African American

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Template:AfricanAmerican An African American (also Afro-American or Black American, or black) is a member of an ethnic group in the United States whose ancestors, usually in predominant part, were indigenous to Africa. Many African Americans have European, Native American and/or Asian ancestry as well. The term refers specifically to black African ancestry; not, for example, to white or Arab African ancestry, such as Moroccan or white South African ancestry. Blacks from non-African countries such as Haiti, Cuba, or the Dominican Republic are theoretically referred to by their nation of origin and not African American, but in general the cultural assumption in the U.S. is that if a person is black, native English-speaking and living in the United States, he or she is "African American."



The term "African American" has been in common usage in the United States since the late 1980s, when greater numbers of African Americans began to adopt the term self-referentially. Malcolm X favored the term "African American" over "Negro" and used the term at an OAAU (Organization of Afro American Unity) meeting in the early 1960s, saying, "Twenty-two million African-Americans - that's what we are - Africans who are in America."

Beginning in the 1980s, many blacks began to abandon the term "Afro-American", which had become popular in the 1960s and '70s, for "African-American," because they desired an unabbreviated expression of their African heritage that could not be mistaken or derided as an allusion to the afro hairstyle. The term became increasingly popular, and by the 1980s, Jesse Jackson and others pressed for its adoption and acceptance. Users of the term argued that "African-American" was more in keeping with the nation's immigrant tradition of so-called "hyphenated Americans", who were known by terms like "Irish-American", or "Chinese-American", "Polish-American"), which link people with their, or their ancestors', geographic points of origin.

Other terms used at various points in American history include Negroes, colored, blacks. Negro and colored were common until the late 1960s, but are now less commonly used and considered derogatory. African American, black and, to a lesser extent, Afro-American are used interchangeably today, but their precise meanings and connotations are in dispute.

The term African American is sometimes problematic because of its imprecise cultural and geographic meaning. The term as originally applied refers to only those descended from a small number of colonial indentured servants and the estimated 500,000 Africans taken to the U.S. as slaves (of approximately 11 million Africans taken to the western hemisphere in general). In slightly broader usage, the term can include Afro-Latino immigrants whose African ancestors also survived the Middle Passage, recent African immigrants and their children, with or without American citizenship, but these groups tend to use the ethnic terms Latino or Hispanic, or even Afro-Latino to identify themselves by their countries of origin (i.e., as Dominican or Jamaican instead of African American). The term does not include white, Indian or Arab immigrants from the African continent, as they are not generally considered indigenous Africans. Racial identification always has been somewhat arbitrary, depending on not only ancestry and geographical origin, but phenotype and group affiliation as well. Thus, large numbers of African Americans "passed" into the white community, and they and their descendants are not considered African American. The father of Senator Barak Obama was a man from Kenya and his mother of European descent. He was raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, and has chosen to identify with the African American community. Many other politicians, especially in New York City, are descended from West Indians, including Colin Powell and Shirley Chisholm. Walter White, longtime NAACP leader, appeared white, a point he emphasized in his autobiography A Man Called White (p. 3): "I am a Negro. My skin is white, my eyes are blue, my hair is blond. The traits of my race are nowhere visible upon me."[1]

In some contexts, the term African American has been used to refer to people such as the black Loyalists who never gave their allegiance to the USA. In, this context "American" refers to the Americas.

Current demographics

Image:USA 2000 black density.jpg According to 2003 U.S. Census figures, some 37.1 million African Americans live in the United States, comprising 12.9 percent of the total population. At the time of the 2000 Census, 54.8 percent of African Americans lived in the South. In that year, 17.6 percent of African Americans lived in the Northeast and 18.7 percent in the Midwest, while only 8.9 percent lived in the western states. Almost 88 percent of African Americans lived in metropolitan areas in 2000. With over 2 million black residents, New York City had the largest black urban population in the United States in 2000. Among cities of 100,000 or more, Gary, Indiana, had the highest percentage of black residents of any U.S. city in 2000, with 85 percent, followed closely by Detroit, Michigan, with 83 percent. Atlanta, Georgia, has a large African-American population of about 65 percent. The nation's capital, Washington, D.C., had a 60 percent black population.

