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Ask the White Guy: Is a White Person From Africa an African-American?

Ask the White Guy Luke Visconti Explains the History Behind the term African-AmericanQ: A reader commented on our article ‘You Must Have Voted for Obama’: 5 Things NEVER to Say to Blacks. He quoted a portion of that article and made an observation that makes for a good teachable moment. 

“Don’t assume all Blacks are African-American; there also are people who are African, Afro-Latino, Afro-European, Afro-Caribbean, etc.”
Thank you for posting that. One of my best friends in high school was Black but traced his ancestry back to France. It bothered him whenever someone referred to him as “African-American.”

On the flip side, one of my son’s best friends in high school was born in America, but both of his parents were born and raised in Africa. He could legitimately be called “African-American” but probably never will be since all of them are Caucasian.

Just goes to show, you can’t judge a book by its cover … or a person by his/her color.

A: Yes and no. I acknowledge that you posted your comment with positive sincerity; however, I agree with your first point, but not the second.

“African-American” refers to descendants of enslaved Black people who are from the United States. The reason we use an entire continent (Africa) instead of a country (e.g., “Italian-American”) is because slave masters purposefully obliterated tribal ancestry, language and family units in order to destroy the spirit of the people they enslaved, thereby making it impossible for their descendants to trace their history prior to being born into slavery. This was all in an effort to prevent enslaved people from organizing and revolting their bondage (look up Nat Turner).

Enforcing illiteracy of enslaved people (by law, with severe penalties—including death in some cases—for teaching an enslaved person to write) and obliterating any sense of history or familial ties was a tradition in our country starting in 1619 (before the Revolution) and ending after the Civil War. (One can argue that this practice continued into the 20th century.) This is why our African-American fellow citizens cannot trace their heritage past the continent of Africa. I’ll re-emphasize this point: Their personal and family history was purposefully obliterated by people who enslaved other people.

For purposes of respect, as well as providing context to current-day events and economic realities, it is important to acknowledge and understand this part of American history. America is unique in having people who are African-American. For a personal insight into what all this means, I suggest you read Frederick Douglass’ autobiography My Bondage and My Freedom. In addition to learning history in a very real and first-person way, you‘ll also learn things about our language—for example, the bone-chilling origin of the common phrase “sold down the river.” For an outstanding overview of the repercussions of slavery in the modern-day era, I most strongly recommend Michelle Alexander’s recent book The New Jim Crow.

In the case of your son’s friend, post-slavery immigrants from a country in Africa can readily identify themselves by where they came from—it’s on their passports. Black immigrants from Africa can identify themselves by country and tribe (keep in mind that country boundaries in Africa are chiefly colonial constructs). A modern-day immigrant from Africa may refer to him- or herself by a hyphenated identity—“Sudanese-American,” for example.

A special note for the people who email me about their white ancestors who were enslaved: Virginia codified slave laws to be exclusive to Black people in 1705 (establishing white supremacy), and indentured servitude was ended by the early 1800s. Comparing indentured servitude of white people to the history of African-Americans is insulting, in my opinion, and I won’t entertain it in this publication.

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120 Comments

  • Thank you for writing this piece, as I believe many people are misinformed on this topic. I’m interested, however, to hear your thoughts on people from northern African countries claiming to be Black just because they are from the continent of Africa. To me, Black Africans typically are from sub-Saharan countries of Africa, and not from Morocco or Libya, etc. And in fact, most people from those northern African countries do NOT want to be identified as Black. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Luke Visconti

      I’m glad you asked this question. In my opinion, this situation is encapsulated by the history of Sudan. European (Christian) and Arab (Muslim) colonialism instituted a great deal of evil practices, including racism, into the continent of Africa. The latest neocolonial opportunists are the Chinese, who have come under increasing criticism for carpetbagging business projects in several African countries. Look up the term “pigmentocracy” for some very interesting reading. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

    • White Person with Dark Skin

      The answer is rubbish good intentioned or not. Any post slavery immigrant from ANY African country who identifies as African-American is afforded 100% of all benefits (albeit not much, and albeit not enough) offered as part of the white guilt that has taken over the USA. When good intentioned people honestly try to right a wrong that can never be made right, they unintentionally create bad policy. Nobody, regardless of race, ethnicity, color, creed, sexual preference or any other trait that one is born with or into should be discriminated against. However, none of the above should be treated better than or different than any other person. Period. To do so is merely sexist, racist, homophobic, low class, ill conceived and just, well its just dumb if you’re honest with yourself

      • Luke Visconti

        What crap. With your reasoning, if someone robbed your house of something of negligible value but, in the process of the crime, left you a paraplegic, then the judge should not take that into consideration because your disability had no remedy. This kind of garbage could only be said by someone who is in the majority culture.

        I was introduced to a distinguished Indian professor who opined that injustices due to the caste system might take hundreds of years to rectify—and that people needed to be patient. I told him he was lucky that Dalits don’t have access to our Second Amendment, because a time period that might be reasonable for upper-caste people might not seem so reasonable to someone who isn’t. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • @White Person

        That a pretty ignorant statement to make. This country was built off the backs of black Americans—-we EARNED the right to be citizens of this country after 300 years of slavery (and an extra 100 of Jim crow, which was basically “slavery by another name”—that’s also the title of a book,BTW.) , even when we had no rights because white people did everything in their power to keep us from getting the, and that’s why we had to fight as hard as we could for them. And talking about never being able to right a wrong—-we can’t change the past, but we still have to fight the discrimination and racism that was started during slavery and that this country STILL thrives on today. And Africans being offered benefits—hello, they come here to get an education, they don’t get offered anything more special than anyone else.

        And talking about “white guilt”—nobody’s asking you or any other white person to feel guilty about anything–get over that,please. White people had a vested interest in keeping both discrimination and racism since it mainly benefited them—how convenient of you to forget. I wish white folks would stop throwing up that “white guilt” trope, because you only do it when you don’t want to hear anything about the reality of racism, because it never happens to you/you can’t relate.

        • Remember that white Irish were enslaved by the British and were actually cheaper to purchase than black slaves at the time. The Irish slave trade began when James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies. By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat. At that time, 70% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves.

          Ireland quickly became the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants. The majority of the early slaves to the New World were actually white.

          From 1641 to 1652, over 500,000 Irish were killed by the English and another 300,000 were sold as slaves. Ireland’s population fell from about 1,500,000 to 600,000 in a single decade. Families were ripped apart as the British did not allow Irish dads to take their wives and children with them across the Atlantic. This led to a helpless population of homeless women and children. Britain’s solution was to auction them off as well.

          During the 1650s, over 100,000 Irish children between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In this decade, 52,000 Irish (mostly women and children) were sold to Barbados and Virginia. Another 30,000 Irish men and women were also transported and sold to the highest bidder. In 1656, Cromwell ordered that 2000 Irish children be taken to Jamaica and sold as slaves to English settlers.

          • Irish prisoners v. African freemen/royalty…. not exactly apples to apples.

