The term black people is an everyday English-language phrase, often used in socially-based systems of racial classification or of ethnicity to describe persons who are defined as belonging to a "black" ethnicity in their particular country, typically having a degree of Sub-Saharan African ancestry, or who are perceived to be dark-skinned relative to other "racial groups".

Different societies, such as Australia, Brazil, the United Kingdom, the United States and South Africa apply differing criteria regarding who is classified as "black", and these criteria have also varied over time. In some countries, social variables affect classification as much as skin color, and the social criteria for "blackness" vary. For example, in North America the term black people is not necessarily an indicator of skin color or ethnic origin but is more of a socially-based racial classification related to being African American, with a family history related to institutionalized slavery. In South Africa, mixed-race people are not considered to be "black", and in other regions, such as Australia and Melanesia, the term "black" has been applied to, and used by, populations with a very different history.


South Africa

Nelson Mandela led the ANC in the battle against South African Apartheid.

In South Africa during the apartheid era, beginning in the first half of the twentieth century, the population was classified into four main racial groups: Black, White, Asian (mostly Indian), and Coloured. The Coloured group included people of mixed Bantu, Khoisan, and European descent (with some Malay ancestry, especially in the Western Cape). The Coloured definition occupied an intermediary political position between the Black and White definitions in South Africa.

The apartheid bureaucracy devised complex (and often arbitrary) criteria in the Population Registration Act of 1945 to determine who belonged in which group. Minor officials administered tests to enforce the classifications. When it was unclear from a person's physical appearance whether a person was to be considered Coloured or Black, the "pencil test" was employed. This involved inserting a pencil in a person's hair to determine if the hair was kinky enough for the pencil to get stuck. If so, the person was classified as Black.[1] Sandra Laing is a South African woman who was classified as Coloured by authorities during the apartheid era, due to her skin colour and hair texture, although she was the child of at least three generations of European ancestors. At age 10, she was expelled from her all-white school, and the authorities' decisions based on her anomalous appearance disrupted her family and adult life. She was the subject of the 2008 biographical dramatic film Skin, which won numerous awards.

During the apartheid era, those classed as "Coloured" were oppressed and discriminated against. But, they had limited rights and overall had slightly better socioeconomic conditions than those classed as "Black".

In the post-apartheid era, the Constitution of South Africa has declared the country to be a 'Non-racial democracy". However, the ANC government has introduced laws in support of their affirmative action policies that define "Black" people to include "Africans", "Coloureds" and "Asians". Their affirmative action policies have also favored "Africans" over "Coloureds". Some South Africans categorized as "African Black" openly state that "Coloureds" did not suffer as much as they did during apartheid. The popular saying by "Coloured" South Africans to illustrate their dilemma is:

We were not white enough under apartheid, and we are not black enough under the ANC (African National Congress)

In 2008, the High Court in South Africa ruled that Chinese South Africans who were residents during the apartheid era (and their descendents) are to be reclassified as "Black people" solely for the purposes of accessing affirmative action benefits, because they were also "disadvantaged" by racial discrimination. Chinese people who arrived in the country after the end of apartheid do not qualify.[2]

Other than by appearance, "Coloureds" can usually be distinguished from "Blacks" by language. Most speak Afrikaans or English as a first language, as opposed to Bantu languages such as Zulu or Xhosa. They also tend to have more European-sounding names than Bantu names.[3]

North Africa

Algerian footballer Yacine Brahimi

There are a number of black communities in North Africa, some dating from prehistoric communities, others as descendants from the historical Trans-Saharan trade and after the Arab invasions of North Africa in the 7th century, descendants of slaves from the Arab Slave Trade in North Africa.[4][5]

Moroccan Gnawa musician Hassan Hakmoun

In the 18th century, the Moroccan Sultan Moulay Ismail "the Bloodthirsty" (1672–1727) raised a corps of 150,000 black slaves, called his Black Guard, who coerced the country into submission.[6][7]

According to Dr. Carlos Moore, resident scholar at Brazil's University of the State of Bahia, Afro-multiracials in the Arab world, including Arabs in North Africa, self-identify in ways that resemble Latin America. He claims that black-looking Arabs, much like black-looking Latin Americans, consider themselves white because they have some distant white ancestry.[8]

