Note: I orginaly wrote this in July of 2007. I thought it would be interesting to repost this in anticipation of Barack Obama's Inauguration in 5 days. Enjoy...
Historically, the descendents of American slaves have been placed under America's dinner table.
Out of this solitude comes a unique sense of community. From the Jim Crow era's "black only" diners to the modern day black table found in most suburban high schools, those considered African-Americans have found comfort and acceptance in numbers.
However, questions of membership qualifications, idealism, and identity are brought forth when the term African-American is used to describe a group of Americans.
Born out of slavery and segregation, the modern African-American community has been a creation to give those cast out by slavery and social injustice a sense of acceptance and a greater good than themselves. Although genuine in its conception, this artifact of the past does more harm for modern Americans than good. When a country continues to accept certain people only as a group rather than individuals, segregation is in existence. Sadly, America's current segregation is largely self-imposed. The use of the term African-American is a form of segregation in itself; it isolates a specific section of Americans. Although not as extreme as the civil rights era, modern segregation has more socio-economic implications yet is still looked at through the lens of color.
What are the qualifications to be an African American? Looking at the term, one would think a person had to be directly from Africa. If this were the case, what about an African immigrant who chooses America as his new? Furthermore, what if that African immigrant were white? Is this term merely used to note skin color? The descendents of slaves in America have become numb to the term African-American and the contempt in its usage and implications. The term obviously notes a common ancestry, but those considered African-American know African is not the only ancestry found in their blood. Do members of this community simply ignore individual "roots" to find acceptance in the group? Why isn't the term "American" enough to describe an individual? Why does an American have to be classified according to color?
Interestingly, the Americans of this community are part of a socialist group within the U.S.' Democratic government system. Every four years, candidates fight for a supposed "black vote", as if all black people in America secretly get together and decide which candidate they will singularly support. This form of thinking has dangerous implications, because it sees African Americans as a whole instead of single entities and therefore speaks to this supposed group in ideal terms. It merely treats individuals as a group because of the color of their skin -- but this is not the fault of politicians, as it has become accepted within the group. What is neglected is the fact that Americans vary in education, social status, and ideals. Although this group can vary dramatically in these areas too, the common bond of color remains at the forefront, which is dangerous for the individual and the nation as a whole.
Whether it is television, books, or even art, a separate market has been created for the African-American community, further alienating this group from the rest of America. These various facets of the media exemplify what it means to be African American. It perpetuates stereotypes and provides a template for what one has to be in order to fit into this group. Again, from a historic sense, these forms of media provided a sense of identity and an outlet for individuals of this group. However, instead of being innovative, these media seem to have transformed into caricatures of themselves. They have been coined African-American and will never brake the mold because the mold is the acceptance.
Teenage years for any individual are a very confusing time. Peer pressure is common through high school years. Minorities, specifically those labeled African-Americans, go through an extreme form of peer pressure through expectations stimulated by images produced by the media. Whenever an American of this group is an outstanding student, speaks standard English, and his cultural interest vary, he is almost always considered to be "acting white". A large emphasis is placed on sports by individuals of this group. It is expected that the members of this group are exceptional in basketball or football. This is accepted by members of this group and also by society as a whole the proper identity for these individuals. This contrasts greatly to their Caucasian peers who have a wide selection of identities to choose from. The terms African-American and black limits these students from truly socializing in an unbiased environment due to expectations imposed by themselves and society.
In all, African-American is an archaic term used to segregate American citizens by skin color. When used, expectations of ideology, culture, and identity are preconceived. In turn, the people this term is applied to can never be truly treated as individuals. Sixty years after the civil rights movement, America should be beyond skin color. Until the term African-American is abandoned to distinguish Americans from one another, this group can never truly assimilate into society.