Why It's Not Disrespectful To Call Me Black

Photo: YourTango
Nia Tipton

The question of how to respectfully refer to Black people is a consistent topic of debate.

Whether it’s African-American, POC (People of Color), BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), or just using the term "Black", many non-Black people often struggle with which words to use.

The answer definitely depends on the Black person you’re talking to.

Some of us don’t have much of a preference, while others don’t particularly like the term African-American.

Personally, I don’t find the term African-American accurate, as it's not applicable to every Black person. Not every Black person has direct roots to Africa, or is from America.

It’s presumptuous to assume that just because my skin is brown means I must have ties to an African country.

My direct family ancestry dates back to the Caribbean. As far back as I can recall, our family has no direct connection to any country in Africa, meaning I cannot accurately be named an African-American. 

African-American is a correct term, but it’s not the correct term.

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There is nothing wrong or bad about being Black, therefore there shouldn’t be anything wrong about using that word.

Being Black is beautiful, it’s powerful, and people shouldn’t be afraid to say it. 

As long as the context is correct, and you’re not saying “The Blacks” — or something equally offensive and dehumanizing — then there is no issue.

I think the term "POC" is also up for debate. That term refers to anyone who is not fully white: Asian, Latinx, Black or Native American people (among others). The word is an umbrella term that stretches over many groups of people.

The problem is, not every group under that umbrella of "people of color" faces the same levels of discrimination or receives the same treatment from white America.

Also, there is a severe amount of prejudice even within POC, especially towards Black people. 

It’s hard to call myself a person of color, and lump myself into a group with many other people of color, when a lot of them are discriminatory towards me and other people in my community. 

On the NPR podcast, Code Switch, there was an amazing episode about what it actually means to be ‘Person of Color.’ There was one line that really resonated with me and why I personally choose not to use the word POC:

“Many felt that people using the term POC were (intentionally or not) sidestepping the truth: That certain effects of racism — things like mass incarceration, police violence, inability to access good health care — disproportionately affect Black and Indigenous people. Not all 'people of color'.”

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Which is why the term BIPOC is more inclusive. 

BIPOC stands for “Black, Indigenous, and people of color,” and is person-first language.

It enables a shift away from terms like “marginalized” and “minority,” which aren’t terms that I particularly enjoy hearing. The word "minority", especially, because there is nothing "minor" about us.

And I know the term is used to differentiate between the levels of power in this country, but when the words "majority" and "minority" are used in discussions about race, it feels disheartening to label myself as a minor — as someone who is less important. 

When it comes down to terminology, it shouldn’t ever be that confusing as long as you’re communicating and respecting which terms are best to call me, and any other Black person you’re in conversation with.

We are not ashamed of being Black or being called Black. It’s never something that we try and hide or run away from.

It’s who we are. 

It’s who I am.

And as we enter into Black history month in a matter of days, I want to continue having these conversations. I want to continue spreading awareness and education around my community — a community that has been subjected to silence for far too long. 

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Chicago. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.