Current trends contradict conventional discourse that represents African Americans as alienated and distant from the West in general and the United States in particular, and instead point to a continuation of a long-term trend toward parity with national levels and absolutely higher levels of affluence than those experienced by most populations outside the United States. By 2003, sex had replaced race as the primary factor in life expectancy in the United States, with African American females expected to live longer than white males born in that year [2]. In the same year, the gap in life expectancy between American whites (78.0) and blacks (72.8) had decreased to 5.2 years, reflecting a long term trend of this phenomenon [3]. The current life expectancy of African Americans as a group is comparable to those of other groups who live in developed nations. In 2004, African American workers had the second-highest median earnings of American minority groups after Asian-Americans, and African Americans had the highest level of male-female income parity of all ethnic groups in the United States [4]. Also, among American minority groups, only Asian Americans were more likely to hold white collar occupations (management, professional, and related fields) [5], and African Americans were no more or less likely than whites to work in the service industry [6]. In 2002, African American women had a lower fertility rate than the US average [7]. In 2001, over half of African American households of married couples earned $50,000 or more [8]. Although in the same year African Americans were over-represented among the nation's poor, this was directly related to the disproportionate percentage of African American families headed by single women; such families are collectively poorer, regardless of ethnicity [9]. Collectively, African Americans are more involved in the American politcal process than other minority groups in the US, indicated by the highest level of voter registration and participation in elections among these groups in 2004 [10]. Among those who complete high school, a significantly lower percentage of African Americans have a bachlor degree or better than their white counterpart[11], and African Americans collectively attain higher levels of education than immigrants to the United States[12] (despite conventional discourse that suggests that groups "fresh off the boat" arrive with higher value placed on education than African Americans).

Although the unemployment rate among African Americans (in 2002, approximately 11% [13] has typically been twice the rate among European Americans(app. 5% in the same year, [14]), it is still at or below rates found in France and Spain [15], [16], and is slightly higher than the overall rate of the European Union [17].

When compared to populations outside of the United States and European Union, the collective affluence of African Americans is even more striking and disproportionate. Based on worker income alone, African Americans produced $586 billion in 2004[18],[19], slightly smaller than the GDP of Brazil in 2006 (even though Brazil's population is about 5 times the size of the African American one) [20], and approximately 80% the size of Russia's 2005 GDP (even though Russia's population is nearly 4 times the size of the African American one [21]. In 2004 this amount would have been ranked as the 15th largest GDP internationally (out of 177 ranked) [22], compared to a population ranking of 33 in 2005 [23]. In 2005, the populations of Poland and African Americans were roughly equal, but the 2004 earnings of the latter group would have been nearly 2.5 times the size of the former's GDP in 2005[24]. In 2005, the Ukraine's population was approximately 10% larger than the African American population, but its GDP was over 8 times smaller than the 2004 earnings of the latter group. In Argentina, arguably the most developed Latin American country whose population is predominantly of European origin (97%), the unemployment rate is slightly higher than that of African Americans as a group, the poverty rate is almost twice the rate [25], and the 2004 earnings of African American workers were nearly 3.5 times the size of Argentina's 2005 GDP, even though Argentina's population is slightly larger than the African American population [26]. In Mexico, whose human development index is comparable to those of most former Second World countries, and whose economy ranks as a mid-income one, the poverty rate is twice the rate of African Americans as a group [27], and even though its 2005 population was nearly 3 times the population of African Americans, Mexico's GDP from the same year exceeded the 2004 earnings of African American workers by only 25%[28].

African American history

Main article: African American history Image:Harriet Tubman.jpg Blacks in America, like their White counterparts, are composed of many diverse ethnic groups. Over 40 identifiable ethnic groups from 25 different kingdoms were sold to the United States during the Triangular Slave trade. Slavery was introduced into European culture after the first crucades by Islamic slave traders, but didn't become accepted socially or legally until European expansion into the Americas. African kings in western costal accessible regions would wage war and organize abductions on neighboring clans, not for their lands but for people. In exchange for their enslaved bounty Europeans offered material goods but most importantly muskets and cannons. This of course only advanced the African kings riches and their ability to enslave more of their countrymen.[29]

