African American, African-American, Black, black

People in the United States who share a lineage that can be traced directly or indirectly to Africa. Black and African American do not necessarily mean the same thing and individuals may prefer one term over the other. It’s best to ask. Gallup has found since 1991 that half to two-thirds of African-American and Black respondents have not had a preference.

Some Black people do not identify as African American. This lineage, while collective, contains a diverse array of histories, cultures and experiences. This includes, but is not limited to, Black, African-American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino and African immigrants living in the United States. Jesse Jackson popularized the term African American, which had already existed, in the 1980s. It mirrors hyphenated names for other American groups. Some people may identify themselves as African American to resist Black as a socially constructed category. Others may identify this way to assert their American identity. There are many reasons one might identify as African American.

Some people may identify as Black because they do not feel connected to the American state. Others may identify as Black because they do not identify with the African continent. There are various historical, social and political reasons why one might prefer to identify as Black. The term has historically connected people of African descent around the world and was revived during the Black Power Movement.

Black and then African American replaced older terms such as Colored and Negro imposed by others. Self-identification might reflect feelings about origin, affiliation, colonialism, enslavement and cultural dispossession. Hyphenate when using African American as an adjective, as in African-American churches.

[The National Association of Black Journalists advises that for a story in which race is relevant and there is no stated preference for an individual or individuals, media writers should use Black because it is an accurate description of race. The NABJ Style Guide also says, ”Do not use race in a police description unless the report is highly detailed and gives more than just the person’s skin color. In news copy, aim to use Black as an adjective, not a noun. Also, when describing a group, use Black people instead of just Blacks. In headlines, however, Blacks is acceptable.” ]

[A NOTE ABOUT CAPITALIZATION OF THE WORD BLACK: There has been much discussion about whether the b in Black should be capitalized. Most journalism style guides, like those of the Associated Press and The New York Times, call for putting both “white” and “black” in all lowercase letters. Others, like The Chicago Manual of Style, allow capitalization if an author or publication prefers. Essence and Ebony magazines, The Chicago Defender  and many other publications serving African-American communities capitalize Black.

The National Association of Black Journalists does not capitalize Black in its publications, including the NABJ Style Guide. After much discussion the team that put together 100 Questions & Answers About African Americans decided to capitalize Black, according to editor Joe Grimm. Many of the terms related to Black and African-American people in The Diversity Style Guide come from these two guides. After much research and consideration, the editor of The Diversity Style Guide elected to capitalize Black and White when used in a racial context.

For more discussion about whether to capitalize the B in Black see:

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