Sadat's mother was a dark-skinned Nubian Sudanese woman and his father was a light-skinned Egyptian. In response to an advertisement for an acting position, he said, "I am not white but I am not exactly black either. My blackness is tending to reddish".[9]

Fathia Nkrumah was another Egyptian with ties to West Africa. She was the late wife of Ghanaian revolutionary Kwame Nkrumah, whose marriage was seen as helping plant the seeds of cooperation between Egypt and other African countries as they struggled for independence from European colonization. This helped advance the formation of the African Union.[10]

Soldiers of the Free Arabian Legion in Greece, September 1943

Because of the patriarchal nature of Arab society, Arab men, including during the slave trade in North Africa, enslaved more black women than men, and used more black female slaves than males. The men interpreted the Qur'an to permit sexual relations between a male master and his female slave outside of marriage (see Ma malakat aymanukum and sex),[11][12] leading to many mixed-race children. When an enslaved woman became pregnant with her Arab master's child, she became umm walad or “mother of a child”, a status that granted her privileged rights. As the child was given rights of inheritance, mixed-race children could share in any wealth of the father.[13] Because the society was patrilineal, the children took their fathers' social status at birth and were born free. Some succeeded their fathers as rulers, as was the case with Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, who ruled Morocco from 1578 to 1608, though technically not mixed-race. His mother was a Fulani concubine of his father. Such tolerance for black persons, even when technically "free", was not so common in Morocco.[14] The term abd (Arabic: عبد‎,) (meaning "slave"), is still used as a common term for black people in the Arabic-speaking world.[15]



In August 2008, The Migration Information Source article noted that "A Nigerian Embassy spokesman estimated that Nigerians possibly make up the largest group of Black Africans in China, with about 2,000 to 3,000 Nigerians in Guangdong in 2006. Most businessmen only stay temporarily."[16][17]

India and Pakistan

Siddi folk dancers performing at Devaliya Naka, Sasan Gir, Gujarat

The Siddi are an ethnic group inhabiting India and Pakistan whose members are descended from Bantu peoples from Southeast Africa that were brought to the Indian subcontinent as slaves by Arab and Portuguese merchants.[18] Although it is commonly believed locally that "Siddi" derives from a word meaning "black",[19] the term is actually derived from "Sayyid", the title borne by the captains of the Arab vessels that first brought Siddi settlers to the area.[20] In the Makran strip of the Sindh and Balochistan provinces in southwestern Pakistan, these Bantu descendants are known as the Makrani.[21] There was a brief "Black Power" movement in Sindh in the 1960s and many Siddi are proud of and celebrate their Black African ancestry.[19][22]

Southeast Asia

Ati woman, Philippines – the Negritos are the indigenous people of Southeast Asia.

The Negritos are believed to be the first inhabitants of Southeast Asia, remnants of the earliest settlers from the Out of Africa migration. Negrito means “little black people” in Spanish (negrito is the Spanish diminutive of negro, i.e., "little black person"); it is what the Spaniards called the short-statured, hunter-gatherer autochthones that they encountered in the Philippines.[23]


Unknown Aboriginal woman in 1911

Indigenous Australians have been referred to as "black people" in Australia since the early days of European settlement.[24] While originally related to skin colour, the term is used to today to indicate Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander ancestry in general and can refer to people of any skin pigmentation.[25]

Being identified as either "black" or "white" in Australia during the 19th and early 20th centuries was critical in one's employment and social prospects. Various state-based Aboriginal Protection Boards were established which had virtually complete control over the lives of Indigenous Australians – where they lived, their employment, marriage, education and included the power to separate children from their parents.[26][27][28] Aborigines were not allowed to vote and were often confined to reserves and forced into low paid or effectively slave labour.[29][30] The social position of mixed-race or "half-caste" individuals varied over time. A 1913 report by Sir Baldwin Spencer states that:

the half-castes belong neither to the aboriginal nor to the whites, yet, on the whole, they have more leaning towards the former; ... One thing is certain and that is that the white population as a whole will never mix with half-castes... the best and kindest thing is to place them on reserves along with the natives, train them in the same schools and encourage them to marry amongst themselves.[31]

After the First World War, however, it became apparent that the number of mixed-race people was growing at a faster rate than the white population, and by 1930 fear of the "half-caste menace" undermining the White Australia ideal from within was being taken as a serious concern.[32] Dr. Cecil Cook, the Northern Territory Protector of Natives, noted that:

generally by the fifth and invariably by the sixth generation, all native characteristics of the Australian Aborigine are eradicated. The problem of our half-castes will quickly be eliminated by the complete disappearance of the black race, and the swift submergence of their progeny in the white.[33]

