Transport yourself to Southern Sri Lanka with our latest ebook! Download it now for free.


People in the United States who share a lineage that can be traced directly or indirectly to Africa. Black and African American do not necessarily mean the same thing and individuals may prefer one term over the other. It’s best to ask. Gallup has found since 1991 that half to two-thirds of African-American and Black respondents have not had a preference. Some Black people do not identify as African American. This lineage, while collective, contains a diverse array of histories, cultures and experiences. This includes, but is not limited to, Black, African-American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino and African immigrants living in the United States. Jesse Jackson popularized the term African American, which had already existed, in the 1980s. It mirrors hyphenated names for other American groups. Some people may identify themselves as African American to resist Black as a socially constructed category. Others may identify this way to assert their American identity. There are many reasons one might identify as African American. Some people may identify as Black because they do not feel connected to the American state. Others may identify as Black because they do not identify with the African continent. There are various historical, social and political reasons why one might prefer to identify as Black. The term has historically connected people of African descent around the world and was revived during the Black Power Movement. Black and then African American replaced older terms such as Colored and Negro imposed by others. Self-identification might reflect feelings about origin, affiliation, colonialism, enslavement and cultural dispossession. Hyphenate when using African American as an adjective, as in African-American churches.


A note about capitalization of the word Black:

There has been much discussion about whether the b in Black should be capitalized. In the summer of 2020, after protests erupted around the world in response to the brutal killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, the tide began to turn and many journalism style guides, including those of the Associated Press, NABJ and The New York Times, changed their policy on the capitalization of Black when used in relation to race or ethnicity. The change conveys “an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African diaspora and within Africa,” John Daniszewski, AP’s vice president of standards, said in a blog post announcing the decision to capitalize Black. “The lowercase black is a color, not a person.” Essence and Ebony magazines, The Chicago Defender  and many other publications serving African-American communities had capitalized Black for years. For more discussion about whether to capitalize the B in Black see: “The Case for Capitalizing the B in Black” by Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Atlantic, 2020 “A Debate Over Identity and Race Asks, Are African-Americans ‘Black’ or ‘black’?” by John Eligon The New York Times, 2020 “Black and White: Why Capitalization Matters” by Merrill Perlman Columbia Journalism Review, 2015 “The Case for Black With a Capital B” by Lori Tharps The New York Times, 2014 “Why the ‘B’ in ‘Black’ Is Capitalized at DiversityInc” by Luke Visconti Diversityinc, 2009  “Black, black, or African American?” by Aly Colón Poynter, 2003]

More Stories
Alaska Native