Those enslaved Africans who survived the journey to America slowly developed a common identity focused on their mutual condition in America as opposed to cultural and historic ties to Africa. Africans were sold and traded into bondage and shipped to the American South from 1619. In 1807, the importation of slaves by U.S. citizens became illegal, yet the practice continued. By 1860, there were 3.5 million enslaved Africans in the Southern United States, and another 500,000 Africans lived free across the country. Slavery was a controversial issue in American society and politics. The growth of abolitionism, which opposed the institution of slavery, culminated in the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, and was one reason for the secession of the Confederate States of America, which lead to the American Civil War (1861 - 1865). Image:BookerTWashington-Cheynes.LOC.jpg The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 declared all slaves in the Confederacy free under U.S. law. It did not, however, apply to people enslaved in territories that were still in the Union, and thus did not immediately free a single enslaved person, since U.S. law held no sway over the Confederacy at the time. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1865, freed all enslaved people, including those in states that had not seceded. During Reconstruction, African Americans in the South obtained the right to vote and to hold public office, as well as a number of other civil rights they previously had been denied. However, when Reconstruction ended in 1877, southern, European American landowners reinstituted a regime of disenfranchisement and racial segregation, and with it a wave of terror and repression, including lynchings and other vigilante violence.

The desperate conditions of African Americans in the South that sparked the Great Migration of the early 20th century, combined with a growing African American intellectual and cultural elite in the Northern United States, led to a movement to fight violence and discrimination against African Americans that, like abolitionism before it, crossed racial lines. One of the most prominent of these groups, the NAACP, galvanized by outspoken journalist and activist Ida B. Wells Barnett, led an anti-lynching crusade. In the 1950s, the organization mounted a series of calculated legal challenges to overturn Jim Crow segregation, culminating in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision.

The Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board was one of defining moments of the modern-day Civil Rights Movement. It was part of a long-term strategy to strike down Jim Crow segregation in public education, the hospitality industry, public transportation, employment and housing, granting equal access to African Americans and ensuring their right to vote. The movement reached its peak in the 1960s under leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, and Roy Wilkins, Sr. At the same time, Nation of Islam spokesman Malcolm X and, later, Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panther Party, and the Republic of New Africa called for African Americans to embrace black nationalism and black self-empowerment, propounding ideas of African (black) unity and solidarity and pan-Africanism.

Contemporary issues

Template:NPOV-section Template:Cleanup-date Template:Main African Americans have significantly improved their social and economic standing since the Civil War, and even more so since the Civil Rights Movement, and recent decades have witnessed the expansion of a robust, African American middle class across the United States. At the same time, white racism has decreased throughout society, though pockets remain. Furthermore, affirmative action has given African-Americans unprecedented access to higher education and employment opportunities.

Despite this progress, African Americans as a group remain economically, educationally, and socially disadvantaged relative to whites, as well as relative to most other minorities. Economically, the median income of African Americans is roughly 55 percent of that of European AmericansTemplate:Fact. Persistent social, economic, and political issues for many African Americans include inadequate public education and health care access and delivery; discriminatory practices in policing, criminal justice, housing and employment; crime; poverty; and substance abuseTemplate:Fact. African Americans are also eight times more likely to be incarcerated than European-AmericansTemplate:Fact, which can be seen through the disproportionate African American population in several state penetentiaries. However, as of 2002 (the latest year for which data are available), African-Americans are also seven times more likely to commit murder than European-Americans<ref>Homicide Trends in the U.S.: Racial differences exist, with African-American disproportionately represented among homide victims and offenders 2004-09-28 </ref> (the Department of Justice figures cited here conflate Hispanics with European-Americans). Furthermore, the absolute number of African-American murderers has exceeded the absolute number of European-American murderers in every year since 1986. The victim rate for African-Americans is also high, with African-Americans six times more likely to be murdered than European-Americans.

African-Americans have a higher prevalence of some chronic health conditions.Template:Fact The out-of-wedlock birth rate for African-Americans, at 70%, greatly exceeds that of any other ethnic group, as well as the population as a whole. <ref>The Marriage Movement and the Black Church, 2004-06-02 </ref><ref>An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Births in the United States, August 1996</ref>. Rates of marriage and out-of-wedlock births are highly correlated to levels of poverty. The belief of education <ref></ref> as a means for African-Americans to get ahead has been in a strong decline since at least the 1970s. Much of the African-American community now views education, with the exception of sport programs, as a European-American and Asian-American instutution. For some, sports have replaced education as the means by which African-Americans can get get ahead.

These problems, as well as their sources and potential remedies, have been the subject of intense public policy debate in the United States in general, and within the African-American community in particular.


Main article: African American culture

African American culture is an amalgam of influences, including African, Caribbean, European, and Latino cultures. From its music and dance, to speech, demeanor, and foodways, African American culture bears the strong imprint of West Africa, particularly in rural portions of the Deep South and the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina.