The official policy became one of biological and cultural assimilation: "Eliminate the full-blood and permit the white admixture to half-castes and eventually the race will become white".[34] This led to different treatment for "black" and "half-caste" individuals, with lighter-skinned individuals targeted for removal from their families to be raised as "white" people, restricted from speaking their native language and practising traditional customs, a process now known as the Stolen Generation.[35]

Aboriginal activist Sam Watson addressing Invasion Day Rally 2007 in a "White Australia has a Black History" T-shirt

The second half of the 20th century to the present has seen a gradual shift towards improved human rights for Aboriginal people. Aborigines were given the right to vote in 1962, and in the 1967 referendum over 90% of the Australian population voted to end constitutional discrimination and to include Aborigines in the national census.[36] During this period many Aboriginal activists began to embrace the term "black" and use their ancestry as a source of pride. Activist Bob Maza said:

I only hope that when I die I can say I’m black and it’s beautiful to be black. It is this sense of pride which we are trying to give back to the aborigine [sic] today.[37]

In 1978 Aboriginal writer Kevin Gilbert received the National Book Council award for his book Living Black: Blacks Talk to Kevin Gilbert, a collection of Aboriginal people's stories, and in 1998 was awarded (but refused to accept) the Human Rights Award for Literature for Inside Black Australia, a poetry anthology and exhibition of Aboriginal photography.[38] In contrast to previous definitions based solely on the degree of Aboriginal ancestry, in 1990 the Government changed the legal definition of Aboriginal to include any:

person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he [or she] lives[39]

This nationwide acceptance and recognition of Aboriginal people led to a significant increase in the number of people self-identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.[40][41] The reappropriation of the term "black" with a positive and more inclusive meaning has resulted in its widespread use in mainstream Australian culture, including public media outlets,[42] government agencies,[43] and private companies.[44] In 2012, a number of high-profile cases highlighted the legal and community attitude that identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is not dependent on skin colour, with a well-known boxer Anthony Mundine being widely criticised for questioning the "blackness" of another boxer[45] and journalist Andrew Bolt being successfully sued for publishing discriminatory comments about Aboriginals with light skin.[46]

African Australians

John Caesar, nicknamed "Black Caesar", convict and bushranger of unknown African parentage, was one of the first people of recent Black African ancestry to arrive in Australia.[47]

At the 2006 Census, 248,605 residents declared that they were born in Africa. This figure includes white Africans.


Portrait of a black woman, Katherine, in Antwerp, 1521, by Albrecht Dürer


Due to the Ottoman slave trade that had flourished in the Balkans, the coastal town of Ulcinj in Montenegro had its own black community.[48] As a consequence of the slave trade and privateer activity, it is told how until 1878 in Ulcinj 100 black people lived.[49] The Ottoman Army also deployed an estimated 30,000 Black African troops and cavalrymen to its expedition in Hungary during the Austro-Turkish War of 1716–18.[50]

Eastern Europe

As African states became independent in the 1960s, the Soviet Union offered many of their citizens the chance to study in Russia. Over a period of 40 years, about 400,000 African students from various countries moved to Russia to pursue higher studies, including many Black Africans.[51][52] This extended beyond the Soviet Union to many countries of the Eastern bloc.


While census collection of ethnic background is illegal in France, it is estimated that there are about 2.5 – 5 million black people residing there.[53][54]


Beginning several centuries ago, a number of Black Africans were brought by slave traders during the Ottoman Empire to plantations between Antalya and Istanbul in modern-day Turkey.[55] Some of their descendants remain, and many migrated to larger cities. Other slaves were transported to Crete, from where they later arrived in the İzmir area through the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923, or indirectly from Ayvalık in pursuit of work.[56][57]

United Kingdom

According to the Office for National Statistics, at the 2001 census there were over a million black people in the United Kingdom; 1% of the total population described themselves as "Black Caribbean", 0.8% as "Black African", and 0.2% as "Black other".[58] Britain encouraged the immigration of workers from the Caribbean after World War II; the first symbolic movement was those who came on the ship the Empire Windrush. The preferred official umbrella term is "black and minority ethnic" (BME), but sometimes the term "black" is used on its own, to express unified opposition to racism, as in the Southall Black Sisters, which started with a mainly British Asian constituency, and the National Black Police Association, which has a membership of "African, African-Caribbean and Asian origin".[59]

