How The Term African-American Came To Prominence

A Look At The Creation of The Term “African-American”

In the year 1903, the great black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois presented the idea of “double consciousness” in his book entitled The Souls of Black Folk. He was simply referring to the belief that Blacks living in America saw themselves in two different aspects. These aspects were both African and American. Although the term “Negro” was still used during the time of Du Bois, his concept of double consciousness was able to provide foundational elements to the term that later became known as African-American.

Throughout history there have been many terms to describe groups of people. For Black people born and raised in the United States this has definitely been true. From slave, nigger, negro, to Black, these particular words have all been used to describe a particular race. Fast-forward to the year 1988, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson held a news conference encouraging the use of the term African-American. This particular term to define a certain race would go on and cause much debate and controversy throughout the 90s, even to the present day.

Jesse Jackson’s decision to use the term African-American spoke to a large group of people, but at the same time it gained a lot of disapproval. The 90s were very important as it relates to the image of Blacks being promoted to the world. Coming up with the “correct” term to call an entire race was not easy due to individual personal beliefs. The idea of moving away from the term Black seemed to take the political approach and get rid of an entire history. This definitely did not sit well with people who considered themselves Black, and as a collective people throughout the diaspora with a shared struggle.

On the other hand the term African-American was found best suitable for some because of the belief that the United States had made progressive steps since the Civil Rights Movement to consider a marginalized race citizens. While there were debates about what term to use, one of the most important things was exactly how a race was being treated by “its” country.

The 90s witnessed everything from the popularity of the Cosby Show to a resurgence of Black Nationalism beliefs. Both aspects represented the many different people that made up a race. The term African-American eventually became nationally recognized in 1997 by the United States government. Although the term was recognized by the government that did not mean that everyone was on board. The same government that had recognized the term was the same government that was still plagued with different aspects of discrimination.

Overall, the term African-American is still debatable and there have been individuals pushing for the idea of just being considered American in more recent times. Only time will tell if the term African-American will be around in the future or become a thing in the past like previous terms used to describe a race of people.

Artwork by Wishum Gregory


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Andy Reid

Andy J. Reid is a published scholar who has a background in History and African-American Studies. Originally from the small town of Sanford, North Carolina, Andy realized his talents as a writer when he was a freshman in college at Elizabeth City State University (ECSU). Since then he has gone on to obtain many distinguished awards and present at national conferences around the United States. When his is not researching and writing, he is providing services to the community through his independent writing/tutoring/mobile notary business.

Andy Reid has 6 posts and counting. See all posts by Andy Reid


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