African American culture, especially African American music, is one of the most pervasive cultural influences in the United States today. Hip hop, rock, R&B, funk, and other contemporary American musical forms evolved from blues, jazz, and gospel music. African American culture also gave rise to pop culture notions cool that have transcended American culture to become an international phenomenon. African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a dialect of English spoken by many African Americans to varying degrees.

Many African American authors have written stories, poems, and essays influenced by their experiences as African Americans, and African American literature is a major genre in American literature, notable among them Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Jessie Redmond Fauset, Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Gayle Jones and Walter Mosley.

The term African American

Political overtones

The term African American has important political overtones. Previous terms used to identify Americans of African ancestry were conferred upon the group by whites and were included in the wording of various laws and legal decisions which became tools of white supremacy and oppression. There developed among blacks in America a growing desire for a term of their own choosing.

With the political consciousness that emerged from the political and social ferment of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Negro fell into disfavor among many African Americans. It had taken on a moderate, accommodationist, even Uncle Tomish, connotation. In this period, a growing number of blacks in the U.S., particularly African American youth, celebrated their blackness and their historical and cultural ties with the African continent. The Black Power movement defiantly embraced black as a group identifier—a term they themselves had repudiated only two decades earlier—one often associated in English with things negative and undesirable, proclaiming, "Black is beautiful."

In this same period, others favored the term Afro-American. This particular term was popular for a time, but by the 1990s, the term African American emerged as the primary self-referential term of choice. Just as other ethnic groups in American society historically had adopted names descriptive of their families' geographical points of origin (such as Italian-American, Irish-American, Polish-American), many blacks in America expressed a preference for a similar term. Because of the historical circumstances surrounding the capture, enslavement and systematic attempts to de-Africanize blacks in the U.S. under chattel slavery, most African Americans are unable to trace their ancestry to a specific African nation; hence, the entire continent serves as a geographic marker.

For many, African American is more than a name expressive of cultural and historical roots. The term expresses African pride and a sense of kinship and solidarity with others of the African diaspora—an embracing of the notion of pan-Africanism earlier enunciated by prominent African thinkers such as Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois and, later, George Padmore.

A discussion of the term African American and related terms can be found in the journal article "The Politicization of Changing Terms of Self Reference Among American Slave Descendants" in American Speech v 66 is 2 Summer 1991 p. 133-46.

Who is African American?

To be considered African American in the United States of America, not even half of one's ancestry need to be black African. The nation's answer to the question "Who is black?" long has been that a "black" is any person with any known African ancestry. This definition reflects the long experience with racism, white supremacy, slavery, and, later, with Jim Crow laws.

In the Southern United States, it became known as the one-drop rule, meaning that a single drop of "black blood" makes a person "black". Some courts have called it the traceable amount rule, and anthropologists call it the hypo-descent rule, meaning that racially mixed persons are assigned the status of the subordinate group. This definition emerged from the American South to become America's national definition, generally accepted by whites and blacks -- but for different reasons. White supremacists, whose motivation was racist, considered anyone with African ancestry tainted, inherently inferior morally and intellectually and, thus, subordinate. During slavery, there was also a strong economic incentive to maximize the number of individuals who could be owned, bred, worked, traded and sold outright as human chattel. The designation of anyone possessing any trace of African ancestry as "black", and, therefore, of subordinate status to whites, guaranteed a source of cheap labor during slavery and for decades afterward. For African Americans, the one-drop system of racial designation was a significant factor in ethnic solidarity. African Americans generally shared a common lot in society and, therefore, common cause -- regardless of their ethnic admixture and social and economic stratification.

The United States Supreme Court formalized the legal status of this rule in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), where the Court affirmed the legality of racial segregation and upheld the State of Louisiana's ruling that, despite being 7/8 white, Homer Plessy's one black great-grandparent rendered him legally non-white and, therefore, subject to being barred from whites-only railway carriages.

Caucasoid peoples, Indians, Asians and Arabs are traditionally not considered African American, though they or their ancestors may have emigrated from the African continent after generations of residence. In relatively rare cases when South African whites, Caucasoid North Africans or Asian immigrants from Africa living in America have self-identified as African American in an attempt to benefit from Affirmative Action or other entitlement programs, their claims generally have not been upheld.

In the 1980s, interracial couples with children began to organize and lobby for the addition of a more inclusive term of racial designation that would reflect the heritage of their offspring. As a result, the term biracial has become more widely used and accepted to classify people who in another era would have been called mulattos. (Biracial also can refer to other racial admixtures.)