Middle East

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabian footballer Majed Abdullah, nicknamed the "Saudi Arabian Pelé"

Historians estimate that between the advent of Islam in 650 and the abolition of slavery in the Arabian Peninsula in the mid-20th century,[60] 10 to 18 million Black Africans were enslaved by Arab slave traders and taken to the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring countries.[61][62][63] Due to the sex-biased flow of female slaves to serve as concubines in harems in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring countries, the castration of male slaves to serve as harem guards, the death toll of Black African slaves from forced labor, and the assimilation of the children of female slaves and Arab owners into the Arab owners' families, there are very few remaining distinctive black communities in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring countries today.[64][65]

Genetic studies have found significant African female-mediated gene flow in Arab communities in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring countries, with an average of 38% of African maternal lineages in Yemen,[66][67] 16% in Oman-Qatar,[67] and 10% in Saudi Arabia-United Arab Emirates.[67] Although distinctive and self-identified black communities have been reported in countries such as Iraq with a reported 1.2 million black people,[68] in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring countries, most of those of identifiable African descent are classified and identify as Arab, not black.[69]


About 150,000 East African and black people live in Israel, amounting to just over 2% of the nation's population. The vast majority of these, some 120,000, are Beta Israel,[70] most of whom came during the 1980s and 1990s from Ethiopia[71] In addition, Israel is home to over 5,000 members of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem movement, who reside mainly in a distinct neighborhood in the Negev town of Dimona. Unknown numbers of black converts to Judaism reside in Israel, most of them converts from the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.

Additionally, there are around 60,000 non-Jewish African immigrants in Israel. Most of the migrants are from communities in Sudan and Eritrea, particularly the Niger-Congo-speaking Nuba groups of the southern Nuba Mountains.[72][73]

South America and the Caribbean

Approximately 12 million Africans were shipped to the Americas during the Atlantic slave trade from 1492 to 1888, with 11.5 million of those shipped to South America and the Caribbean.[74] Brazil was the largest importer in the Americas, with 5.5 million African slaves imported, followed by the British Caribbean with 2.76 million, the Spanish Caribbean and Spanish Mainland with 1.59 million Africans, and the French Caribbean with 1.32 million.[75] Today their descendants number approximately 150 million in South America and the Caribbean.[76] In addition to skin color, other physical characteristics such as facial features and hair texture are often variously used in classifying peoples as black in South America and the Caribbean.[77][78] In South America and the Caribbean, classification as black is also closely tied to social status and socioeconomic variables, especially in light of social conceptions of "blanqueamiento" (racial whitening) and related concepts.[78][79]


Jongo, a Brazilian dance of African origin, c. 1822

The topic of race in Brazil is complex. A Brazilian child was never automatically identified with the racial type of one or both parents, nor were there only two categories to choose from. Between a pure black and a very light mulatto, more than a dozen racial categories were acknowledged, based on combinations of hair color, hair texture, eye color, and skin color. These types grade into each other like the colors of the spectrum, and no one category stands significantly isolated from the rest. That is, race has referred to appearance, not heredity.[80]

Scholars disagree over the effects of social status on racial classifications in Brazil. It is generally believed that upward mobility and education results in reclassification of individuals into lighter-skinned categories. The popular claim is that in Brazil, poor whites are considered black and wealthy blacks are considered white. Some scholars disagree, arguing that whitening of one's social status may be open to people of mixed race, but a typically black person will consistently be identified as black regardless of wealth or social status.[81][82]


Brazilian Population, by Race, from 1872 to 1991 (Census Data)[83]
Ethnic group White Black Brown Yellow (Asian) Undeclared Total
1872 3,787,289 1,954,452 4,188,737 9,930,478
1940 26,171,778 6,035,869 8,744,365 242,320 41,983 41,236,315
1991 75,704,927 7,335,136 62,316,064 630,656 534,878 146,521,661
Demographics of Brazil
Year White Pardo Black
1835 24.4% 18.2% 51.4%
2000 53.7% 38.5% 6.2%
2010 48.4% 42.4% 6.7%

