I must have said a mouthful at a recent late lunch with a couple of friends, when I tripped over multiple euphemisms in describing my people within the same sentence. My friend, Renaldo Barnette, said blankly, “I can’t use all those terms…I just prefer to say Black.” Although I use that term as well, along with many of the other interchangeable ones, it struck me that my willingness to jump between them came with qualifiers, that required an “in the moment” mental calculus.
Unlike other racial groups, as Black people we have to continually address how we want to be referred to. This seemingly age old discussion remains unrelenting among ourselves. That is different from how we want to be described, which is fraught with its own challenges because of the range of looks that are encapsulated in the “Black” community and the historic sensitivities some terms continue to have. Add to that the options that are the result of national, ethnic and religious variations, and a plethora of terms abound. Where someone is from, how they look or language they spoke would determine whether they were Black, Negro, colored, a person of color, African American, African, Caribbean, Latino, light-skinned, dark-skinned, fair-skinned, mulatto, and the N-word notwithstanding.
I prefer having the choice of terminology to make, but, wonder if they add to a lack of cohesion as a people, or, does it provide us with a greater expanse. Unlike “white people” who, by default, universally gather under the singular term to describe themselves, but with a slight scratch of the surface could be found to have a plethora of extractions that remain hidden unless asked, we have been known to repeatedly search for an acceptable universal moniker. No other people deal with this ongoing challenge that unwittingly speaks to a history that is equally unique.
As a nod to how our friends influence us on these decisions, I find myself using the more encompassing and broadly descriptive term of “Black” when I speak of my people now…that is until something better comes along.