What Set You Claim? : The Effect of Racial Categories on Ethnic Identity

I was reading an article earlier and I was upset by the author’s use of the term “American Indian.” I feel like it is inappropriate and ignorant. When I hear “American Indian,” I think of an expatriate of India with dual citizenship. I typically say, “Native American,” but this article makes me question that. A friend of mine uses “Indigenous American” because he feels that “native” implies “savage” or “primitive.” I think this is plausible, but I feel that “native” simply implies “resident.” Regardless, in either case, we are using a large umbrella term to describe a multitude of cultures. As stated in the article, most Native Americans identify with their tribe or clan, so calling them “Native Americans” undermines their tribal heritage (I’m doing it right now, kind of).

All of this makes me wonder how other racial groups feel about their racial categories. Do they also hate umbrella terms? Through experience, I’ve learned that terms such as Asian American and Latino American are somtimes less preferred – and occasionally disdained –  in comparison to culture-affirming terms such as Korean American or Brazilian American, respectively. Contrarily, it seems that most Blacks are willing to identify as Black American. I have some Nigerian friends that I am really close to, but they have never referred to themselves as “Nigerian American.” They are “Black.”  Even in the White community, some people are reluctant to be “White.” They ironically reject an exclusive term that some people (not me, so don’t infer) would do anything to be able to wield and affirm themselves, Irish American, Russian American, French American, Canadian American, etc. Why is there solidarity in the Black community, but not so much in other communities?

I’m inclined to believe that it’s because Blacks had the Civil Rights Movement, which effectively forced solidarity. In 1960, if  you were Jamaican and your best friend was Haitian and you went into a white neighborhood, you needed to stick together because to everyone else you were just two Black kids. Of course, if you walk into a room full of Black people they will not all sing Negro spirituals and hold hands. There will still be regional, socioeconomic, personal and [insert arbitrary thing] characteristics that they will include in their identities, but if you ask them to assert their race, 95% of them will roll up their sleeves, point to their skin or hair, and say, “I’m Black, duh.” So essentially, it’s all about sociopolitical identity?

Nevertheless, this issue is much bigger than this blog post.

Any other theories?

Give me your thoughts and your experiences.


One thought on “What Set You Claim? : The Effect of Racial Categories on Ethnic Identity

  1. I really like to call myself a black West Indian, or Afro-Trinidadian if I am being culturally specific to racial identity within Trinidad. Black also works well for me, as someone who currently lives in America. I cannot stand “Caribbean” as an identifier or Caribbean black which also, doesn’t quite cut it for some reason. At least to me.

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