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While the term had been used in print in some circles at least since the 1920s (and often shortened to Afro-American, the name of a famous Baltimore newspaper founded in 1892) it came to much wider use in the United States since the 1970s as the preferred term, as requested by some black Americans themselves. As of 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau identifies 12.8% of the US population as African American.
The term's use has sometimes been criticized as political correctness; those who prefer the term say it is a matter of respect and politeness. However, using the word black is accepted by most and is more accurate. "African American" incorrectly implies that all blacks are African, and that all Africans must therefore also be black. Of course this is untrue. A person can have dark skin and be from any number of non-African countries such as Jamaica, Haiti, or even western nations like Britain or Germany. Likewise, many fair-skinned people live in Africa. A white man from Zimbabwe, Libya, Egypt, or South Africa (among others) would technically be an "African American," despite the fact that he could never seriously claim to be one under the existing racial definition of the term. However, the black-specific term Negro which was widely used until the 1960s, is today generally considered inappropriate and derogatory by many, largely because of its close association with the term nigger.
Another term, colored, was widely used in the early 20th century and is part of the name of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but it too has fallen out of favor, although Colored has recently gained popularity, particularly on the political left.
The term African American is subject to accidental or intentional misuse in that it defines a group both in terms of race and in terms of citizenship. This can make clear discussion of topics related to race difficult. When speaking specifically of black United States citizens, the term is correct, but not all blacks are African-American: for example, an African citizen visiting the US.
A discussion of this subject can be found in the journal article "The Politicization of Changing Terms of Self Reference Among American Slave Descendants" in American Speech v 66 is 2 Summer 1991 p. 133-46 In The Movie Roots by Alex Haley you cán see the story of the african born slave Kunta Kinte Slavery and oppression
People of Sub-saharan Africa, kidnapped and sold into slavery by Arabs and other black Africans (sometimes as a result of inter-tribal warfare), were brought to the United States involuntarily by slave traders from many European nations as well as the United States from 1619 through 1806 until the trade was delcared illegal. After the abolition of slavery at the end of the Civil War, African Americans continued to be denied fully equal civil rights in many jurisdictions. This happened through both legally and by extra-legal cultural practices, including the efforts of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Legal barriers to equality were removed as a result of the work of the civil rights movement during the years between the end of World War II and the end of the 1960s (see Lyndon Johnson).