From the year 1500 to 1850, an estimated 3.5 million Africans were forcibly shipped to Brazil.[81] It is estimated that more than half of the Brazilian population is at least in part descendants of these Africans. Brazil has the largest population of Afro-descendants outside of Africa. In contrast to the US, there were no segregation or anti-miscegenation laws in Brazil. Intermarriage has been popular for centuries. Much of the white/Asian population also has either African or Amerindian blood. According to the last census of the twentieth century, 54% identified themselves as white, 6.2% identified themselves as black, and 39.5% identified themselves as Pardo (brown) — a broad multi-racial category.[84]

A philosophy of racial whitening emerged in Brazil in the nineteenth century. Until recently the government did not keep data on race. However, statisticians estimate that in 1835 half the population was black, one fifth was Pardo (brown) and one fourth white. By 2000, the black population had fallen to 6.2%, the Pardo had increased to 40%, and white to 55%. Essentially most of the black population was absorbed into the multi-racial category by intermixing.[80] A 2007 study found that at least 29% of the middle-class, white Brazilian population had some recent (since the colonial period) African ancestry.[85]

Race relations in Brazil

Brazilian Candomblé ceremony

Because of the ideology of miscegenation, Brazil has avoided the polarization of society into black and white. The bitter and sometimes violent racial tensions that divide the US are notably absent in Brazil. According to the 2010 census, 6.7% of Brazilians said they were black, compared with 6.2% in 2000, and 43.1% said they were mixed race, up from 38.5%. In 2010, Elio Ferreira de Araujo, Brazil's minister for racial equality, attributed the change to growing pride among his country's black and indigenous communities.[86]

The philosophy of the racial democracy in Brazil has drawn criticism from some quarters. Brazil has one of the largest gaps in income distribution in the world. The richest 10% of the population earn 28 times the average income of the bottom 40%. The richest 10 percent is almost exclusively white. One-third of the population lives under the poverty line, with blacks and other non-whites accounting for 70 percent of the poor.[87]

Fruit sellers in Rio de Janeiro c. 1820

In the US, black people earn 75% of what white people earn.[88] In Brazil, non-whites earn less than 50% of what whites earn. Some have posited that Brazil practices the one-drop rule when analysts consider the facts of social and economic divisions. The gap in income between blacks and other non-whites is relatively small compared to the large gap between whites and non-whites. Other factors, such as illiteracy and education levels, show the same patterns.[89] Unlike in the US, where African Americans were united in the civil-rights struggle, in Brazil the philosophy of whitening has helped divide blacks from other non-whites and prevented a more active civil rights movement.

Though Brazilians of African heritage make up a large percentage[88] of the population there are very few black politicians. The city of Salvador, Bahia, for instance, is 80% Afro-Brazilian but has never had a black mayor. Critics indicate that US cities that have a black majority, such as Detroit and New Orleans, have never had white mayors since first electing black mayors in the 1970s.[86][90]

Black people in Brazil c. 1821

Non-white people also have limited media visibility. The Latin American media, in particular the Brazilian media, has been accused of hiding its Black, Indigenous, Multiracial and East Asian population. For example the telenovelas or soaps are said to be a hotbed of largely blond and light-eyed white (they resemble Scandinavians and other northern Europeans more than they look like white Brazilians of typical Southern European features) and light-skinned mulatto and mestizo (often deemed as white persons in Brazil if achieving the middle class or higher social status) actors. Most rare empowered persons of color represented in Latin American media possess typically Caucasian features due to a mix of racist standards of beauty, colourism and lookism. Nevertheless, in the last years, the number of empowered afrodescendants (either economically or by other ways) increased in Brazilian media coverage. Despite Brazil also possessing criminal black man stereotypes, it is considered a huge prejudice and mostly not used in a disordered way by the media, in spite of sometimes common "humouristic" sexist jokes and LGBT stereotyping [91] and as such lack of politically correctness in native race issues is not a major problem (there are more stereotypes of Asian people, Europeans or U.S. Americans, for example).

