Donít Call Me African-American rejects politically correct labels as the work of a society who, in its quest not to offend, ends up offending one womanís sensibility about who she is. Join the author as she describes a life riddled with rejection from other blacks for being ďtoo white.Ē Celebrate with her as she learns, over the course of decades, how little her color has to do with becoming a person she likes. Enriched with the wisdom of Whoopi Goldberg and Keith Richburg, the author lays bare her feelings about her journey to wholeness. Call her Negro. Call her Black. Better yet, call her a Black American. Just donít call her African-American.
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Several decades ago, when women gave birth, most doctors gave them medicine to dry up their milk because science developed formula, and it became superior, in peopleís minds, to motherís milk. Then time proved something disturbing. Formula was good for a lot of babies, but not all babies. Asthma escalated. Colds and flu increased. Children were weaker, sicker, and gained normal weight less quickly. Constipation was suddenly on the rise, and puzzled mothers were frequenting their pediatricianís office more and more, clutching cranky babies.
Then scientists did studies. The problem? They found that the antibodies in motherís milk did more than glide an infant through the first few months of life. Its effects often last throughout a life time. Magazines, books, and talk shows began to urge child-bearing mothers to get back to nursing if at all possible.
The term African-American is like formula. It arose as an answer to outdated names for persons with obvious ties to the African continent. Many dark skinned Americans are searching for nutrients to feed them and help them grow, and theyíre looking for it in the formula of being labeled African-American.
Many black Americans are lost in the mire of a prominently white world. They struggle with developing a healthy identity in themselves and their race, which leads to struggles in education, society, jobs, churches, and home.
Answers have been submitted: A special black language, clothes, and music, including spirituals, jazz, and rap, to name a few. All these have lent black people a stamp of individuality.
However, changing what we are called is perhaps the most pervasive attempt to label ourselves with pride and individuality. The problem is, some blacks expect all blacks to embrace these labels so that the old, unflattering associations attached to black people would be forgotten. The black race has attempted to leave a positive mark on the world, and the first way to do that is to get each other to accept what is considered truly black.
After several decades of depreciating labels for dark skinned persons, the universal atonement of being labeled African-American is readily accepted and violently defended as the proper label. Because of many advancements made, dark skinned persons have gone from being called colored to Negroes to blacks to African-Americans. The term African-American is a generic attempt to restore pride in blacks, and link them with their rich roots of heritage and culture.
The truth is that a true African is far from a black American, in thinking, living, working, and traditions, and most black Americans do not understand this fully. Many blacks have never met a true African, nor have they studied the politics, culture, religion, kudos or problems of the African people.
Nevertheless, calling oneself an African-American is an attempt to connect to ďthe motherlandĒ, a bridge to a distant past in which we originated. However, wearing the clothes, visiting the land, speaking the language, and bequeathing African names to our children does not an true African make.
The term African-American, for me, builds its foundation too close to the unwise sixties and seventies, years in which loyalty to the black race was required and demanded of all blacks, and if not given, extracted through extortion-style methods.
Today we have a new, less violent version of the same thing: political correctness. Political correctness in general offers a watered-down version of reality, but by whose definition?
The answer: someone who decided that a particular cure-all would appease anyone who might be offended. By embracing a politically correct definition of oneself, that person is releasing themselves from an individual responsibility. That person is drinking formula with the masses because itís the best panacea to come along so far, and there donít seem to be any adverse effects.
For me, embracing myself as an African-American means that I have accepted someone elseís definition of who I am because my skin color says it is so.
Like formula, I am allergic to this solution. Breast-feeding is a very personal thing. It is a choice new mothers must make, and parenting articles regularly state that new mothers are still choosing formula over breast-feeding by a wide margin. Breast-feeding is not as easy to do in public. It takes courage. It makes that mother stand out.
Refusing to be labeled African-American also takes courage. It causes perplexed whites to wonder why some like it and some donít. Enthusiastic black people cast sideways glances at those who donít choose the label. Again, itís a personal choice, one I have to pay for because thatís my decision.
I, like the first few rebels to proclaim that babies should have motherís milk whenever possible, also maintain that a strong identity thatís going to do good for self needs to start with finding out who you are. I have never felt any surer or stronger as a person by trying to get in touch with the black me. My growth has come from the struggles of my soul, my upbringing, my dreams, society, jobs, marriage, family, and friends.
Connecting to my blackness has always been for me a secondary goal. I am human first, and thatís where my efforts have gone.
A strong, balanced self-identity started at my own family roots, not the mass of African and black American roots world wide. Many black Americans have no roots they are aware of, and sadly many have a nasty legacy only as far back as a bad father or mother. How can a child raised amid gangs and drugs trace his or her roots? Is there time? Luxury? Generally not. Prevailing each day is the larger task.
Yet that is closer to the answer than shouting slogans, chanting rap, and brandishing an attitude with clothes, a secret black language, and loud music. Who are you? I want to ask every time a black youth kills, dies from drug overdoses, joins a gang, or any other of the horrific acts of most young people today. You donít know who you are, do you? You donít know where you came from. And you donít know where youíre going. So youíve got a lot of anger at the system, at the white men, at the rich man, at anybody you can blame. And with good reason.
I cannot blame white masters for the heinous, unspeakable crimes they levied against the black race a century ago and beyond. I cannot because it did not happen to me personally. What happened to another set of ancestors is horrible, but I cannot hate because of it. I can only speak from my own ancestorís experience, and it was not altogether a terrible one. I have looked hard at my roots, and I have learned that I am simply, a black American.