          • In response to the Sydney comment of Irish prisoners V. African freemen/royalty. if you read the four line it says political prisoners these were usual people of Royalty and freemen that stood up to the English for their own lands one such Dynasty being the oldest continuing Dynasties in the world being the O’Neil family, my family and they are still fighting for their lands today. So when you say not exactly apples for apples, how about using some of those so called journalistic skills and research it. You will find that they are linked to most of your presidents and even your current one. So how’s them apples for yah?

          • Thank you for that, Demos. It is conveniently overlooked that the enslavement of Europeans to the colonies paved the way for the enslavement of Africans to the colonies, and that slavery already existed in both Europe and Africa long before Native Americans’ land was invaded by both Europeans and Africans.

        • Your right, no one can change the past but white people are still being held personally responsible for what happened in the past. That’s where the white guilt comes in. You’re absolutely right, no one is asking us to feel guilty, we are being made to feel guilty.

          • Luke Visconti

            With the overwhelming and vastly disproportionate share of wealth and positions of power, based on a legacy of racist behavior, it’s childish to think that the average white person does not retain an enormous advantage in our society. Guilt is a symptom of a normal, healthy mind. One might say it’s the “Christian” thing to feel (given that white people in this country are overwhelmingly Christian). But your post, like the two dozen posts I received from white supremacists over this weekend, reminds me of a quote I have heard attributed to Mark Twain: “Christianity is a great religion—we should try it someday.” Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

          • If only it were the past, Blacks are still hated and discriminated against black people are still being murdered and imprisoned unjustly all over the world. I personally don’t know any white people who speak out against it let alone feel guilty. My intelligence tells me that there must be some who don’t share the sentiment of racist America just like in slavery whites families hid blacks in their homes to help escape slavery and white people marched with Dr King but it certainly was a minority, fearing the backlash of being called a nigger lover. We black people know the majority of white America and abroad will never view us a equal and on some level that makes it easier to dismiss the past horrors of slavery and racism we’ve endured and still face. If America our rich country was truly guilty or even sorry for the wrong white America perpetrated against us, they are some many ways it could make restitution. However she insists she owes us nothing not even an apology or acknowledgement of guilt… Smh!!!!

        • So people who are not white cannot be racist, and white people are never victims of racism?

          • Luke Visconti

            That’s correct. Nonwhite people can be bigoted. White people can be the victim of bigotry, but not racism. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • I want to know what benefits do black people get in this country, because I have been black all of my life and no one has ever given me a thing. So will you please let me know where the “Blacks” benefit line is so I can take my spot???

      • I’m going to have to whole heartedly agree with you. Of we want racial equality we have to stop raising one race over the other, whether that’s thru a “white people have the advantage” mentality or affirmative action. As Morgan freeman said “you want to get rid of racism? Stop talking about it.” There are plenty of black people who are just as successful as whites, but they didn’t get to the successful position they are in by having a mentality that white people are holding me down. I have met several black females in college including my ex from Nigeria who won’t date black men anymore because of how they act and this victim mentality (among many other mentalities) they have. We can’t get anywhere in america if we keep trying to raise ourselves above others or keep pointing fingers at others trying to blame someone for our own short comings.

      • Are you stupid or just hate-filled. Exactly how is unnatural hatred, persecution, oppression, discrimination and plain old everyday ignorance and insults directed at black people a “benefit”? White guilt – hardly – more accurately white ignorance and hatred. The U.S. will NEVER be a peaceful country with people of divergent backgrounds living together productively in peace primarily because the country’s pretend “beginnings” of Spanish exploration were corrupted with European ignorance and greed that needed justification with outright lies of the sanctity of human life to excuse its barbaric corruption which has carried forth to an unnatural conclusion to sustain itself. We would need to start all over again to build a “more perfect union” particuarly because in the 21 century many people in the U.S. must be restrained by diversity training to HIDE AN UNNATURAL TENDENCY TO BE OFFENSIVELY AGGRESSIVE AGAINST INNOCENT PEOPLE OF COLOR. Need I say more?

    • Thanks for this site—nice to see a white guy who gets what racism is actually about and is actively working to break it down on top of that.

    • I will not deny the horrors of slavery but the fact is a simple DNA test will show your roots. We all started from the same place, get over it and let’s all be better together!

    • “African-American” refers to descendants of enslaved Black people who are from the United States. ”

      Says who? You? I can do that too you know:

      “African-American” refers to descendants of Mayan Gods. ”

      See? Anybody can just say whatever they want as fact without any proof. The word African-American as DEFINED in the dictionary is just for people from Africa who live in America. It says nothing about slavery. Where did you get that idea from?

      African-American is a term of ignorance. I’ve never been to Africa and if Brad Pitt has a baby in Africa and comes to America that child will be African American…this renders the term USELESS. Just like black. I’m HUMAN! I’m a Human-American.

      • @Carl

        There’s nothing ignorant about the term—it’s something black people thought up themselves—it was a label we created for ourselves that wasn’t something slapped on us by white people. You’re the ignorant one who didn’t even try to find out what it meant, instead of ranting and raving that something is “ignorant” just because you don’t understand where it came from. I’m black and proud of the term, because it reflects both my roots and my American-ness. Funny how you aren’t ranting and raving about white folks calling themselves Irish or Italian-Americans—so according to you, they can call themselves whatever they want, but black people can’t. Big double standard you have these, don’t you?

        • Luke Visconti

          Thank you. Most of the posts we receive are from neo-Nazis and white supremacists. These are the people the Koch brothers cultivate to push their political agenda; I screen most of them out. We need more people like you to join the dialogue. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • That is the best answer so far. It is not where your from its really who you are and that is normally how it is you are judged. If more people would realize that time goes forward instead of backward we would live in a better place. However, there are to many people out there who want to place blame on someone, or something. I think about today I get along with everyone I associate myself with ,because my place of origin America. Which makes me just an American. I will NOT mark white on a application, my skin complexion if it matters is peach. Being an Albino are rare which white is the color of their skin. So, I mark other, and put American That is what I am , and proud to be. The country we are growing today should forget about the past. It wont get you no where. Use that energy to think about your future, and see what that does. I find it insulting to be called white. I would rather just be called American. If they wanna know my place of origin , but I would rather be called by my name, because my name is who I am, not a nationality, or a skin color.

        • Luke Visconti

          Fifteen years of our corporate data and every economic measurement I know proves that you are absolutely judged FIRST on gender, race, orientation and disability. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re only allowed to get away with calling yourself “an American” if you’re white, hetero and male—and you have the right regional accent, and in most of the country only if you’re Christian. Want to test my theory? Change your name to Hussein Mohammed and see how far you get with your dopey assertion. What drivel. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Nope.

    An African-American is a person of African ancestry who was born and raised in the United States. Most African-Americans have never been to Africa, but are the descendants of African slaves born here.

    President Obama is one of the unique African-Americans who was born here, but knows of and is close to his African ancestors and relatives and has been there to visit with them; which makes him more AFRICAN American than those of us who don’t have a clue where, in Africa, our ancestors came from.

    We are the descendants of African slaves brought, sold, bought, and born here in America even if not born in Africa proper.

