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

DiversityInc's White Guy responds to a reader who inquires about the racial identity of a white immigrant from Mozambique. What's in a name?


An article about a white immigrant from Mozambique, Paulo Serodio, who describes himself as an African American, was forwarded to DiversityInc.com by a reader who asked, "What is your opinion?"

This is a simple answer: Serodio is NOT an African American, he is a Mozambican American. Since he is white, he is most likely a descendant of the former colonial occupiers from Portugal. If he were Black and recently emigrated, he would be able to identify himself by country or native ethnic group--for example, Macua American.

African Americans are descendants of enslaved people brought here against their will. We must use the broad description of a continent (Africa), rather than the specific description of a country (for example, Mozambique), because American slave owners purposefully broke up ethnic groups and families as a means to break the spirit of the people they enslaved. Since it was also illegal in many states to teach an enslaved person to read and write, it became impossible for African Americans to pass down history from their homeland.

The use of the term "African American" became a popular SELF-descriptor, popularized by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. It is a term of pride, documenting the achievements and culture of a group of people uniquely oppressed and uniquely American.

Serodio is suing the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey for suspending him after he revealed that he identified himself as an African American. By doing so, he wishes to stand on the shoulders of the many African Americans who fought and died to attain freedom, in order to benefit from programs that are in place to redress past wrongs. His court suit is frivolous. His ignorance and lack of sensitivity indicates that he'd make a horrible doctor.

Luke Visconti's Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.