These patterns of discrimination against non-whites have led some to advocate for the use of the Portuguese term 'negro' to encompass non-whites so as to renew a black consciousness and identity, in effect an African descent rule.[92] It generates criticism since Pardo, or Brown people, is intended to include caboclos (mestizos), assimilated Amerindians and tri-racials, not only afrodescendants — thus Brazilian of some or no recent African descent, as most White Brazilians, become 60–70% of the population, breaking the argument of possible Brazilian one-drop rule since real noticeable mulattoes, cafuzos (zambos) and black persons are a minority and the Brazilian poor represents larger percents in Brazil. As one would expect from an underdeveloped country, there are pockets of poverty in White-majority and Japanese Brazilian-majority areas, rarer in urban developments but common in rural areas. They are even more common among Mestizo-majority areas, and Amerindian communities.

United States

Harriet Tubman, an African-American fugitive slave, abolitionist, and conductor of the Underground Railroad

In the first 200 years that black people were in the United States, they commonly referred to themselves as Africans. In Africa, people primarily identified themselves by ethnic group (closely allied to language) and not by skin color. Individuals identified themselves, for example, as Ashanti, Igbo, Bakongo, or Wolof, and others. But when Africans were brought to the Americas, they were often combined with other groups from Africa, and individual ethnic affiliations were not generally acknowledged by English colonists. In areas of the Upper South, different ethnic groups were brought together. This is significant as Africans came from a vast geographic region: the West African coastline stretching from Senegal to Angola and in some cases from the south-east coast such as Mozambique. A new identity and culture was born that incorporated elements of the various ethnic groups and of European cultural heritage, resulting in fusions such as the Black church and Black English. This new identity was based on African ancestry and slave status rather than membership in any one ethnic group.[93] By contrast, slave records from Louisiana show that the French and Spanish colonists recorded more complete identities of Africans, including ethnicities and given tribal names.[94]

The US racial or ethnic classification "black" refers to people with all possible kinds of skin pigmentation, from the darkest through to the very lightest skin colors, including albinos, if they are believed by others to have African ancestry (in any discernible percentage), or to exhibit cultural traits associated with being "African American". As a result, in the United States the term "black people" is not an indicator of skin color but of socially based racial classification.[95] Relatively dark-skinned people can be classified as white if they fulfill other social criteria of "whiteness", and relatively light-skinned people can be classified as black if they fulfill the social criteria for "blackness" in a particular setting.[96]

In March 1807, Great Britain, which largely controlled the Atlantic, declared the transatlantic slave trade illegal, as did the United States. (The latter prohibition took effect 1 January 1808, the earliest date on which Congress had the power to do so after protecting the slave trade under Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution.)

By that time, the majority of black people in the United States were native-born, so the use of the term "African" became problematic. Though initially a source of pride, many blacks feared the use of African as an identity would be a hindrance to their fight for full citizenship in the US. They also felt that it would give ammunition to those who were advocating repatriating black people back to Africa. In 1835, black leaders called upon black Americans to remove the title of "African" from their institutions and replace it with "Negro" or "Colored American". A few institutions chose to keep their historic names, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church. African Americans popularly used the terms "Negro" or "colored" for themselves until the late 1960s.[97]

The term black was used throughout but not frequently since it carried a certain stigma. In his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech,[98] Martin Luther King, Jr. uses the terms negro fifteen times and black four times. Each time he uses black it is in parallel construction with white, for example, "black men and white men".[99]

With the successes of the civil rights movement, a new term was needed to break from the past and help shed the reminders of legalized discrimination. In place of Negro, activists promoted the use of black as standing for racial pride, militancy, and power. Some of the turning points included the use of the term "Black Power" by Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael) and the popular singer James Brown's song "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud".

Michael Jordan, an African American considered by many to be the greatest basketball player in history.

In 1988, the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson urged Americans to use the term "African American" because it had a historical cultural base and was a construction similar to terms used by European descendants, such as German American, Italian American, etc. Since then, African American and black have had essentially coequal status. Controversy continues over which term is more appropriate. Maulana Karenga and Owen Alik Shahadah argue African-American is more appropriate because it accurately articulates geographical and historical origin.[93] Others have argued that "black" is a better term because "African" suggests foreignness, although black people have been in the US since the earliest colonial years.[100] Still others believe the term black is inaccurate because African Americans have a variety of skin tones.[101][102] Surveys show that the majority of black Americans have no preference for "African American" or "Black",[103] although they have a slight preference for "black" in personal settings and "African American" in more formal settings.[104]

Increases in the number of black immigrants to the United States from Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America since the late twentieth century have raised questions about who uses the term African American. The more recent African immigrants may sometimes view themselves, and be viewed, as culturally distinct from native-born Americans who descend from African slaves.[105]