    • I am Nigerian-American and I DO NOT consider myself to be African American. African immigrants are not rare and there are hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, Ghanaians, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Somalis, Kenyans and more living in the US and other places abroad. Majority of us (90%) do not identify as African American but rather as Nigerian-Americans, Ghanaian-Americans, Ethiopian-Americans etc.

      When people refer to me as African American I correct them. Black is my race, Nigerian is my nationality, the tribe in Nigeria I am from is my ethnicity. For African Americans, black is their race, American is their nationality and African American is their ethnicity.

      Barack Obama is often referred to as African American but he is not! He is white and Kenyan American.

      African immigrants (same going for afro-Latinos, Afro-Caribbeans, etc) as well as their children share a different culture from African Americans. I choose to be recognized by my cultural identity first and foremost.

      • I agree with this comment entirely. Also, their are many types of ethnicities and cultures in Africa just like in Europe or Asia although I know the topic is Africa. For the comment that black Americans don’t know their African heritage or homeland is not true for all of us. The Gullah people of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina can trace their history right back to Sierra Leone and Ghana on serveral accounts which I won’t bother getting into but just look it up. Also, some of us of African heritage in America have parents that are of different racial and ethnic backgrounds by selection and not due to slave rape which indeed is such an ugly part of the black experience in America. My point is one can be yes of African American background and at the same time have a Spanish/Latin, French etc background too. Why because some of us in 2013 almost 2014 dare to trace and claim all of our heritage–we see it in the mirror and refuse to deny any of it. As for what the “white man thinks” who cares at this point. Please don’t let racism continue to deny people from claiming all of their history like slave owners did to us in the beginning. For those who can’t identify with being anything but African-American that’s fine, this is acceptable too. But note that not every dark skin curly, kinky haired or straight for that matter have no clue of their African country or roots. Their are people in Europe all over who can claim both their African and European nation. It’s no big deal and should have never been. Those who uphold in 2013 are to me just as guilty of promoting this corrupt and toxic racism of slave owners. Let’s abolish this thinking. Africans all over the world who can trace their various ethnicities have every right to do that just like Asians and Europeans. We are everywhere in various shades, but many of us know that we have a big diverse history and we can acknowledge it all and still be positively blank in America or any where else in the world.

      • Are you American? If so, then your nationality is American. If a Nigerian person becomes a US citizen, they and their kids become Americans.

        • People are not identified by the land. In fact its the exact opposite. The land gets its names from the people who occupy it. America is a continent and not an ethnicity or a race. Africa is a continent and not an ethnicity or a race. Nigerians are yoruba or igbo or one of the other race of people there. even if they move, no matter where they move too they will still be of those race of people. Citizenship does not change your ethnicity or race or blood line.

      • I agree with this statement up until I don’t and the reason I say this is because being African American does not make your ethnicity African American. I was born on American soil in New York, my ancestors were also born on American soil in Puerto Rico and Curacao so we are all “African American” but our ethnicity is Hispanic, and Dutch, and Native American. Honestly I disagree with the use of the prefix Afro because it is confusing there is no constant rule to identification, and too many variables. For a lot of blacks (which is the term I prefer) North America was not the first stop for our ancestors many of them were taken one place and ended up in other places over the years. People sometimes look at us as having no tradition but blacks are so variable in origin and ethnicity… When I speak Spanish or Papiamentu people look at me as if because I am dark and have course hair that I am not supposed to be anything other than black but truthfully black is so many things. Awareness is needed if we are ever going to understand ourselves, one another, or anyone else,

      • Right on! Be proud of where you are from! Be eloquent in your speech and people will listen.

      • I agree with everything you said except concerning Pres. Obama. He IS an African-American. Ask Congress and the tea partiers.

      • Um, Nigeria’s in Africa right? How are u claiming your american heritage? I ask because according to you I would be a Liberian-American – “African immigrants are not rare and there are hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, Ghanaians, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Somalis, Kenyans and more living in the US and other places..”- when in fact I am African, Liberian if I must. They irony of some African ‘tracing their ancestor back to america’ never stops amusing me.

        All of my nieces and nephews were born in the us to African parents who eat African food and speak with their African accents, and dance to their African music etc, these kids are Africans, americans for the perks – passport, right to put the best idiot in power over you, and avoiding the humiliation involved in obtaining a green card.

        I have a friend that looks like Flava Flav, his parents are from Zimbabwe but happened to give birth to him in Russia. Well Flav does not go around telling people he’s Russian much. Funny thing tho is my Armenian friend who was born and lived in Lib and considers himself such, as he has enough knowledge of america and all that’s great about it, would rather identify himself with Africa.

        The comparison to Italian-americans etc is a foolish one as if the former is to play adjective to the latter(noun) then African is what you are and american describes the type of African you are. Meaning if simply calling yourself isn’t satisfactory and requires further explanation, then by all means let the world know that your adjective of choice is american and be american-Kenyan or since Kenya IS in Africa, an american-Kenyan. Ridiculous. Look forward to the day Africans seek to have no link to america, the great lie

    • no because as soon as he would settle in america he would be considered white and would be included in the white race

    • Guys, as far as I’m concerned, what happened can not be changed and crying racism all the time won’t help you achieve any goal. If black people are held back from achieving things, how do the ones who succeed do it then? are they secretly white? It happened, for once in your life try and search back to between 700 to 800 AD to discover why black people were enslaved. There is a good reason why it occurred if you try to learn the correct history for once not the drivel you are taught in your schools. I would suggest to start researching ancient Iberia or Celtica (Spain) and The ancient Kingdom of Ghana (not related to modern Ghana). Once you discover what Iam talking about, you will stop hanging your heads in shame, always crying racism and you will hold them up high. Nobody will stop you achieving things on this Earth, even if you are black, In South Africa, some black people achieved millionare status even though a black person was not permited to own a business. Stop it already. I was born poor in rural South Africa with nothing and no education and today I have a staff of over 100 people, all races I might add, all who went to schools and Universities. I own property in England and Canada. Always crying race is going to stop you, I educated myself by learning to read and attending as many english speaking churches, conferences, debates, reading books and everything I felt could help me learn. Yes it happened we know, now get over it and lets all prosper together, ask if you want help but stop yammering on about race all the time, especially as you are from America, believe me here in South Africa we have felt and seen far worse than you have. They didn’t bother to enslave us, that wouldn’t have worked. Zulus don’t take kindly to being anybody’s slave but they just killed us instead en mass. You have had your freedom for decades, we have had ours since 1994 so believe me when I say you have a lot going for you.

      • That is great, but the circumstances are not the same. Black South Africans have been allowed to take CONTROL of their own country. It is not surprising that people would begin to prosper once the racial restrictions were removed. That is the difference. Black Americans have to succeed despite substantial interference from our white countrymen. It is very similar to trying to do business in Russia. Any minor official or politician can impede your progress or keep you from getting anything done. This can happen even if you are a millionaire.

        Whatever images you get of us are not sent to you by us. American whites project negative imagery of American Blacks worldwide. However, they show Africans in general as primitive, warlike, and AIDS infected refugees. It is not true, but that is still what they show when they try to tell African stories. I am fairly certain that Black South Africa has some the same problems as Black America. I am glad that you made it, but all these social and racial problems will not be eliminated overnight. Lastly, do not speak as if all African Americans are one single monolithic cultural block. Some are highly educated, some are average, and some are not. There is no such thing as a “typical” African American and there never will be.

