I am having a little challenge in my second period U.S. History class. Right now, we are studying the colonial period and are just getting into the beginning of the War for Independence against England. When studying this period, the subject of slavery and race relations in the colonies obviously needs to be discussed, and we definitely have done so.
What I am finding grating on my nerves as of late is a black female student in this class who takes me to task every time I use the term "black". The first time the subject of race in the colonies came up in class, I used the term "black", and the girl went into a tirade about how I need to use the term "African-American" instead. I stopped the lesson and addressed this misnomer. How can one use a geographical moniker to describe someone's race? I patiently explained to this student (and the rest of the class) that using the term "African-American" to describe black people is inaccurate because not everyone in Africa is black. Especially in north Africa, you will find millions of people who are quite light-skinned and Arab or Berber-looking. If someone from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, or Egypt moved to the United States and became an American citizen, is not he or she an African-American? And don't forget about the African whites who have lived in South Africa and Zimbabwe for about the last 300 years? Also, historically, it would be inaccurate to describe slaves in either the Colonies or later, the United States as African-Americans. The early slaves weren't African-Americans, they were Africans. The later slaves who were born in our country were not even considered to be Americans, even if their ancestors in America could be traced back to the early 1600s. See the Dred Scott decision (1857) for more on that. Freed slaves in the post-Civil War United States did not officially become citizens until 1868.
That was the only time I have visited this topic in-depth with my students. Ever since, every time I say "black" during my lessons, I can often hear this student mutter under her breath, "African-American".
I know I am probably being a bit overly technical here, but this African-American business really bothers me. When referring to my race, I have never described myself as a European-American. I am white. And come to think of it, this student has never complained to me about my use of the terms "whites" or "white people"; only when I use the terms "blacks" or "black people". Does this give us a little window into her own little personal cache of racism? Whatever happened to "Black is beautiful"? I guess she is too young to have heard that old standard.
After writing this and organizing the thoughts swimming around in my head, I believe I have figured out a way to solve this dilemma: I will stick with the science. Scientists only recognize three different types of races in the world - Caucasoid, Mongloid, and Negroid. I wonder if my student would prefer "Negroid" to "black"? She better make a decision, because I will not use the term "African-American" in reference to the black race, just to appease this student's delicate sensitivities.
By the way, if you are having a conniption about my title for this post, then you need to watch South Park more often!
Good Day to You, Sir