Thursday, October 10, 2013

Terminology for the Black Race.

A couple times now I have been presented with some awkwardness during conversations among friends when they are not so sure how to refer to 'black' people. To reduce the discomfort, I'm usually quick to fill in the blanks for them. Kenyan, African, or Black.

The times are changing, and what was acceptable when we were younger, is no longer. It's hard to keep up, especially if you aren't in a position to use them on a daily basis. Below is a list of the most commonly accepted terminology when discussing people of different races/ethnic backgrounds.

Race refers to the physical features of a person, largely their skin colour.

Zahra is Black.

I am White.

Culture - The characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.

In this case, we would say Zahra is Kenyan.
However, in Kenya, many will often refer to their individual 'tribe'. Kikuyu, Luo, Maasai etc.

Nationality - 90% of the time, nationality refers to the place where the person was born and/or holds citizenship. However, often times nationality can be determined by place of residence, ethnicity, or national identity.

Zahra is Canadian and Kenyan, and holds citizenship in both places. But will identify herself as a Canadian, as that is where she lives.

Heritage generally refers to your ancestors.

Zahra is Kenyan.
I am English, Irish, Scottish, German, Metis... geez could we through any more in the pot?

We are an Interracial (or transracial) family.

Skin Colour - When we speak specifically about the color of Zahra's skin, it is brown. Not black. We would never point to her skin and say her skin colour is black, nor would you point to my skin colour and say it is white, because it is 'tanned' or 'pink', etc. This would come into context if she were drawing a picture of herself, etc.

Geographically, she is 'African'.

I am 'American'. Although, in the Americas, we seem to associate 'American' with the US, so we stick with Canadian.

Terms that are not acceptable -

Blanket Terminology - Many people instinctively want to call Black people African American. This is not the correct terminology unless you happen to know if they indeed are from Africa, and have US citizenship. After all, there are many Black people on our continent that come from Haiti, Jamaica etc. If you are unsure of someones ethnicity, you call them Black or of African/Caribbean descent.

"People of Colour' or 'Coloured' - is no longer acceptable. It is seen as an euphemism and considered offensive.

When speaking of people of mixed race, we call them 'mixed race' or biracial.
Half Caste - is not acceptable.
Mulatto - although it sounds all exotic and polite, actually means 'mix of horse and donkey'. So you can see why this is falling out of the acceptable category.

The 'N' word is not acceptable at all. Ever. Period.

I hope this helps clarify! :)

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