We’ve got a message for people who say they’re “American,” not “African-American.” You’re both.
I’ve heard it myself many times before from people I know. But Herman Cain is the latest—or at least most famous—Black man to say what I think is one of the stupidest sentences uttered in the African-American community: “I don’t use African-American, because I’m American, I’m Black and I’m conservative. I don’t like people trying to label me. African-American is socially acceptable for some people, but I am not some people,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg.
Writing for News One, Gerren Keith Gaynor says Cain “has a point”:
Cain continued his argument on racial identity, proclaiming, “Most of the ancestors that I can trace were born here in the United States of America. I’m sure my ancestors go all the way back to Africa, but I feel more of an affinity for America than I do for Africa. I’m a Black man in America.
I agree with Gaynor that “when it comes to identity, Blacks have a perplexing, yet unique, positioning in America.” But there is where our agreement ends. Believing that it is somehow inaccurate or unpatriotic for a person to call himself an “African-American” rather than just an “American” is absurd, and this is a question that needs to be put to rest.
Nobody would ever dare question a white person’s patriotism if he were to say, “I’m Polish” or “I’m Italian.” And I’ve got plenty of friends who self-identify as “Irish” despite having been born in Boston or Virginia. It’s understood, as it should be, that those people simply mean that their heritage is that of Poland or Ireland. Why anyone would think a Black man who calls himself “African-American” is somehow trying to reject his American identity is ridiculous and presumptuous to the point of being offensive.
We use the term “African” not because of an allegiance to the continent of Africa, but because many of us—thanks to slavery—can’t trace our origins back to any specific nation. It would be great if, like my white friends who can trace their lineage, I could call myself a “Nigerian-American” or “Cameroonian-American.” But the fact is that I can’t, so I resort to “African-American.” I’m not ashamed of being American, nor am I professing a belief of race over country. I’m just calling myself what slavery forced me to call myself.
Make no mistake, when Cain say’s he’s not an “African-American,” he’s simply using code to say, “I’m not like those other Black people who are zealots and want good policy to help African-Americans.” He’s appealing to the GOP voter who is afraid of Black people, distancing himself from “those other ones.” It’s self-loathing, and you should feel sorry for Cain.