2008 4:22am