People in the US who look at least part African have been called different things by different people at different times. Here is an incomplete list:
Negars – what they were called when they first stepped off the boat in 1619, a year before the Mayflower:
“About the last of August came in a dutch man of warre that sold us twenty Negars.”
That was written by John Rolfe, widowed husband of Pocahontas. “Negars” seems to come from what the Dutch called them, which in turn comes from what the Spanish and Portuguese called them: negro, meaning “black”. The Dutch were big-time slave traders.
nigger – some say this comes from Scottish, but it seems more likely that it is an anglicization of Negar. It is a racial slur, called the N-word in mixed company.
Negro – was the main term used in written English from 1712 to 1972. It was the polite White middle-class word. It spread to Black middle-class use in the late 1800s. It came into English from Spanish in the middle 1500s, along with other bits of the racialized Spanish view of the Americas, like new meanings for the words Indian and race. In the 1960s, Malcolm X and the Black Power movement gave “Negro” a new meaning: someone brainwashed by White people – a meaning it still has, at least in Black American circles.
African – what Black Americans mainly called themselves till the 1830s. You see that in names like the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, founded in 1787.
coloured – what many mixed-race house servants in the early 1800s called themselves. “Africans” were people who worked in the fields. It spread to general Black American use in the 1830s with the rise of the American Colonization Society, which wanted to send “Africans” back to Africa! In Jim Crow times (1877-1967), “colored” spread to polite White working-class use. Like Negro, it was swept aside in the 1960s by:
Black – in constant use since the 1620s, it did not become the main term till after the Black Power movement pushed it in the late 1960s. They and Malcolm X made it a word to wear with pride – “Black is beautiful” and all that. A bold move in a language where the colour black has stood for things bad or evil since at least the 1300s: black mark, black magic, blacklist, etc (something that comes from Christianity, not from racism).
African American – goes back to 1969 with the African-American Teachers Association. Pushed by Jesse Jackson and others in the late 1980s. Modelled on Irish American, etc. This term was almost unthinkable in the late 1800s when “Americans” meant US Whites and “Africans” meant “savages”.
– Abagond, 2016.
- White American racism against Blacks: 1600s
- Malcolm X
- Black Power
- Back to Africa