GREENE COLUMN: Black History Month name stirs debate
The question came from a copy editor in the newsroom. Is it Black History Month or African American History Month?
Blank stares. Then a flurry of Googling, checking the Associated Press Stylebook and opinions in the newsroom.
The answer? We settled on Black History Month. There had been no official change, although a government website calls it African American History Month. Even the president called it National African American History Month.
The black versus African-American moniker is not only causing pause in the newsroom. There has been discussion among people themselves. Should we call ourselves black or African-American?
'I'm black and I'm proud.'
In an AP report in the Feb. 5 editions, 38-year-old entrepreneur Gibre George of Miami started a Facebook page: "Don't call me African-American." He said the name is misleading and does not represent most black Americans.
What do you think?
In a Jan. 2011 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 42 percent said they prefer being called black; 35 percent said African-American.
Historically, we have gone through numerous name changes, including Negro, colored, Afro-American, black and African-American.
On college campuses, and the nation as a whole, in the late '60s and early '70s, black became a symbol of empowerment and self-reliance. (think James Brown's "Say it Loud, I'm black and I'm proud.")
Black or African-American?
During a live chat Monday about the newspaper's Sunday feature on Black Women Today, I tossed the question out to participants. Three people preferred to be called black; two said African-American.
As for history professors, here is what they had to say:
"I was born in 1973, when 'black' was beautiful and the people around me took that seriously. It is difficult for me to think of myself in any other terms," said Conseula Francis, director of the College of Charleston's African-American studies program. "Also, I prefer the term black because it more accurately captures the diversity of the black diaspora than the term 'African-American.' "
Valinda Littlefield, the University of South Carolina's director of African American Studies, said from her observations, the term African-American is used mostly in the academic community. "Recently, I've seen some bleeding over into the masses."
Patricia Williams Lessane, executive director of C of C's Avery Research Center, said; "I grew up with hip-hop and reading writers like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, who definitely see/use Africa and African retentions in African-American culture, ... I see myself as an African American, at the same time recognizing/celebrating/embracing my blackness .... I do use the terms interchangeably."
She thinks many younger folks identify as black -- seeing it as unifying with other people of African descent, who are not African-American.
As one of those college students in the early '70s, I find myself wedded to the term black, but I use both in writing; so does The Post and Courier.
Since there is no right or wrong answer, your preference is what counts. What's yours?
Reach City Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555