        My opinion on the article is that the guy would be a (European) South African – American.

  • Luke, this article hits on all cylinders, thanks.

  • I totally disagree with the definition “”African-American” refers to descendants of enslaved Black people who are from the United States.” I have never subscribed to the term African-American and exclusively use the term “black” to describe myself and others who look like me. The term describes geography, not race, and is improperly used. A person with caucasian features whose family was born and raised in an African country but lives here now is far more “African American” than I.

    • I’m a black man (african descent), from south america and I agree with you, here we were just blacks but one day all this “political correctness” came from US and now we’re all afro-this or afro-that, now we’re not blacks anymore.

      • Charity Dell

        African-americans introduced the term “Afro” into the language–not to be “politically correct”, but to ACKNOWLEDGE and RESPECT the AFRICAN contribution and/or component of the country. and its population. This was in contra-distinction to the Euro-american historical practices of DENIAL of African/Black heritage or origins of not only Black PEOPLE, but also, Black innovation in the SCIENCES and TECHNOLOGY, Black ART FORMS, as well as the history of BLACK PEOPLE IN THE CARIBBEAN AND ALL THE AMERICAS.

        1. Unfortunately, the history of Blacks in the New World is taught in a fragmented, “piecemeal” manner. The trans-Atlantic slave trade affected
        ALL of the AMERICAS (not just the United States) and is an integral part of New World history. Consequently, many people are “shocked” to discover that, yes, BLACK people live in every country in the “New World” and have been doing so since at least the 1500′s.

        The AFRICAN contribution to New World countries
        and cultures is HUGE, but you’d never know it
        by how the trans-Atlantic slave trade is written
        about in our history books.

        2. A case in point is the use of the term “AFRO-LATIN MUSIC.” I freely use this term to
        distinguish African musics of the Americas/Caribbean from European and Indigenous
        musics of the Americas. When I was a young child,
        Afro-brazilian, Afro-cuban and Afro-rican musics were being marketed as “Latin music.” The only
        thing “Latin” about these musics was the use of
        the Portuguese and Spanish languages. But White
        American recording studios and white PR firms
        marketed these musics as “Latin”, EVEN THOUGH THE ARTISTS THEMSELVES ALWAYS CALLED THEIR MUSIC
        “AFRICAN.” This was done to make the music “acceptable” for Euro-american audiences and
        Euro-american nightclub owners, who promoted “Latin dance bands”–dance bands filled with BLACK musicians who invented the music.

        3. Although you POSITIVELY identify yourself as a “Black man from South America”, many of your
        Black counterparts in the Caribbean and Central
        and South America DON’T identify themselves as
        BLACK, because the rigid, racist CASTE system of
        “Latin America” has made them ASHAMED of their BLACK AFRICAN heritage. This is the result of
        decades of “blanciamento” policies–official government approaches to literally “whitewash” and remove both the indigenous and Black contributions to the history and culture of these countries.

        4. Latin American media rarely show the BLACK people of their countries doing anything other
        than criminal activity, playing soccer or maybe being musicians/dancers. It’s “OK” for BLACK Brazilians to dance in Carnaval, but rarely are Black Brazilians ever shown on broadcast media as teachers, politicians, bankers or anything OTHER
        than poor folks in the favelas partying during
        Carnaval.

        • MamaChitChat

          Speak, Charity, speak! Very well said. You cover a great deal of complex historical ground in an efficient and compassionate way. Well done.

        • This is not only true in Latin America but America too. I’ve been called light-skin all thoughtful my childhood when the truth is I have a black mom and a dad of Spanish heritage. I would have been preferred to be called a darker skin Hispanic than be put in a helpless category in America as this privileged light skin person of color. Not all Latin Caribbean or Latin Americans are in complete denial of having African heritage–though yes some are but this runs deep in American society too. From observation even their is a strong presence of African roots in all Caribbean countries including the Latin ones and some parts of South America but not all. However, I find that it’s not as political based and there’s no right or wrong way to express being African. History says we are of African heritage whether one admits it or not. Sometimes I’m not coming across for some here black enough. Who cares how someone wants to define my blackness, the truth is I am of African decent but the problem becomes when I admit that I am not only of African decent. Hey, we were all mixed up after 1492 not by our doing at first but later these regions began to willingly mix. We you put various people together in a place this us what happens. Yes, it’s sad that some are still ashamed to own a rich continent like Africa; rich in beauty and diversity. One big problem is that all if us of African heritage have never even visited the continent once–so there are misconceptions about it. Nothing was ever wrong with Africa, why believe this. At times when I feel a need to tap more into my own African roots I turn to my Latin/Caribbean music or I even listen to songs of Ghana and Cape Verde with knowing the language but I longing for the true authentic beats of Africa, sorry but Jazz does not bring me home. My point is please don’t assume that all of Latin America disowns Africa when this mindset is here too–still but perhaps not as evasive as it use to be. I think we all need to visit the mother land just once.

      • It isn’t just political correctness, and there is a valid difference – “black” refers to skin color (some people call it race) and “African-American” is an ethnicity. Ethnicity is really, at heart, an outcome of shared experience. African-Americans are American in the same sense that most of what we call “Anglo-Americans” are – like me. I’m white, and my ancestors have been in America for several hundred years. Before that, they came from all over Europe. “African-Americans” also have deep roots in America, and like me their pre-America heritage is also lost to them… but their *American* heritage differs from mine. Their ancestors were developing different coping strategies (cultures) for different experiences on the same soil. Not only slavery, but post-slavery segregation. Like parallel Americas.

        • Please read carefully about the Low Country Gullah people of South Carolina and parts of Georgia a few in Florida but Gullah nation is alive and well today and never really left behind the Mende tribe, it’s good or language; it’s not bad English it’s Gullah a creole and it’s not Ebonics. You know these people by their rice and fish. Their heritage can be directly traced after leaving Africa to Barbados and the Bahamas. If you google and listen to them and listen to a Bajan or Jamaican creole you can hardly distinguish them; you know a people by their food and language, not just skin color. Though the Gullah nation is indeed African American, they are a true people of African culture traced to the Mende and kissi tribe. This group is documented as the only African American group that is still very much African to this day.

  • Thank you so much for your thoughtful and cogent response to what can be a very tricky question. I especially appreciate the way your response was informed by the historical context for current realities. I have these words written on the wall in my office “Historical context matters!” Sometimes we try to approach the realities of diversity work today with being informed by the historical context that shaped those realities. This in turn almost always leads to mistakes in dealing with the current realities. So thanks again.

  • B Alexander

    I am going to have to agree with Reginald. I am not African-American. I am of mixed ancestry. You are correct that I cannot trace my origins to any particular location in Africa. Therefore, I cannot claim to be African-American. What about Asian-American and European-Americans? This is about geography and about staking claim and holding firm in knowing who you are. We might not be able to trace all of origins, but we can find strength in knowing where we are capable of going. Let’s not waste time or energy trying to oppress anyone else.

