Racial identifiers change over time, preferences
In 1926, writer Carter G. Woodson, author of “The Mis-Education of the Negro” and one of the first African Americans to receive a doctorate from Harvard, called for schools and organizations to study African-American history.
Woodson established what he called “Negro History Week” in February of 1926. As time progressed, “Negro History Week” expanded and was renamed “Black History Month” — officially recognized by the government in 1976. According to www.history.com, since 1976 every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.
Contrary to some misperceptions, Black History Month was not selected because it was the shortest month. It was chosen was because Woodson wanted to honor the birth months of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.
Negro changed to Black in the name of the celebration, indicative of how words change over time. Negro — especially in its derogative slang of the N-word — has become unacceptable in common usage. President Donald J. Trump, in his proclamation on Feb. 2, declared February as “National African American History Month,” not “Black” as is the official term. He is not the first president to do so. In fact, since President Jimmy Carter, almost every president has used similar language in their proclamation of the month.
According to obamawhitehouse. archives.gov, President Barack Obama referred to the month as “Black History Month,” yet also used “National African American History Month” in his proclamation.
So, if the terms are interchangeable, is it time to officially rename the month?
Destinee Bolts, Houston senior, said she prefers the term “black,”
“I believe the word black encompasses everyone of color that is not of Caucasian/Latin decent,” she said. “The continent of Africa isn’t even named after people of color. Africa is named after Scipio Africanus, who was a part of the Patrician Roman family.
“For me to be called African-American would be offensive. I never originated from the Americas, nor do I choose to identify with Africanus, not having any roman decent.”
Bolts is not the only one who prefers to identify as black. Jeff Joiner III, Beaumont senior, also identifies as black.
“I identify with being called black (because), in history, blacks as a whole were never identified as an American, despite fighting in every war America has been a part of,” he said.
Joiner said that whites brought his ancestor over to the Americas.
“All my true roots, language and history of Africa have been erased,” he said. “So how can I even know my true history? How do I even know if I’m African or not?”
Alumna Jane Robinson said she prefers the term “Afro-American.”
“The reason being, I have grown to see this country from a divided standpoint,” she said. “Think about the ’50s through ’60s when we had separate restrooms and establishments. Even people from other countries see us as a divided nation still today. With that being said, the title Afro-American ties us together more than dividing us once more.”
Natalie Tindall, Lamar Communication department chair, said she chooses to identify as black rather than African-American, as the term is more stylistic in modern times.
“Honestly, it is based on how people choose to see the world,” she said. “For me, it’s a generation thing. Younger people may find the term African-American to be offensive, while someone older may not.”
“It is my honest belief that dialogue such as this is what makes this month of February important” she said.
Woodson said, “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and stands in danger of being exterminated.” The words used to describe a race, while preferences may change over time, help define and value our society as a whole.