I identify myself as a black man. I was born in Lincoln Park, MI in 1977 as a citizen of the United States. As far as I can remember, I’ve been known as black all my life. As I grew older, I heard some of the other names that people who look like me have been referred to and wondered about why if at all the monikers were relevant. President Trump recently announced that this month of February is officially called National African-American History Month. Some members of my community do not appreciate the idea of the president changing the name from Black History Month. After pondering why this would upset anyone, I came to the conclusion that it’s not only what you say, or how you say it. By whom it is said also plays an important role. In other words, if former president Barrack Obama suggested the change from BHM to NAAHM, my community would likely praise the change. Black people (or African-Americans) want to make our own decision on how we are to be referred, and we don’t need any help from that white guy living in that White House.
We were first called slaves, since before the start of the country, and kept that status along with several derogatory names that came along with slavery. After the enslavement of humans became illegal in 1865, the populous began to call us “Freedman.” In the late 1880s as the older former slave population began to die off, Whites began using the term colored to describe those who were born free. Colored did not hold for long because black folks felt it set them aside from the rest of the country without giving them an exact sense of identity. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of the country’s biggest civil rights organizations, was formed in 1909 and it is surprising that its name has not been modified. During the same time that colored was being used, the black free press attempted to have us called “Afro-American” to mirror the white immigrant’s national trend of pride in names such as Irish-American or Italian-American. Though Afro-American did not find footing at that time, a derivative would appear later and continue to the present day.
1776-1865 – Slave
1865-late 1880’s – Freedman
Late 1880’s-1915 – Colored (Afro-American suggested)
1915-1960 – Negro
1960-1990 – Black
1990-Present – Black/African-American
(Present proposition –
The Global Majority)
The word Negro began to be used from the early 1900s and lasted through 1960. Negro is the word in some dialects that is a direct translation to black. This began to set the blacks apart demographically from other people of color such as the Asians and Natives.
Black people accepted the term Negro as it gave them a separate national identity, but that word was too close phonetically to that other N-word that has always been so hateful. In the 1960s, amidst protests and struggles for national identities across the country, the word black emerged. This was the first time in the history of the nation that we took control of what we would be called. Black was a simple descriptive that in itself was extremely powerful. Black, however, was not accepted by a lot of people of color due to the negative denotation of the word. If black folks are known for anything, it’s making a positive out of something negative; Black Power, Black is Beautiful, the Blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice, etc. In 1988, The Rev. Jesse Jackson, along with other black leaders, decided that African-American was an all-inclusive word that should be used to address blacks in the country. African-American shows not only pride in one’s heritage, but serves as a name of assimilation in this great melting pot.
President Trump, you are not wrong for officially naming February National African-American History month. It is in your rights as the leader of this nation to do so. I prefer black myself, but maybe that has only to do with the generation to which I was born. Although African-American does not bother me in the slightest, let’s just wait until our next black president to be elected before we go changing names.