Is it OK to refer to someone as "black"?
Like "black American".
Should I use "African American" instead?
I don't know which one is more polite and generally used in English speaking countries.
The word "African" on its own implies "from an African country". If you call an American- or British-born black man "African" it's quite simply incorrect.
It's a complicated situation. African can mean either (recently) from an African country or of African descent. If you had to revoke your claims of ancestors once you were a couple steps away, someone hasn't given that memo to my friends who proudly proclaim German, Irish, Jewish, etc lineages.
I personally don't have a preference but if my DNA says I'm 91% Sub-Saharan African, I think it's not incorrect to term me an African-American.
This is definitely a sensitive area of language, but one that's important to understand if you live in a multicultural society. Honestly, a lot of white native speakers are very awkward about this terminology too, so you're not alone!
Here are a few tips:
- When referring to ethnicities, adjectives are better than nouns. "Black" is fine as an adjective, but is inappropriate as a noun. For example, "Many black people live here" is fine, but "Many blacks live here" sounds very old-fashioned (many people would say offensive - Donald Trump got a lot of ridicule not long ago for referring to African Americans as "the blacks"). By the way, the "adj. > n." rule applies to all ethnicities: for example, while saying "He's a Jew" is not really offensive, it's definitely preferable to say "He's Jewish".
- The word "African" on its own implies "from an African country". If you call an American- or British-born black man "African" it's quite simply incorrect.
- Try to be specific if you can: for example avoid calling an Aboriginal Australian "black" when you can call them "Aboriginal".
- In AmEng "people of color" is quite common these days, and is totally inoffensive. Avoid, however, saying "colored people": this term is offensive because it evokes segregation (in the 1950s, black people in America had to use the "colored drinking fountain", etc.). I don't believe the term "people of color" is common outside of the US (yet), but to my knowledge it can refer to anyone who isn't white, not just black people.- If you're unsure which word to use, asking "Which term do you prefer?" is better than using the inappropriate word and offending people.
Black is not really offensive. Some Americans of African descent prefer Black, others prefer African American. African American is the more formal version.
Even some governmental forms use both, and specify "Black or African American."
Hi, I am not American. I do know that it is not good to use colour to describe a person in Australia. African American is a better description. Of course, you can ask the person what they prefer.