Maybe it’s a holdover from the days when protecting territory was a matter of life and death. That sorta thing will bind folks together like nothing else can. Muslim, Desi, Jewish, Christian, African American, Black. On and on…
It’s not all bad though. Labels do serve a necessary function: Identification. And there is no nation on earth with as much cultural diversity as the U.S of A. It’s one of the things that makes this country great. The fusion of people’s and idea’s from every corner of the globe has led to a unique culture that has arguable become the most emulated in the world. But, contrary to the American brand we export out, melting pots can be a messy business. And the need for self identification bears some responsibility for that messiness.
Take Black folks in American for instance. Over the last hundred years, the name bestowed upon anyone who appeared to be of African decent changed from n*gger, to Negro, evolving to Colored, Black and finally African American. I remember when the debate over the emergence of the last label was raging.
It was the early 90’s and in high schools and college campuses, Sunday morning roundtables and evening news reporting across America, this new term had begun to gain ground. But I couldn’t help wondering; Why? You see, I couldn’t relate to the term. Sure I was technically “African” and “American” but the two together just didn’t jive with me. Besides that, I didn’t see a need to upset the status quo. “Black” had already come to represent a movement, a universal identity for everyone on the continent, the America’s and the Caribbean, Europe and elsewhere. In fact, by the late 70’s anyone who could be considered part of the African Diaspora was unequivocally BLACK.
When my folks immigrated from Ghana in the early 70’s, they didn’t know each other, but they were already rocking bell bottom pants, platform shoes and afro’s. Oh and paisley…a lot of paisley. And not only did I grow up listening to my dad’s vast collection of Ghanaian music, I was also immersed in the music of the day. Soul and R&B tracks blared from my dads 8 Track and wax player’s with almost as much frequency. It’s probably not a stretch to say that back then, African and Caribbean household knew to “Say It Loud”.
The Black Pride movement was an inevitable reaction the Jim Crow era, but what isn’t commonly known is the affect this movement had on Africa. Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana and one of the fathers of Pan Africanism was himself influenced by Black Power activits during his education in the States.
But in addition to these reasons, there was another problem with African American. I already had a label that was much better at defining my identity. I had become keenly aware of my own African-ness and the fact that I was a second generation Ghanaian American. This label made sense to me and it followed the de facto naming convention for all 1st and 2nd gen immigrants (regardless of where they were from).
African American just didn’t apply to me, and I wasn’t alone. I ran into many black folks of foreign extraction who felt the same (I dare you to call a Jamaican immigrant “African American”).
There is also a laziness that comes with the use of the term. It irritates me to no end to hear a sports commentator referring to a black English or French football (soccer for some of you) player as an African American.
If I’m to be compelled to wear a cloak (or two), then they’re going to be of my own choosing, and be true to who I am. So no, I’m not African American. Ghanaian American works just fine for me. But at the end of the day, BLACK is all that really matters.