By Ahtiya Liles
African-American. African-American. African-American. African-American. African-America.
The more you say it, the weirder it begins to sound. And before I start, let me be very clear: saying that the term ‘African-American’ grinds my gears is not me denying my blackness because, NEWS FLASH, African-American and Black are not synonymous, no matter how much people try to tell you this.
In my African-American Lit class, we had to read an excerpt from Alexander G. Weheliye’s “Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity.” The line that struck me the most in Weheliye’s “Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity” is the first line in the introduction: “[The Negro] is not a visitor in the West, but a citizen there, and American.” This is something I am constantly thinking about it, my level of American-ness being a black person in this country. I am almost forced into the category of African-American, mostly because it makes others around me more comfortable. Saying I’m black is almost too harsh for white counterparts, as if it’s a reminder of slavery or the fact that my ancestors used to be slaves or something. It is slightly entertaining watching people stumble over the term ‘African-American’ because they wanted to say ‘black,’ but something didn’t feel right. Maybe you stumbled over the word ‘African-American’ for a reason.
For me, however, the term ‘African-American’ makes me uncomfortable. Giving my American citizenship an adjective of ‘African’ forces me into a category of “otherness.” I cannot be just American – I must be African-American. I am black before I am anything else in this country, and the term ‘African-American’ is proof of that. You don’t see white people calling themselves ‘European-American,’ which would be the equivalent since both Africa and Europe are entire continents. Instead, white people call themselves ‘white’ and it’s not considered harsh or a reminder of anything. Being white is the default race in this country, and if you try to deny this fact, then you’re blind.
‘African-American’ is just a watered down version of black and an attempt to separate black people from different places. Plus, I am not directly from Africa. BEFORE you get up in arms and call me Raven-Symone, keep reading. What I mean by this is that neither I nor my parents nor my grandparents nor my great-grandparents were born in Africa. Usually, when a person identifies as Jamaican-American or Haitian-American it is because they or their parents or their grandparents were born there and emigrated from there to America. My ancestry does not have that privilege of being able to pinpoint where in the continent of Africa we originated from. I would love this opportunity to know where in Africa my genes stem from, before they were watered down with rape and slavery and years of oppression. While I would love to know where in Africa I come from, I would also like the privilege to claim my American citizenship without being forced to remember that I’m an outcasted group in this country.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is why I dislike the term ‘African-American.’