Is the Term African-American Stupid or Necessary?

Excerpts from the book The Fear of Being Challenged

I’ve encountered many conservatives and Republicans who have openly pushed for a complete omission of the word African being placed in front of American, because just being an American should be sufficient, as we are all one great nation. On paper, it’s a unifying idea, but in reality; it’s hypocrisy in its finest hour. I can only speak for myself, so I will even though this will apply overwhelmingly to almost all African-Americans. For every day that I’ve lived on this planet, I’ve been Black first and American second, and sometimes the second one was questionable or simply non-existent in the eyes of many of these same conservatives who now want to define me exclusively as American at the expense of my African heritage. As an African-American, society pulls you over to the side at a young age just to let you know precisely how Black you truly are. Your entire life prognosis will follow this protocol. One point of view will tell you that you can’t accomplish your goals because you are Black, and the other point of view will tell you to go out and accomplish your goals in spite of the fact that you are Black.

Excerpt from Glenn Beck’s broadcast

Didn’t you feel ridiculously stupid everywhere in Africa, in Europe, in South America, in Jerusalem, when you would say the word “African American” … It doesn’t apply! How can people be something one place and not anywhere else in the world!? (Um, perhaps because race is a social construct, and terms used to describe it will differ in places with different histories and social realities?)

In South America, no, South Africa, it’s “black” and “colored” … I don’t remember the difference, but there is a difference … maybe it was “colored” that was also like “Indian” or elsewhere … ” (OK, now we’re confused!)

African-American – A term used to describe Black citizens or Black people in the United States who are usually direct descendants of captive Africans of American slavery, with the primary crux of the descriptor used to point out black or brown, African-like skin based almost totally on the outward appearances of an individual that can be misleading and rarely on the genetic appearance of the individual that can often be too revealing, which breeds inaccuracy.

Speaking as an African-American or a Black person, it is laughable at best to entertain the notion of someone like Glenn Beck and his band of conservative banshees trying to give African-Americans advice on how to characterize and identify who they are as a people, and there is probably no other person on this planet that African-Americans would rather be advised by on this subject more than Glenn Beck. There is no doubt in my mind that African-Americans will listen to him. After all, his name means so much in the Black community, and if there is one person from outside of the Black community that has the Black community’s best interests in mind, that person has to be Glenn Beck. Now the only African-Americans who probably believe that are Florida Congressman Allen West, Tea Party mascot Herman Cain and Tea Party mascot Lloyd Marcus.

Glenn Beck made the argument that the term African-American was given to make Blacks feel like they are some kind of Superman in an ethnic comic book. He also went on to decree that words like African-American don’t really mean anything, especially overseas. Okay Beck, you are right. The term African-American has no real value overseas, but does that apply to both words or to just one word? When the typical African-American of a darker skinned nature takes a stroll through places like Europe or China, what is undeniably the first thing that will be used to summarize the possible identity of that African-American? Will the Europeans or the Chinese be able to figure out that the person is American? Maybe they will, and maybe they won’t. But one thing is definite, and that is the undisputed fact that the Chinese, the Europeans, and people all over the world will know immediately that the person is not White and is of African descent.


Even though international societies might not be nearly as friendly with their rhetoric to the American based terminology of the word African-American, the identifying processes of these international societies with their visual acknowledgements of what that African-American probably is and where that African-American must be derived from means the same thing internationally that it means domestically. Linguistically, the term African-American may slide in relevance, but functionally it continues to live to fight another day, and Beck has to be aware of that. He can complain about it as much as he wants, but ethnic definers aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future.

Now as for the term African-American being a reparational, consolation gift from slavery; an empowering title intended to elevate the Black community, it absolutely is an empowerment title built specifically to try and conjure a sense of pride among African-Americans; something like a declaration of defiance towards the degradations of Jim Crow and the ultimate, evolutionary response to the worthlessness and the inferiority of the slavery version of the n-word. In a contest between Negro, colored, Black, Afro-American, African-American, and the n-word, the term African-American is the only term that actually puts the American title into the hands of the American offspring of slaves. And thanks to our wonderful friend Jim Crow, a societal acknowledgement of the Black ownership of that well-earned American citizenry title has not always been so forthcoming, and in many ways it still isn’t! So the term African-American might be stupidly trivial outside of the U.S., but it was probably never intended to be relevant outside of the U.S. As long as it serves its function of ethnic importance within the Black communities around America, it has perhaps served the necessary function that it was enlisted to serve. What Glenn Beck should ask himself is what does that say about America? And if he looks in the mirror of his beliefs and searches the fears of his insecurities, he’ll find that answer!

This is what makes the word African-American so special. It says that Black people have a lineage that pre-dates the brainwashed teachings of Jim Crow slavery. While echoing the plight of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, it also snatches the mantle of American equality from the bigoted hands of Jim Crow, by demanding that Black people be given the full endorsement of the United States’ Constitution and its full enforcement of everything that it stands for, like every other citizen grouping in this country by the American structures of government. Therefore, the only real discrepancy between the term African-American and American is the over-perceived, pigmented lineage of African blood in Blacks as opposed to the under-perceived, lack of a pigmented, African blooded lineage in Whites, which is the sandy bluff that racism has built its fortress on, where the term American has leaned more heavily towards Whites with the term African-American being a mollifying, runner-up prize for Blacks, and Glenn Beck should blame that on Jim Crow instead of Jim Brown!

To be fair to Glenn Beck and every other person who has campaigned against the word African-American, because they believe that only the word American is necessary, your point is well taken. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where all Americans were treated like Americans and were agreed upon to be Americans? Wouldn’t it be nice if statements from people like Sarah Palin about who is and who is not a real American were no longer needed and no longer harped on? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were no longer any Jim Crow, glass ceilings left to be shattered by the audacity of dreamers like President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor? Wouldn’t it be nice if the gay community had the uniform right to be married like heterosexuals, since we are all Americans? Wouldn’t it be nice if American Muslims could build a mosque anywhere they wanted to without someone trying to deny them a Jim Crow, building permit? Wouldn’t it be nice if those who are not Christians were openly pandered to and rhetorically coddled in the bosom of everything that is labeled as right in this country, and wouldn’t it be nice if the color of my African-American skin was not the greatest challenge to my status as an American and as a human being?

These are not the fights that Americans should still be having, but unfortunately these battles are still being waged. And as long as Americans are forced to fight for what should rightfully be theirs as Americans, the perception of what it means to be an American will continue to play second fiddle to the personal struggles that aren’t supposed to continue to be allowed to exist in this country. So to Glenn Beck and all of his ‘American only’ friends, it’s unrealistically gullible to expect or demand that the same society that belittles the humanity of a person to somehow have an epiphany and respect the nationalized status of that person. If you expect to find a utopian morality within the resistance of traditional, dug in corruption, then you should expect to search more than you should ever expect to find Mr. Beck!