The U.S. census race definitions says a "black" is a person having origins in any of the black (sub-Saharan) racial groups of Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as "Black, African Am., or Negro" or who provide written entries such as African American, Afro-American, Kenyan, Nigerian, or Haitian. The Census Bureau notes that these classifications are socio-political constructs and should not be interpreted as scientific or anthropological.[106]

A black Gl and a Chinese soldier place the flag of their ally on the front of their jeep, truck convoy on the Stilwell Road, Burma, 1945

A considerable portion of the U.S. population identified as black also has European ancestry in varying amounts; a lesser proportion have some Native American ancestry. For instance, genetic studies of African-American people show an ancestry that is on average 17–18% European.[107]

One-drop rule

Since the late nineteenth century, the South used a colloquial term, the one-drop rule, to classify as black a person of any known African ancestry. This practice of hypodescent was not put into law until the early twentieth century.[108] Legally the definition varied from state to state. Racial definition was more flexible in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries before the American Civil War. For instance, President Thomas Jefferson held persons who were legally white (less than 25% black) according to Virginia law at the time, but, because they were born to slave mothers, they were born into slavery, according to the principle of partus sequitur ventrem, which Virginia adopted into law in 1662.

Outside of the US, some other countries have adopted the one-drop rule, but the definition of who is black and the extent to which the one-drop "rule" applies varies greatly from country to country.

The one-drop rule may have originated as a means of increasing the number of black slaves[109] and was maintained as an attempt to keep the white race pure.[110] One of the results of the one-drop rule was the uniting of the African-American community.[108] Some of the most prominent abolitionists and civil-rights activists of the nineteenth century were multiracial, such as Frederick Douglass, Robert Purvis, and James Mercer Langston. They advocated equality for all.


Barack Obama, the first President of the United States with black ancestry, was throughout his campaign criticized as being either "too black" or "not black enough".[111][112][113]

The concept of blackness in the United States has been described as the degree to which one associates themselves with mainstream African American culture, politics,[114][115] and values. To a certain extent, this concept is not so much about race but more about political orientation,[114][115] culture and behavior. Blackness can be contrasted with "acting white", where black Americans are said to behave with assumed characteristics of stereotypical white Americans with regard to fashion, dialect, taste in music,[116] and possibly, from the perspective of a significant number of black youth, academic achievement.[117]

Due to the often political[114][115] and cultural contours of blackness in the United States, the notion of blackness can also be extended to non-black people. Toni Morrison once described Bill Clinton as the first black President of the United States,[118] because of his warm relations with African Americans and his poor upbringing. Christopher Hitchens was offended by the notion of Clinton as the first black president, noting, "Mr Clinton, according to Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, is our first black President, the first to come from the broken home, the alcoholic mother, the under-the-bridge shadows of our ranking systems. Thus, we may have lost the mystical power to divine diabolism, but we can still divine blackness by the following symptoms: broken homes, alcoholic mothers, under-the-bridge habits and (presumable from the rest of [Arthur] Miller's senescent musings) the tendency to sexual predation and to shameless perjury about same."[119] Some black activists were also offended, claiming Clinton used his knowledge of black culture to exploit black people for political gain as no other president had before, while not serving black interests.[120] They note his lack of action during the Rwanda genocide[121] and his welfare reform, which Larry Roberts said had led to the worst child poverty since the 1960s.[122] Others noted that the number of black people in jail increased during his administration.[123]

The question of blackness also arose in the Democrat Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. Commentators have questioned whether Obama, who was elected the first President with black ancestry, is "black enough", contending that his background is not typical because his mother was white American, and his father was a black Kenyan immigrant.[111][113] Obama chose to identify as black and African-American.[124][125]

In July 2012, reported on historic and DNA research by its staff that discovered that Obama is likely a descendant through his mother of John Punch, considered by some historians to be the first African slave in the Virginia colony. An indentured servant, he was "bound for life" in 1640 after trying to escape. The story of him and his descendants is that of multi-racial America since it appeared he and his sons married or had unions with white women, likely indentured servants and working class like them. Their multi-racial children were free because they were born to free English women. Over time, Obama's line of the Bunch family (as they became known) were property owners and continued to "marry white"; they became part of white society, likely by the early to mid-eighteenth century.[126]

See also


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