    • Charity Dell

      If you get the genetic testing done, you can trace your ethnic origins as you share specific genetic material with particular ethnic groups. Most (not all) of us African-americans–estimated at 60% or more–have Igbo ancestry. If your family/relatives came from Virginia or Georgia, you are most likely a descendant of Igbos, who are from Southern Nigeria. If you start to google “IGBO” and “IGBO-Americans”, you will find a wealth of information that has been taken from slave ship manifests and historical documents.

      2. If your relatives came from the Carolinas, you have a strong chance of sharing genes with ethnic groups taken from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Senegal, Cameroon, Togo, Benin, Sao Tome, Principe and other Western coastal countries.

      3. However, it is equally possible that you share
      North African, Northwest African and Central African
      genetic intermixture, because these groups were ALSO being captured and sold to slavers by Muslim raiders operating in those areas as well.

      4. You may have several African lines of ancestry,
      due to how the plantation system worked to force
      Africans of various ethnic groups to “breed” and work together.

  • Jim Murphy

    My comments are in no way meant as any type of political statement (I voted for Obama both times he ran). By your definition “African Americans are descendants of enslaved people brought here against their will” therefore Barrack Obama is not an African-American, I think this would come as a big surprise to a lot of people. By your taxonomy the president would be a Kenyan-American, just as JFK would be an Irish-American. The same can be said for Collin Powell, by your definition he is a Jamaican-American This is not a big deal for me one way or the other, but I think African-American has become the default name for black people in the states. When I travel outside the US I often catch myself referring to local black people (i.e. in the UK) as African-American when they clearly are not. It seems funny referring to people of African descent as blacks outside the US and African-Americans in the US

    • Are you aware that President Obama’s mother is a descendant of the first black to become a slave in America (John Punch/Bunch)? So I would say that he is indeed an African American. I agree with your other points.

      • Are you aware that there are many white as can be people out there that have black ancestors &great grandparents that were slaves because they were black. I wonder if people realize the stupidity they say, can I call myself (a person as white as snow white) an african american just because my ancestors were black slaves in america? How would a black person feel about calling myself an african american if im not black in skin color?

      • Okay but wouldn’t that in some way make an African-American with an Irish great grand parent or even more so a parent of Irish heritage an Irish American too? I say yes it does in 2013 for it’s time to acknowledge all of ones known ancestry and say yes, that’s who I am. Ugly racism denies one of owning their own blood kin–this should stop. Jim Crow law is toxic for all of us. The whole idea of one race is fading out and we all can see it. Yes, their are many who are trying to hold on tightly but the truth is white in America have black ancestors and it’s obvious that blacks here have white ancestors. We see it race mixing is spreading; pretty much more of the planet is becoming various shades of light and dark brown, I’m already there. And using race to divide families must stop too. A child must own both parents–regardless of what society says. Society didn’t make them their parents did. Society tries to define them and label them like dolls on a shelf. It needs to be done away with this toxic idea that something is bad about being of any African decent. By upholding Jim Crow’s rules it continues to feed this notion concerning have black blood as if something suddenly happens because someone has a drop. Many have more than a drop okay and they don’t look African decent at all, well I guess like Obama’s mom. I would have never guessed that if you did not tell me so because she liked all white to me.

  • Charity Dell

    This article raises many excellent points that are worth exploring in detail. It might help to remember that:

    1. “African-americans” born in this country are an amalgam of African, European and Native American populations of the 1500′s–1900′s. Our genetic heritages
    also contain multiple combinations of African, European and Native American ethnic groups.

    2. Many North Africans share genetic ancestry with sub-Saharan African populations–they were just “taught” by the racist Arab hordes during the Islamic invasions of the 700′s that they were “not black” and something OTHER than African. North Africa is NOT “Middle Eastern” and North Africans are AFRICANS, not “Middle Easterners.”
    These populations are not “Arabs”–Arabs are inhabitants of Saudia Arabia.

    Therefore, many North Africans can and do claim “black”
    ancestry, because:

    A. Many DO share genetic heritage of sub-saharan Africans; and

    B. According to the US census definition of “Black”, they
    have African ancestry.

    3. Africans brought to the New World via the trans-atlantic slave trade were NOT only from West Africa.
    Many were from North, Northwest, Central and East
    Africa in addition to West African coastal populations.
    They were shipped from West African ports, but hailed from many other countries on the African continent.

    4. It is possible today to obtain accurate portraits of your genetic lines through genetic testing. Genetic tests can determine:

    A. Percentage of genetic admixtures; and
    B. Which African ethnic groups share your DNA/genetic
    traits.

    The US racial classification system produces the confusion, as this system is not biologically or genetically accurate. It was an artificial construct
    created to determine who was eligible for slavery.

    • I totally disagree. Look at a country like Egypt. Yes, Egypt sits on the continent of Africa, just like Iran sits on the continent of Asia; however, both Egypt and Iran are Middle Eastern countries, and identify as so. Most Egyptians do not identify as black, just like Persians do not identify as Asian. If you really want to get technical about genetic heritage, then let’s just say that all people around the world are African, since man originated from Africa.

      • Charity Dell

        You are correct that humans originated in Africa. Egyptians are geographically NORTH AFRICANS and Persians are geographically WESTERN ASIANS. Many Egyptians have East African, Sub-saharan, and North African genetic heritage–in addition to Middle Eastern and Western Asian genetic traits.

        By the United States census definition of “black”–having ancestry in Africa–many North
        Africans are “black”–regardless of whether or
        not their country/group/culture identifies as such–and that certainly includes Egyptians, who are AFRICANS.

        You are right that some Egyptians deny that they
        are African/North African–but their denial of
        geography does not change the fact that they are
        AFRICANS.

        Persians may not “identify” as Western Asian, but Iran is in Western Asia, not the classical Levant.
        Persians also have tremendous genetic intermixture, but a denial of being Western Asian is just that–a denial–that is NOT based in geographic reality. Persians are ASIANS, and
        inaccurate “media designations” or broadcast propaganda does not change Iran’s WESTERN ASIAN
        placement on the continent.

        People may choose to identify with a nation, country, socio-political entity, ethnocultural group or tribe, but their “choice” does not nullify their genetic heritage or “cleanse” it of whatever group they “don’t want to be identified as.”

        Nor does their “choice to identify” nullify their
        geography or geno-geography. The African continent is a PLACE, and inhabitants born there
        are AFRICANS (of whatever ancestry)–the Asian continent is a PLACE, and those born there are ASIANS. You are right that some Persians may believe they are “Middle Eastern”, but this belief
        does not nullify their geographic reality.

        I am a NORTH AMERICAN by virtue of my birth on this continent–AND my genetic heritage is African, European and Native American. I may “choose to identify” with any/all groups that
        constitute my genetic background, or choose NOT to identify with these groups–but my “identification” is irrelevant to the fact that
        I am a NORTH AMERICAN by virtue of PLACE of birth.

        “Genes are genes” and “geography is geography”.

