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Commentary: Black vs. African American…What’s Your Choice?

 

 

As a public policy analyst, I often explore political viewpoints that are.lets say… much different than mine. So, frequently, I turn away from my vox.com and turn my attention to the much maligned, ratings juggernaut, Fox News. I never watch the live shows, as many of their classic big hitting pundits such as Bill O’Reilly and Megan Kelly.

Most of Fox News programming conflicts with other programming that has a much stronger pull of my viewing choice, shows that are unbiased and border on the offensive.  Recently, I found a topic being discussed that actually had some merit and the dialogue between the guests and anchors appeared to do what news should do- present many sides of an issue without a biased slant. The topic discussed was ‘Blackness. ‘

Fox News host Sean Hannity, on his self-titled show, “Hannity”, held a series of panels, which included the foremost “Black” conservatives in the country.

The prevailing opinion amongst the panelists is simply summed up as, ‘call us Black or call us nothing at all, but do not call us African American.’  The opinion of most of the guests, when asked whether they preferred to be called Black or African American, preferred being called Black.

The term ‘Black,’ which they referred to, was a colonial and even pre-colonial label for African peoples and was popularized during our nation’s civil rights movement.

“…when asked whether they preferred to be called Black or African American, preferred being called Black.”

 

Let’s begin with the term that seems to relate more to color than origin. The nomenclature, ‘Black,’ has existed throughout nearly every culture. In some, blackness is a positive, but in most, blackness is associated with the treachery of night, darkness, shadows, evil, abandon, hell and practically everything that is to be feared in our world. But, the term black was not used to describe and define a people until the European Middle-Ages, when in the Italian peninsula, Iberian Peninsula and other developing European countries and began to make contact with peoples of different North African and eventually sub-Saharan African places. From European merchants, traders, scholars, philosophers, priests, popes, Kings and Queens, there are recorded documents that display the general consensus that the darker skinned people of what was considered a seemingly new, unexplored and unconquered continent were not only different because of their skin color, but needed to be labeled with a term that would express every negative opinion Europeans generally held of such unknown foreigners.

Consequently, the color black was re-appropriated from describing phenomena and objects, to condemning the ancestors of those that would be procured, shipped and sold like objects during the peculiar phenomenon of colonial slavery.

In my lifetime, I have heard some argue that slavery was not a racially motivated institution. That most cultures, not just European or Eurocentric ones, enslaved people and created slave markets and networks.

It should then not come as a shock that Sean Hannity and his panel simply never confronted the truth: that ‘black’ was a designated term to exaggerate the color of African peoples in order to conflate and equate them with fear, darkness, and sin. Blackness, throughout the next centuries, would be considered more of a vice than a virtue, to quote Marcus Garvey.  But, if race is a social construct, then shouldn’t terms like black or blackness be redefined, as a term of endearment, like many other words that were once exclusively used as slurs? To answer that, let’s look at the term many civil rights leaders and supporters employed as a response to being labeled African American.

The panel on “Hannity” was representative of the status of most people of African descent and does not know where in Africa their ancestors originated. The explanation for lack of knowledge about their African ancestry dates back as far as the initial voyage by slaves brought to the United States. Although to the European slave traders, “they” all looked alike, that could not be further from the truth. Tribal, region and language differences across the African continent were as varied as our multicultural melting pot in this country today. The separation of families, mother from children and father from wife, as slaves were traded away, contributed to further fracturing of the family unit for the enslaved.

It is not surprising that hundreds of years later, we are still searching for our roots. The opinions of the Black conservatives on “Hannity” uncovers the fact that while we are stronger, connected in some ways, and can rally behind a cause as one people. But, when the dust settles, and the marching and protesting goes away, our differences remain divisive and the struggle with identity still keeps us separated. Are we ‘Black’ or ‘African American?’ What’s your choice?

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