Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Should 'African American' refer to black Americans, to immigrants from Africa, or to both?

There are African Americans, as in the term long used by many to refer to black Americans, and there are African Americans, as in immigrants from Africa and their families. One blanket label, two groups with very different histories and identities.

The question of how to distinguish the two in words is an old one, but it's had a bit more attention lately. A post today on Multi-American's sister blog DCentric in Washington, D.C. highlights a recent Associated Press story by reporter Jesse Washington in which he describes how "African American" became a popular term in the 1980s, and the backlash against it as many people today prefer to be described simply as black. Blogger Elahe Izadi puts the debate in context, taking in where black Latinos or lighter-skinned North African immigrants might fit in:

There are complexities beyond those who don"t feel a connection to Africa. As Washington notes, there are white people from Africa. I have Egyptian-American friends who find themselves torn when having to identify official forms as either "Caucasian" (which they feel is inaccurate) or "African American."

Black Latinos, who make up 10 percent of D.C."s Latino population, face having to identify with one group over the other. D.C., which is home to 18,000 black immigrants from African and Caribbean countries, has one of the largest expatriate Ethiopian communities in the world. There have been tensions between the African immigrant community and D.C."s "other" black community.

So is lumping everyone together as African Americans the best way to describe a community?

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