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African American

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Definition

African American is a term typically used to describe people and cultures of African descent with longstanding roots in the United States, particularly those with roots that predate the end of chattel slavery. Not every Black person is or identifies as African American, and there is ongoing debate about the term’s use. Some argue that it ignores the vast difference between and distinct cultures of people from throughout the African diaspora who have made a home in the US, including more recent African immigrants. Largely, the question centers on the ways identity relates and does not relate to cultural practices and experiences. 

Though African American and Black are often used interchangeably, the former may be understood as a marker of an ethnic and cultural identity as opposed to a strictly racial one. In a 2019 Gallup poll of which term Black Americans preferred, there was a nearly even split between those who preferred Black and those who preferred African American. (The majority of those polled, 64 percent, responded that it didn’t matter to them.) More recent immigrants, in particular, may refer to themselves with country- or ethnicity-specific identifiers (e.g., “Haitian American,” “Afro-Latine”). As with any such identifier, when necessary and relevant to coverage to include, taking into account an individual’s preferred terms wherever possible ensures coverage accurately reflects how they self-identify.

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Summary

The term African American is used to describe people and cultures of African descent with longstanding roots in the United States. Though African American and Black are often used interchangeably, the former may be understood as a marker of an ethnic and cultural identity as opposed to a strictly racial one. More recent immigrants in particular may identify with country- or ethnicity-specific categories (e.g., “Haitian American,” “Afro-Latine”). As with any such identifier, when necessary and relevant to coverage to include, taking into account an individual’s preferred terms wherever possible ensures coverage accurately reflects how they self-identify.

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