Friday, November 25, 2011

The Changing Meaning Of "European"

Written by Azizi Powell

Crossposted as a comment on

As an African American who is 60+ years old, I have the benefit of experiencing how racial & national definitions and racial referents can change over time.

Throughout my life Black Americans were formally referred to as "Negro", "Colored (people) and "Afro-American". But those referents have been retired and replaced with the formal terms "Black Americans" & "African Americans", and the more informal referent "Black".

Furthermore, I believe that in the United States, "Black" can also refer to people from Africa and other African Disapora populations such as Black people from the Caribbean & Europe. That said, any of those persons who live in the USA could (also) self-identify as African American, though they might add the specific information that they were born and raised in Nigeria, or Guyana, or the UK. I also believe that rightly or wrongly, most Black Americans are likely to assume that any person who "looks Black" (which remember is a wide range of physical appearances) is Black-meaning that person is usually assumed by Black Americans to be African American. My sense is that most White people "lump" all Black people in the USA as African Americans just because those persons' visually appear to be "Black".

But the United States' "one drop of Black blood makes a person Black" social rule may be slowly undergoing change. As evidence, some Americans (in the United States) of mixed Black/ non-Black ancestry refer to themselves as biracial or mixed race. I have also recently read a few articles in which some White Americans claim to have some Black ancestry. That would be unheard of even one decade ago as a "USAer" couldn't claim Black ancestry and still be considered White.

Admittedly from the outside looking in, with regard to European referents, I believe that we are living in a period of "national referent changes" similar to that which occurred in with Black Americans in the 1960s to the early 1980s.

I believe that the meanings of the referent "European" is changing right before our eyes. I also believe who people assume might be from a European nation is undergoing change to fit the realities of these times. There was a time that the referents "European", "Swedish", "British", "French",
"Italian", and "German" all automatically meant "White". However, I believe now just like "American" doesn't or shouldn't automatically mean "White", "European" doesn't or shouldn't automatically mean "White".

I support the use of "Black European" or "Afro European" and "Afro Swede", "Black Briton", "Black French", "Black Italian", etc for specificity. However, I believe that a Black Swede, Black Briton, Black Italian etc are just as much a citizen of his or her nation as a White (or any other race) Swede, Briton, or Italian.

More power to those positive changes! And, to use an African American saying, "Keep on keeping on!"

To read a related pancocojams blog post, click Are Black Immigrants To The USA African Americans?

Here's an interesting video that I happened upon about the changing faces of Europe (Warning- this video includes the full spelling of the "n word" racial slur)

Schwarzfahrer (with English Subtitles)

Uploaded by PineTreePictures on Feb 21, 2007

Pepe Danquart's Oscar-winning short film (Germany), presented here with English subtitles.


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