        • I think you misread my initial comment, which was that people from northern African countries are not black Africans, not that they aren’t Africans at all. I’ve never questioned whether they are African — clearly they are. However, they do not identify as black. They are Arab nations. And for the record, Arab people are not only descendants of Saudi Arabia, as you claimed earlier. The term Arab does not come from Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, since when is the US Census the Bible when it comes to race? To apply a definition set forth by the US government to people around the world is a very narrow and “Western” way to view the world.

          • Charity Dell

            Luke Visconti’s original question centered on how “African-american” is defined by its historical context. However, the current legal definition of “Black/African-american” is the definition provided by the United States Census–and by that definition, “having African ancestry” qualifies you to check the designation “Black”, even if you don’t “appear” to have Black/Sub-Saharan
            ancestry.

            1. While it is true that many Egyptians
            don’t identify as Black Africans, their “identity choice” does not correspond to their genetic reality–and millions of them certainly possess sub-Saharan African DNA.
            This is also a reality for the multitude
            of ethnic groups and nations of North
            Africa, and you can literally “see” the
            Black/Sub-Saharan African contribution in
            Google image files, YouTube videos and photographs in books. There are Black Egyptians, Libyans, Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Mauritanians, and Black Tuaregs, Black Berbers, etc.

            2. While they may have some “Arab” intermixture, the North African populations–just like their Iranian counterparts, are not “Arabs.” This “pan-Arab” association is primarily a Western designation that Western media tends to use–but it is inaccurate.
            North Africans, like most Africans, identify primarily by their nation and/or
            ethnic group.

            3. Modern Standard Arabic is typically NOT spoken by these nations and when you study Arabic, you must ALSO study the major indigenous or colloquial language of the country you wish to visit.
            MSA may be used in newspapers or broadcasting, but North Africans speak their own languages. These languages may have Arabic loan words (just as Spanish and Portuguese contain thousands of Arabic
            loan words), but these languages are not “Arabic.”

            4. You bring up a good point that the US Census designations are not “the Bible on
            race”; originally, the designation of
            who/what constitutes “BLACK” was created to determine eligibility for slavery. By that definition, ALL AFRICANS were “eligible” for being enslaved. By official US definitions, you can considered “BLACK” just by virtue of African ancestry, even if you “don’t appear” sterotypically “Black”.

          • Egypt is part of Africa,period. Even there, they have the same exact issues with calling themselves “black” even though some of them clearly have black African ancestry. They have also been taught to hate their black heritage,too—check out this firsthand account of living in Egypt by a black college student who stayed there for about a year—her blog is a couple of years old,bu still worth looking at for its eye-opening look at both racism and sexism in Egypt:

            http://blackincairo.blogspot.com/

            I also use to wonder why the media always acted as if Egypt were a separate and complete country unto itself (which it is) that was NOT part of the African continent whatsoever—as they didn’t want to admit that Egypt was (and still is) an African country,flat-out–its having a Middle Eastern population does not make it any less African. It’s as if until recently, the white establishment didn’t want to admit that anybody in an African country had the intelligence to create and build something as astounding as the pyramids—that’s the impression I always got. Hell, even with the recent Arab spring, the media would never say that Egypt was in Africa. as if it was off somewhere in a space by itself or something.

          • I agree. The US can’t label the world. I have a question if someone can answer it here? Who was it that applied the label black to people of African heritage? I’m just asking because blackness is obscure and so is white. It really is unrealistic in every way. There’s a big confusion regarding black as race or culture. I go with the program of society at times but I have always felt quite childlike calling anyone a white and black person. Why? Here’s a valid reason, there is no place on the world map called black or white. I don’t think there’s even a river called such but correct me if I’m wrong. No, I don’t see a brown or yellow country either. Yet, at one time the term brown and yellow race was a label for Asians and brown being applied to mostly Hispanics. We are of African decent, and depending on where you are born that’s your nationality but culture and ethnicity is more linked to your heritage of your parents and grandparents–if one chooses to practice it, and that should be up to them too.

          • True, the “ruling” class of Egypt is of Arab descent (as result of the Arab invasion/Muslim occupation of Egypt many years ago). However, if you’ve ever traveled to Egypt, you will find that the common-class of people (“true” Egyptians) are NOT Arab, but are actually darker-skinned people, as were the original “biblical” Egyptians. Many, also, of whom intermixed with the neighboring Ethiopians, as well as Nubians, who shared the same culture, religion, dietary needs, etc. So, they are, indeed, considered “black”, as I have asked, personally.

  • Miguel Alemany

    Unfortunately, this article as well as many people’s thinking blurs the difference between race and ethnicity. African American as used in the US is not a race, it is an ethnic group classed by race (black). The race is Black. this is important because when the term is used as a race, it irritates many blacks who either are not americans, or whose ancestry traces back to other places. We should aim at educating not obfuscating the situation.

    Additionally, a white african who naturalizes as a US citizen is an african american, even though he is not black. If a French citizen who naturalizes is a French American, and an Italian who naturalizes is Italian American, how is an African who naturalizes not an African American.

    If you understand the difference between race and ethnicity this is clear, if you think of African American as a race, it its confusing.

    • Your last statement is flawed in that Africa is a continent, not a country. France and Italy are countries, so someone from those countries can identify themselves as French-American or Italian-American. Just as white Africans can say they are from South Africa, Egypt, or whatever African country they come from. However, most black Americans do not know from which African country their ancestors came, so the only appropriate term is African-American. And in fact, most truly African (born on the continent) I know get offended when someone refers to them as purely “African”. They want to be identified with their specific country of origin, such as Nigerian or Ethiopian, and not just African.

      • As a sociologist, I agree with Miguel. The point about continents vs. countries is mere semantics. The main point remains the nuances between race and ethnicity.

        Take for example, Latinos. Is being Latino a race or an ethnicity? Cameron Diaz for example is of Cuban heritage. Although she is white when she talks about growing up and her family you see that she grew up in a culturally Cuban home. Zoe Saldana is also a Latina (her parents are Dominican and Puerto Rican)and also black. There are also Asian latinos (Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan). Ethnic groups can be multi-racial. Nationalities can be multi-ethnic.

        On your second point, African-Americans say “African” because, as Luke explained, it’s the lowest level that they can identify. If they could identify a specific country or tribe, they would. African-America/Nigerian-American/Igbo is no different from Asian-American/Chinese-American/Hakka.

        On your third point, Africans from Africa most likely get offended because their primary sense of identity is their national or tribal identity. Similar offense can be found in Switzerland between the French and German speaking Swiss. Let’s not forget also the British who see themselves more as British rather than European.

        “African-Americans” is specifically an American ethnic group that has grown out of the specific historical experience that Luke has described.”Black” is a racial category/social status in the American system of caste that puts people of European origin at the top and people of African origin at the bottom.

        • Latino is a race because it is a socially constructed identifier like Black and White. Latino does not refer to any specific ethnic group. As a matter of fact it represents many ethnicities like being Black or White does.

          I agree with you that ethnic groups can be multi-racial and nationalities can be multi-ethnic if they have mixed ancestry. Also, racial groups can be multi-ethnic.

          However, African-American is an ethnic group because it has a unique culture with unique experiences, food, dance, etc. that differs from a Nigerian-American or Ethiopian-American. All of the above are Black though. Black is a race; a socially constructed identifier which actually differs globally. In some countries to be light-skinned is to be White. In others, like here in the U.S. it still is considered Black.

