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What’s Your Identity? Black vs. African American

With an exceedingly abundant array of black people living in the United States and Donald Trump recently renaming Black History Month, it is only right to question what do you identify yourself as?

This is not to disregard the rich and heavily historical coated feats that African Americans strived for and achieved. Black people in America have made a tremendous contribution to healing the plight of our race, to molding our culture, and to the fight against oppression and repression, but our history is embedded with more than “America.”

It goes deeper than the textbook narratives that provide all but enough content about who we are, where we came from, and the resilience we have and continue to display. Personally, when I hear the term “African-American history,” my thoughts revert directly to our beginnings; no, not the ones where we developed empires and were kings and queens, but the beginnings that consist of us being counted as three-fifths of a man.

T’was the first day of Black History Month 2017 and in a press conference where he was flanked by Omarosa and Ben Carson, the fulfillment of his “I have black friends” spiel, Donald Trump stated empty and seemingly dubious remarks toward notable black figures (including Frederick Douglass, who “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more”). Maybe he’ll invite Frederick Douglass to the White House next.

The new president, just two weeks in, declared February as National African American History Month.

This came only after him saying that Black History Month is to “honor the history of African-Americans throughout our country. Throughout the world, if you really think about it, right?”

When I heard this I thought African-Americans throughout the world? How does that work? What makes it okay for someone to generalize an entire race of people into one nationality? Does Trump categorize every black person as African-American? Should Black History Month not include the history of the whole black populace? 

The battle between labels- black, African-American, Caribbean-American, Afro-Carribean- leaves one to toil with this thought: what do you identify yourself as?

Now, while I do completely understand and respect Rev. Jesse Jackson’s logic behind presenting the term “African-American” because it provides people of color with a connection to a home base which we were denied, I also am from New York. A place where blacks such as Haitians, Nigerians, Trinidadians, and native Brooklynnites all intermingle in the same corner stores, live in the same apartment buildings, and attend the same schools.

I have a first hand experience of what being black in America is like…and I’m not just talking about the systemic racism imposed on us. I’m alluding to the massive assemblage of multiculturalism we see every single day. Blackness in this country is its own not so little melting pot within America’s larger one.

If the term African-American refers to the descendants of slaves in America, why would a white person, born in Africa living in America, identify themselves as such? If the term African-American refers to the descendants of slaves in America, why would my grandmother, born in Guyana, identify herself as such, as opposed to Guyanese-American? We are not all African-Americans.

The integration of assorted black people in America and native-born blacks calls for the population to acknowledge that there are a plethora of labels and identities, yet a misrepresentation and devaluation of the reality that there are masses of people from all over who share the same skin color, but differ immensely in ethnic and cultural essence.

The black diaspora is rooted deeper than America.

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About Tayzah M. Peeples

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