Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Racial boxes

Mary Omosa of Kenya
I heard the guest preacher say this phrase last Sunday morning: "an African-American woman who is from Kenya." Was she really an African-American woman from Kenya? Or was she an African woman from Kenya? Or perhaps just a Kenyan woman?

I have always resisted the term African-American, in part, for this very reason. It requires too much knowledge both about a person's racial background and about his or her national background. Or, as in the case of the preacher, it requires simply ignoring what knowledge one does possess and using the term out of habit in order to avoid the supposedly insensitive word black. Yet calling an African woman an African-American strikes me as much more insensitive. But I don't know why it was necessary to make an reference to the woman's race at all, both because most Kenyans are widely known to be black and, more importantly, because the woman's race was irrelevant to what the preacher was saying.

Perhaps also because I was a newspaper copy editor for so many years, I dislike African-American because it is long and unwieldy. It doesn't fit easily into a headline. Why use long words or multiple words when shorter words or shorter phrases work just as well, if not better? That's why I would rather tell someone "Good day!" than "Have a good day!" or, worse, "Have a good rest of the day!"

The mixing of races in today's world has reached the point where a stranger, or in some cases even the person in question, cannot easily identify the race of that person. Perhaps the time has come, or soon will come, when we should stop trying to fit individuals into racial boxes. Certainly that is what last Sunday's preacher should have done.

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