Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate May 2001

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"Black" or "African-American?" Knowing when and how to use words such as these have become a mystery in today's politically-correct society. As we define and redefine who we are, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of what term to use when referring to different ethnic groups. The issue of describing an ethnic group is an obvious problem in our society. "Latino and Chicano," "White and European-American," "Asian and Asian-American," and most other ethnic groups experience similar difficulties. We can often think of many terms when describing an ethnic group. These terms exist in our society because of the constant search for words to better describe and define ourselves. As for African-Americans the search has been long and hard. "Negro" and "Colored" were the most often used words after the abolishment of slavery in 1865. These terms were coined by White-America and for many years accepted by African-Americans. "Negro" and "Colored" was later dominated by the word "Black."

Although the term "Black" was coined by White-Americans, it was subsequently defined by Black-Americans. "Black" has since then been used in describing African-Americans. The term "Afro-American" is a relatively new term which was first used in the 1960s by civil rights leaders such as Malcolm X. "Afro-American" later became "African-American" and is frequently used in today's society. Today "African-American" and "Black" are used interchangeably.

If you speak to someone of the older generation, the word "Black" is more widely acceptable while the younger generation might prefer "African-American." This is not surprising since the older generations grew-up mostly using the word "Black." As an African-American, I have firsthand experience of the usage of both terms. In all my years, I have never heard my grandmother nor my mother use the term "African-American." They most often use the word "Black" and may sometimes...