Saturday, February 26, 2005

Language -- African-American, Like Me?

One of the more amusing paeans to political correctness has to be the "Black \ African-American" juggling act that the mass media, and those whose livelihoods are directly attributable to the mass media (politicians) are forcing themselves to perform in order to prove their devotion to the Church (CPC).

I have been studying this performance in oratory and in print for some time. What I have yet to find in either medium is a rule. That is, the terms African-American and Black seem to be interchangeable and randomly so. In oratory, the speakers usually prefer the more PC term over the previously accepted term. Black, it seems, has somehow become taboo, or at least passe. Only the unsophisticated would refer to a person's race as "black." At the same time, however, "white" is still good enough for those non-blacks.

In the print media, however, one would expect a more consistent usage. Newspapers enforce a strict "style" on their content, primarily to set a standard that writers and editors can apply without being accused of being arbitrary in their work. A style also sets the newspaper apart from their competitors and their content, removed from the rest of the paper can still be identified by the style.

But when it comes to using the hyphenated geographical reference versus the color, I have yet to detect the style. The determining factor seems to be space. If space is tight, you are black. Otherwise you are African-American.

1 comment:

Barb said...

Mike, I have to admit, I'm a fan of your writing, because of your talent with words.

Beyond that, I must also admit I'm not a big right fact, I am quite the other direction.

As far as "black" or "African American," I think you have hit upon something we all have realized when you say "white still suffices", or something along those lines. Yes, white still suffices because whites are not making the gigantic cultural change from slavery (yes 200 years ago, but culture is slow to change), to not only free, but equal, then to not only equal, but free from old literary/cultural devices/divides, and so on. I don't think African Americans dislike being called African Americans (Mike, why do you think it is hyphenated? Is Polish American hypenated?--maybe I am wrong here.)

But I think that the term in print should refer to the person in print. As far as space, Mike, I'll bet my lowest bottom that this blog does not invite any people of color, does it? Otherwise, you never would have asked/stated such a compromising thing.

It's not that "black" is more or less racial than "African American." It is just that when you are writing about someone of color, it serves the writer well to find out just how they want to be referred, African American, or something do any of your subjects in writing. How would you refer to anyone not like you?