DEAR ABBY: On July 23, "Wondering" asked why President Obama is considered to be African-American and you responded that the term "African-American" is used in this country as a label that describes skin color. However, in the U.S. the term is generally applied to black Americans of slave ancestry.
Before the Civil War we were African-American slaves, not considered fully human by the U.S. Constitution. After the Civil War and the outlawing of slavery, former slaves gained citizenship through amendments to the Constitution but were not able to exercise the full rights of citizenship. Most former slaves wanted to just be "Americans" with all the rights and privileges associated with it — but because of the color of their skin were discriminated against and given second-class citizenship.
The term "African-American" is the result of a search for identity by these new Americans, former slaves and their descendants. We were called by many names — most of them negative, such as "Negro," "Colored," "African," the infamous "N-word," "Afro-American" and finally, "black." All of these at one time we considered negative because they didn't represent self-identification.
The black power movement occurred when Black Americans changed the negative term "black" to the positive term "Black." The musician James Brown coined the phrase, "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud." Later other black folk began to adopt the term "African-American," which brings us to the present.
We are a nation that has roots in all nations of the world. Truly, "we ARE the world." We're all American, either by birth or naturalization. The labels tend to divide us into groups which separate us rather than bring us together. The saying "United We Stand, Divided We Fall" is true. Let us all come together and all be blessed.
— REV. ALTON E. PARIS, AMERICAN
DEAR REV. PARIS: Thank you for your letter, which is both inspiring and educational. Many readers had comments about my answer, and they were all over the map. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I am a white female with many African-American friends, and yes, I did vote for Obama. When Obama became president, most of my black friends said: "Finally! We have a black man as president. All this racism will stop. The white man is no longer in charge of things."
To me, it was like it didn't matter that his mother was white, he was raised by his grandmother who was white, and he is half-white. What I'm trying to say is, he's a man of equal parts — not all black. So why do African-Americans make it sound like he is of all black heritage? Isn't he of white heritage also? A lot of my white friends feel the same way I do.
— NANCY G. IN CLEVELAND
DEAR ABBY: Please inform "Wondering" that according to Webster's Dictionary, President Obama is mulatto, which is a person who is a first-generation offspring of a black person and a white person.
— WILLIAM B., CLAYTON, N.J.
DEAR ABBY: When living in America, I am called an African-American. If I move to Africa, would I be called an American-African?
— KENNETH F., SARALAND, ALA.
DEAR ABBY: Many biracial children are considered to be part of the ethnic group they resemble the most. While some may consider it disrespectful to say that someone is of one race when he or she is really biracial, this is the world we live in. We do, truly, "call 'em like we see 'em"!
— DEVYN B., FAYETTEVILLE, N.C.
READERS: I'll have more on this tomorrow.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.