          And to call a Nigerian-American an African-American is very offensive as it does not recognize their culture, and also ascribes a different one to them.

      • Well it is precisely those arbitrary racial lines that get drawn further separating groups, constructing as many differences as one could find, that has us still fighting each other. Nigerian vs Ghanian, Igbo vs Yoruba, Christian vs Muslim vs whatever traditional practices existed prior. I’d rather call myself an African than a fictitious name that obviously does not represent its people cuz liberty, freedom and justice? Right. I’m a Liberian and I’m freeeeee, thank goodness James Monroe came and continued the american way of life here. Why is Nigeria still holding on to british name? Why did people have to embrace being from ‘Rhodesia’ how is that representative of who they are anymore than a person from Cameroon which by the way is still holding on to it Portuguese slave master’s name. Much like Californians are americans first, when asked, Nigerians are Africans first in my eyes. Everyone wants to be american, no one more than its rape victims; battered woman, whichever; blacks.

        • Luke Visconti

          The United States (America) is a country, Africa is a continent. For your analogy to be true, Californians would have to describe themselves as North Americans, which never happens. Your IP address tells me you’re a Pennsylvanian.

          These things may be “arbitrary” in your mind, but they’ve cost millions of lives. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

    • I truly understand all of this and it’s sad what racism has done in America and truly it’s a global issue but I must say from dialogue with various people worldwide, there is such a lack of understanding about race, culture and ethnicity in this country. I mean not even aware of other cultures apart from skin color and perception of race. When I hear the way people view Africa or black/meaning a darkness of pigmentation and trying so hard to collaborate history, color and nationality it’s clear that something had not be understood about human origins or should we blame our schools for such poor education on this topic? When you pull stuff apart Africa, language, culture, nation itty and ethnicity can’t be defined within the terms of race. As people of color many various ethnicities in this country it’s sad that the former white oppression wave of thinking toward African decent people it’s fragments are still floating around in the minds of black and white America–but not everyone of course but still too many. The sin of slavery first of all is primarily about greed and capital in the New World. All this extra curricular noncense got mixed in as by products but not the source of this great evil. What’s the point in attacking our cultures, nationalities or skin tones– not the real source of this evil, greed and pride. Now as for attesting that all of Africa this huge vast region had always been people who look the same or who are all the same genetic pool shows again a lack of deeper learning in regards to geography, biology and human history. I’m of African decent but still mixed race and I don’t care if other people claim this continent who don’t look exactly like me or west Africans. What’s the point, Africa is a great continent not some little Black Country. We may not know our specific country of origin in Africa but it’s we have one but not only dark people call this place home. The problem is not enough really know Africa’s human gend pool–it’s vast. It’s proven that all humans came from Africa right, then if this is the case, actually where do blonde hair and blued people come from? It seems then that that gene existed there too once upon a time. If we all can from Africa then we of darker hue must acknowledge too that lighter races originate there too. Or another theory is humans became lighter as the traveled up north right? What’s the point then? You can’t define people really by blackness and whiteness; whatever that means any more. Respect all if our cultures, languages and ethnicities first and foremost.

  • So, in your opinion, President Obama is not African-American. Interesting.

    • Luke Visconti

      He’s Kenyan-American. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

    • One absolute truth is he is the current president of the United States and right now that very important for everyone; it should be more than is background.

  • D. J. Corbett

    Thank you for this article.

  • de los Anashashi

    Regarding the use of “American”: originally this was a term used exclusively for the race of people from the continent known as America and has become a term to refer to the citizens of the United States.

  • To be crystal clear: An African American by intended definition is a person of color and descendant of Africans brought to this country as slaves, all of whom are of multi-ethnic heritage, generally in some combination of African, Anglo and/or Native American, as well as Asian and Latino to some lesser degree.

    • Please show me a colorless person and I i will run. This is another label used to describe basically all non-white people. I am just perplexed by US labels it even gets a little humorous on a light-hearted note. I’m not criticizing you using this term rather the fallacy behind all of this. Put all the people of color together and we become the majority.

  • Jonscott Williams

    I always find this discussion interesting. The notion of race, at least in terms of how it is used in the western world today, is a construct … a means of delineating oneself from others. It seems to follow a n arch, beginning with tribe,moving through region to nation to continent. It seems that once that was exhausted, race was the next delineator.

    I was born in the late 40′s as my parents, and our people, were transitioning from calling ourselves “Colored” to “Negro”. I am a product of the 60′s, when calling someone black evolved from a fight-causing epithet to a statement of pride … with a capital B. The arc of that evolution included Afro-American and eventually landed (though it never seemed to have totally settled) on African American.

    Personally, I prefer Black American to African American … my roots are deeper in Black culture than in African culture. In the purest genealogical sense I have African, European and Native American ancestors … but it is the Black Experience in America that most defines me.

    In the end, it appears that these delineations have been and are a moving target … who knows what they will become?

    • Charity Dell

      You bring another interesting dimension to this discussion–how we African-americans have historically chosen to identify ourselves. If you survey our history, we originally called ourselves “AFRICANS.” You can see this by glancing at our historic church cornerstones and church names, which had designations such as:

      First African Baptist
      First African Presbyterian

      Two of our historic denominations retain an African
      designation:

      African Methodist Episcopal
      African Methodist Episcopal Zion

      It is worth noting that these groups were found in the late 1700′s, and they were not the only churches who
      called themselves “African.”

      We have always retained this sense of historic connection to Africa, in spite of the Euro-american
      agenda to suppress knowledge of our historic African roots. We called ourselves AFRICANS before using terms such as “colored” or the Spanish term “negro”, which means “Black.”

    • It’s seems rarely are we all just called humans, right. Culture, language, tribe, creed etc. these have all been used and truthfully when not used to demean it put someone different down it’s fine. Language is an even greater aspect of defining people because different cultures have different words to express different feelings, ideas and facts. African American or Black, it’s about having an African lineage. The term negro is before my time but many did not approve of this label. As long as it’s okay to be classified as a hyphenated American of any background then what that seems to keeping saying who is really American unless you all all of white/European background. It’s been discussed and even logical that the African gene is in the mediterrean too so are Italians and Spainards African American? It would not bother me either way, it’s up to them.

      It’s challenging to own a label fully just like it’s subjective to own a continent.

  • I enjoyed the article but I also must point out a few facts that might have been overlooked. Although their numbers were few there were Free men of color who owned slaves.

    Even though such laws existed on the “books” forbidding the teaching of Blacks to read and write, it was a law that many ignored. Teaching to read and write was essential when teaching the Bible. The great Stonewall Jackson was one of those individuals who both taught and financed the teaching of enslaved peoples to read and write.First hand reports from the Sanitary Commission in the north stated that 3000 blacks were included in Jackson’s Army in 1862.

    The tragedy of this continent is not just the fact that slavery was enshrined in the original Constitution but that the history of African-Americans has been lost both prior to and immediately following the Civil War.

    We tend to demonize the South soley for the institution yet it was the North who passed strict “black code” laws forbidding free blacks to settle in their state. Free state didn’t mean free of slaves, in most cases it meant Free of blacks Period!

