Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Go Back to Black


Published: February 27, 2008


I’M black again. I was black in Mississippi in the 1970s but sometime in the 1980s I became African-American, with a brief pause at Afro-American. Someone, I think it was Jesse Jackson, in the days when he had that kind of clout, managed to convince America that I preferred being African-American. I don’t.

Now I live in Britain where I’m black again. Blacks in Britain come from all over, although many are from the former colonies. According to the last census, about half of the British people who identify as black say they are black Caribbean, about 40 percent consider themselves black African, and the rest just feel plain old black. Black Brits are further divided by ancestral country of origin, yet they are united under the term black British — often expanded to include British Asians from the Indian subcontinent.

The term African-American was contrived to give black Americans a sense of having a historical link to Africa, since one of slavery’s many unhappy legacies is that most black Americans don’t know particulars about their origins. Black Americans whose ancestors arrived after slavery and who can pinpoint their country of origin are excluded from the definition — which is why, early in his campaign, people said Barack Obama wasn’t really African-American. Yet, since he has one parent from the African continent and one from the American continent, he is explicitly African-American.