Terms no longer in common use

The term Negro, which was widely used until the 1960s, today increasingly is considered passé and inappropriate or derogatory. It is still fairly commonly used by older individuals, in the Deep South, and by medical/anthropological texts. Once widely considered acceptable, Negro fell into disfavor for reasons already herein stated. The self-referential term of preference for Negro became black.

Negroid is a term used by European anthropologists first in the 18th century to describe indigenous Africans and their descendants throughout the African diaspora. As with most descriptors of race based on inconsistent, unscientific phenotypical standards, the term is controversial and imprecise.

Other largely defunct, seldom used terms to refer to African Americans are mulatto and colored. Even so, the use of the word "colored" can still be found today in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP. The American use of the term mulatto originally was used to mean the offspring of a "pure African black" and a "pure European white". The Latin root of the word is mulo, as in "mule", implying incorrectly that—like mules, which are horse-donkey hybrids—mulattoes are sterile crosses of two different species. For example, in the early 20th century, African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass, who had enslaved blacks as mothers and white fathers, were referred to as mulattoes. While not as common as "mixed" or "biracial," or even "multiracial," mulatto is still sometimes used to refer to people of mixed parentage and, despite its origin, is not considered inherently derogatory.

The term quadroon referred to a person of one-fourth African descent, for example, someone born to a Caucasian father and a mulatto mother. Someone of one-eighth African descent technically was an octoroon, although the term often was used to refer to any white person with even a hint of black ancestry.

Mulatto and terms with the -roon suffix persisted in a social context for a number of decades, but by the mid twentieth century, they no longer were in common use. With the end of slavery, there was no longer a strong commercial incentive to classify blacks by their African-European ancestral admixture. The occasional use of these terms, however, does still persist in electronic media, literature and in some social settings.

Criticisms of the term

Some criticism has arisen with the use of the term "African American". To be African-American, some would argue that an individual would have to be born in Africa and then immigrate to U.S. and obtain citizenship. So an overwhelming majority of Black Americans would not be African-American, but of African American descent. It could also be argued that every human is of African descent, thus further weakening the term African American. Some inaccuracies also exist with the term. It is associated with black people; however, one could be of European ancestry and still technically be "African American" if they were born in Africa and immigrated to the U.S.

However, some counter that the "hyphenated American" is used to describe one's national origin, so any person born in Africa would take on the name of their country. For example, individuals from Nigeria would be called Nigerian-American as it describes their national origin as opposed to African-American. The term African-American is preferred among many because although the regional/national origin of black Americans in Africa is not traceable, due to slavery, the continent of Africa provides a descriptive term of themselves.

Black American population

Image:Blackp1.jpg The following gives the black population in the U.S. over time, based on U.S. Census figures. (Numbers from years 1920 to 2000 are based on U.S. Census figures as given by the Time Almanac of 2005, p 377)

Year Number Percentage of total population
1790 757,208 19.3% (highest historic percentage)
1800 1,002,037 18.9%
1810 1,377,808 19.0%
1820 1,771,656 18.4%
1830 2,328,642 18.1%
1840 2,873,648 16.8%
1850 3,638,808 15.7%
1860 4,441,830 14.1%
1870 4,880,009 12.7%
1880 6,580,793 13.1%
1890 7,488,788 11.9%
1900 8,833,994 11.6%
1910 9,827,763 10.7%
1920 10.5 million 9.9%
1930 11.9 million 9.7% (lowest historic percentage)
1940 12.9 million 9.8%
1950 15.0 million 10.0%
1960 18.9 million 10.5%
1970 22.6 million 11.1%
1980 26.5 million 11.7%
1990 30.0 million 12.1%
2000 34.6 million 12.3%

note: The CIA World Factbook gives the current 2005 figure as 12.9% [30]

See also

Other groups

Further reading

  • Jack Salzman, ed., Encyclopedia of Afro-American culture and history, New York, NY  : Macmillan Library Reference USA, 1996
  • African American Lives, edited by Henry L. Gates, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Oxford University Press, 2004 - more then 600 biographies
  • From Slavery to Freedom. A History of African Americans, by John Hope Franklin, Alfred Moss, McGraw-Hill Education 2001, standard work, first edition in 1947
  • Black Women in America - An Historical Encyclopedia, Darlene Clark Hine (Editor), Rosalyn Terborg-Penn (Editor), Elsa Barkley Brown (Editor), Paperback Edition, Indiana University Press 2005


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External links

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