Please, Don’t Call Me “African-American!”
Friday, March 31st, 2017 @ 11:11AM
Please, Don’t Call Me “African-American!”
Join our “American Identity Project”
By Ward Connerly
I was born in Leesville, LA in 1939. At birth, I was “colored.” From that moment until now, the color of my skin (race) has been the factor that my society has tried to use to define me. Later in my life, the identity label for me was “Negro,” which was replaced by “Black.” Currently, the assigned label is “African-American.” It is at this point that I, and many others, say “Enough!”
There is so much that is reprehensible about race classifications created and administered by our government, but I find the label “African-American’’ – and other such hyphenations of the American identity – to be especially objectionable. The hyphen is an invisible barrier to the full Americanization of black people, and others to a lesser extent. Identifying black people as “African-American” also perpetuates the odious “one-drop” rule, which has such a horrible history in America. Moreover, the label of African-American is based on the presumption of a person’s ancestry. More likely than not it is based on a dominant feature, such as hair texture or lips. What a ridiculous way to interact with our fellow Americans!
Lest we forget, the decade of the 1960s was the period during which it was thought that the issue of race was solved. “Jim Crow” laws were wiped away, the Supreme Court struck down the anti-miscegenation laws that were written to prevent “race-mixing,” and the 1964 Civil Rights Act was enacted. Equally significant is the fact that the general direction on race was framed by President Kennedy when he said “race has no place in American life or law.” Even more significantly, it was the 1960s that produced the national goal of assimilating black people into the American mainstream.
Instead of assimilation, however, the pursuit of diversity became the overriding objective of most American institutions, particularly universities, in the late 1980s. As a result, the goal of black assimilation into the American mainstream was aborted.
We would do well to remember that the label of African-American was coined in the 1980s with the supposed objective of giving descendants of American slaves and other American blacks a heritage and cultural base of their own. The examples of “German-American” and “Irish-American” were cited when the cultural debate about this issue took place. It was thought by many that impetus for this term was supplied by Jesse Jackson when he used the term and the rationale for its use in 1988.
In truth, the overwhelming majority of Americans who happen to be “black” have no cultural or emotional attachment to Africa. Therefore, in that respect, the rationale for this label is fundamentally flawed. For me, I will always remember the words of my “designated father”, Uncle James, who detested being called an African-American: “Boy, this (America) is your home. Africa ain’t your home.” It is extremely important that our society truly understand this point, and actively seek to increase the number of black people who consider America their “home.” Far too many black people consider themselves isolated from American life, feeling no emotional attachment to our nation.
Like most Americans, black people are extremely diverse. Many have more Irish and Native American roots in their family tree than African. I personally identify with this diversity, due to my Choctaw and Irish maternal grandparents. It is time that this “diversity” be acknowledged. This reality becomes all the more compelling when placed in the context of children of interracial marriage, a fact which renders the African-American label even more problematic.
Although the government certainly plays a significant role, the issue of race is governed, to a very large extent, by how we as individual citizens view the matter and how we conduct ourselves. In this regard, language is extremely important. When we divide Americans by the use of hyphens into separate racial groups, we fracture the American family and we create incalculable division. Therefore, I am asking all who share this view to join our ACRI “American Identity Project” and to pledge to abandon the practice of identifying or addressing Americans by the use of hyphens. If one must refer to a fellow American’s identity, describe the person rather than imputing an ethnic, racial or national background.
Our nation has consistently demonstrated pride regarding our values, with equality for all Americans being high on the list of guiding principles. In the end, how we conduct ourselves with respect to race will determine how faithful we will be seen as having been to this specific value. Accordingly, America must take the critical step of adopting policies that reflect our commitment to true equality. This means fully terminating all programs and policies that give preferential treatment (affirmative action) on the basis of race. This also means getting rid of the hyphen.
There is a significant number of people who flock to our shores and to our borders on a daily basis wanting to call America their home. This fact suggests to me that we should willingly bestow this honor on those who are born in this precious place. They should be full Americans at birth, not hyphenated versions of the American identity.
Ward Connerly is president of the American Civil Rights Institute, a former Regent of the University of California and author of “Lessons from my Uncle James.”