It's OK to Say Black

It's OK to say Black!

In Her Words

It’s OK to Say Black

Black or African-American — what’s the right label?

-Jennifer Trannon

two people holding handsAs the white wife of a black man, I am often asked questions people are dying to ask but afraid to, for fear of offending others. The No. 1 question (after “is it really true what they say…?”) is “What are we supposed to say, “Black” or “African-American?” It’s a good question. There are so many conflicting messages out there that it’s hard for well-meaning people to know the preferred label. People often say nothing for fear of saying the wrong thing. And while part of me wishes we didn’t have such a need to assign labels in the first place, they are a reality in our society.

So, the question remains: Should we say “Black” or “African-American”?

The complicated answer, of course, is that no single person can answer this question, or any question, for an entire group of people. Some people prefer to call themselves Black, while others prefer African-American. But that doesn’t help much, does it?

Here is my short answer: Every Black person I know calls himself (or herself) Black. Likewise, of all the Black people with whom I have personally discussed this issue, not one of them is offended by being called Black.

Very often people will say African-American as a default because it seems to be more politically correct. Most of the Black people I know have the exact opposite reaction to it, however. African-American feels forced, or like you’re trying too hard, or like you don’t know what to say (which is often the case). Additionally, many Blacks in the United States are not actually African-American, including Africans, Jamaicans, Cubans and Haitians, to name a few.

As my husband declared, James Brown didn’t say “Say it loud, I’m African-American and I’m proud!” He said, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud!”

As a general rule, the term African-American is appropriate in a formal or professional setting, such as when giving a speech or in a job interview. In everyday conversation, though, it’s OK to say Black.

As for the first question, you didn’t really think I was going to tell you the answer, did you?


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0 thoughts on “It's OK to Say Black

  1. loubell says:

    I agree with what you say. All of my friends of color prefer to be called Black and they seem to always refer to themselves that way. All this political correctness is a drag!

  2. Aztecia says:

    I had heard of some African-Americans/Blacks get a little miffed when called African-American because they felt it made them second-class citizens – or even a subtle continuation of segregation. I’ve heard a man be referred to as African-American, to which he replied “No, I am American – I was born here, my parents were born here, my grandparents were born here”.

  3. Adelle says:

    Loubell: ALL your friends of color? What about friends from Brazil, Mexico, India, Vietnam, or Greece? Do they prefer to be called Black? LOL

  4. chaucerleelou says:

    Hi Adelle, lighten up! I think in the end, you should ask your friend what they want to be referred to as. In the end, we’re all just people, adding labels to everyone is totally lame.

  5. CAMUS890 says:

    I agree. HOW about referring to someone by their first name and not some stupid title that someone came up with about 10 years ago.

  6. Fern says:

    This is a great article — it’s so rare that anyone talks about it so openly. I always feel awkward asking, but this was really useful…thank you!

  7. PattyMosso says:

    Thank you for Writing this , I am also a White female in a Long Term relashionship with my man now for OVER 13 years. We have two kids together, And yes he is a Black man. I love him so much, And he loves me. We get looks, Questions and sometimes rude comments. But Like I tell others. This is my life. I love my life. Live yours. We are ok with us, So we dont care what others think. I wish I had more friends that are in mixed relashionships. But I dont have very many at all. But this is a Great post. Thank you again.
    Patty Mosso – Pgh PA

  8. Ivory Keys says:

    Well of course it would be better to use people’s names, but in the real world we use labels and descriptors to identify people, especially if we don’t know them. If you’re pointing out someone on the other side of the room, you’re not going to say, “the lady over there named Mary” if the person you’re talking to doesn’t know Mary. You’re going to say the blonde lady or the tall lady or the lady in the red dress. The purpose of this article was simply to let people know that when using a descriptor for Black people, it’s ok to use Black. Another article on this topic can be found here if you’re interested: http://www.bettyconfidential.com/ar/h/a/a01584.html

  9. Adeva says:

    @chaucerleelou: Adelle doesn’t really need to lighten up, she was only pointing out that there are other ‘coloured’ people besides blacks

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