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Linguist John McWorter suggests it is time to revert from “African American” back to “black American” and leave the former term for the growing number of Americans that are actually from Africa:

Namely, as of now, almost 1 in 10 black people are foreign-born. About 1 in 30 are from Africa. Which means that they are—you see where I’m going—African American in the true sense. Certainly a truer sense—true as in making sense—than Tracy Morgan, Donna Brazile, Jesse Jackson, or Mo’Nique.

Back in the day—1970, to be exact—there were only about 10,000 African-born people in the United States. I kind of remember that: By that time I, even living in a populous Northeastern city, had met a single African. And it was a novelty— the accent, the clothes, what we would today call the sheer “diversity” of the man.

Last year the number of Africans here topped a million, and we could use that as a numerically convenient time to let go of the conceit we have gotten used to over the past twenty years, that black people born here are ethnically hyphenated people of half “African” ancestry.

It just doesn’t go through. The black American does not look back on a childhood in the African “old country.” The black American speaks English natively, not Twi or Hausa (and in truth, it’s possible that not a single slave brought to the United States spoke Swahili). Barely a black American alive today knows anyone who ever even knew a slave born in Africa.


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