    When we talk about those who died during the Civil War we will never know how many blacks died during and especially following the war. Many to disease and starvation.

    Truth be told the underground railroad helped less than 3000 enslaved peoples to freedom. We must also never forget that it ended in Canada not in the North as many believe.

    So as we try as a country to move forward, it is up to us, black and white, not to demonize but to understand the tragedies and injustices commited by all and by the country as a whole.

    • Luke Visconti

      Stonewall Jackson was a general officer in the Confederate Army, which fought to preserve the right to enslave people. One quasi-fact does not change the larger picture.

      Further, I do not think the behavior of enslaved people who were beaten into submission provides an insight into people at large.

      Finally, the estimate of people helped into freedom via the Underground Railroad runs from 5,000 to 100,000. Considering the UGRR was organized by cell (to limit damage to the system by a loss of any one cell) and was illegal in most of the areas in which it operated, there was very little documentation. The best book I’ve found on this subject is The Underground Railroad: From Slavery to Freedom, written by Wilbur Siebert, a professor at Ohio State, in 1898. His book is available online at Dickinson College’s website. Professor Siebert was Black, by the way.

      Even if the UGRR liberated only 5,000 people, I’d rather be counted in that number than not. I’d also prefer to be remembered as a fan of Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and John Brown rather than of Stonewall Jackson.

      I do not believe in forcing a moral equivalency to make people feel better. It only results in a dilution of the lessons learned and further oppression of the oppressed. I reject your argument. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

    • One of my favorite comments, just stating the facts. There too much focus on labels which leads to more division.

  • As a part-Irish american descentant of slaves, I take great offense to the ridiculous comment on indentured whites.

    Some of the first slaves in America were, in fact, Irish. These slaves (not indentured servants). Because of the personal hatred fely by the British towards the Irish, these slaves had even less value as human beings and endured treatment as bad or worse than African slaves.

    Irish girls were forcibly mated to African males to produce mullatos, demeaning both races.

    I would appreciate it if you would not demean the abuses of the Irish civil rights in attempts to shore up the African-only viewpoint of slavery.

    You might want to add some reading material to your own library. Cromwell, James II, and Charles I would be a good place to start.

    Regards.

    • Luke Visconti

      The only references to enslaved Irish in America I could find online were unsupported by research. However, you are right and there is plenty of documentation about Cromwell and the bigoted slaughter and expulsion of Irish Catholics—the horrible living conditions imposed on the Irish in Ireland and the forced deportation of Irish and enslavement of Irish to and in Barbados. If you have references about enslaved Irish in America (not indentured servants), I’ll be pleased to publish them. I apologize that my closing paragraph was not sensitive to the facts about the Irish. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • Thank you for re-evaluating on your response about the Irish. So many Irish had everything they owned taken from them by their oppressors; their land, their food, their livelihoods, their lives. They were used as scapegoats for the crimes of others and sent to other nations as slaves or to be abandoned in “prison camps”. What does always disappoint me, though, is when some descendants of those that suffered oppression are now joining in with oppressors of Black Americans. How quickly humans can forget when lucky enough to lose the oppression and gain the privilege.

  • Will Saunders

    There was a white classmate of mine in college from Cameroon who had applied for a scholarship. It was specifically for African Americans. Because of his skin color, he was denied. The requirements didn’t say you had to be a Black African American. It only stipulated African American. He fought it and won, albeit too late for the scholarship to do any good, but at least they revised the rules for future iterations of the scholarships. Had his skin been of a darker hue, then he never would have been denied. So, yes a White person can indeed be African American.

    • Luke Visconti

      Just because someone makes a mistake doesn’t mean the facts change. No, he is not an African-American. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • Belial Issimo

        So let me understand. A man from Cameroon who moves to the US is not an African-American if his skin is not black. A man with a father from Kenya, whose skin (the father’s, that is) is black is also not an African-American because his ancestors were not enslaved (at least, not enslaved in continental North America; their possible enslavement in their geography of origin is irrelevant). But a man with ancestors who were brought from Africa to bondage in Virginia, but who today identifies one hundred percent with American culture, has never even been to Africa and has no desire whatsoever to go there, is, now and forever, an African-American? Tell me, Luke, do words have any meaning at all to the diversity crowd?

        • Luke Visconti

          A man from Cameroon is Cameroonian-American, regardless of his skin color. What about American history and being an African-American is eluding you? And if you’re Black and choose not to identify yourself that way, good for you! Now here’s a W. C. Fields quote for you: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.” In other words, go away. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • grannybunny

    Oh, I hate these caption tests. I never remember to save copies of my posts, then have to entirely retype them. What is the practical utility of hyper-technical racial classifications? A growing number of social scientists are concluding that the entire concept of mutually-exclusive races is a myth. Humankind arose in Africa, making us all Africans if you go back far enough. True, “African-American” is most commonly used to connote descendants of U. S. slaves, but race is normally self-identified, and if the President chose to self-identify that way — as opposed to Kenyan-American, or simply American — technically, he would be correct. So would anyone with ancestors both in Africa and the entire Western Hemispheres, “the Americas.”

    • Luke Visconti

      We are working on simplifying that test. I recognize its flaws. Thank you for persevering. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • During my time employed in an HR office (as a training manager), I happened to assist a white woman from South Africa complete a job application. She checked African-American as her ethnicity. Another woman working there told her she could not do so because that would identify her as black, however, there was no appropriate ethnicity on the application. The HR rep wanted her to check Caucasian while the South African applicant insisted that she was African-American. It became a really big deal and was quite uncomfortable. Not being familiar with that area of HR,I didn’t think an HR rep could tell an applicant what ethnicity they should identify with.Even if what the applicant checked didn’t seem appropriate, it was not my place to address the issue. Interesting article by the way.

  • I am puzzled by this statement, “America is unique in having people who are African-American.” On a strict reading that is absolutely true because it’s America and that’s where the Americans are, but from the context of the article it seems to be saying that only in America was the “personal and family history” “purposefully obliterated by people who enslaved other people.” And that strikes me as complete nonsense.

    I have a hard time believing that in the Latin America countries, England and the Caribbean islands there was no similar practice of obliterating personal and family history of the slaves brought into the country. In fact, I would be far more surprise if there was a slave holding nation where this wasn’t the practice…

    • Luke Visconti

      You’re right. But, for example, if we’re talking about someone who was born in Haiti and is a descendent of enslaved people from Haiti, then that person would be Haitian, not African-American. The history of purposeful obliteration of African ancestry may be similar, but it’s not identical. Many majority people express exasperation at this discussion, but the success of heredity and lineage websites tells me that this exasperation is hypocritical at best.

      I want to make a point: Fred asked his question with respect. We should all encourage questions—but not when they’re mean spirited. The cruelest bigots want to put people “in their place” by making meaningless their quest to retake their history, identity and humanity. When you hear a dismissive “what’s the big deal” or “get over it,” you’re hearing someone who is ignorant at best, but often you’re hearing a sadist. My advice is to educate, and if the behavior doesn’t change, fire them with alacrity, as you would any other disruption to the workplace. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

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