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African American Vernacular English
African Americans or Black Americans are citizens or residents of the United States whose ancestors, usually in predominant part, were indigenous to Sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that a significant number of African Americans have European heritage. In the United States the term is generally used for Americans with predominantly Sub-Saharan African ancestry. Most African Americans are the descendants of captive Africans who were enslaved within the boundaries of the present United States, although some are—or are descended from—voluntary immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and South America.
- 1 History
- 2 Demographics
- 3 Contemporary issues
- 4 The term "African American"
- 5 See also
- 6 Further reading
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
- Main article: African American history
Blacks in America are primarily descended from slaves sold to British North America (which later became Canada and the United States) during the Atlantic slave trade. By 1860, there were 3.5 million enslaved Africans in the Southern United States, and another 500,000 Africans lived free across the country. In 1863, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation declared all slaves in states that has seceded from the Union were free. Advancing Union troops enforced the proclamation with Texas being the last state to be emancipated in 1865. While the post-war reconstruction era was initially a time of progress for African Americans, in the late 1890s, Southern states enacted Jim Crow laws to enforce racial segregation and disenfranchisement. Most African Americans followed the Jim Crow laws and assumed a posture of humility and servility to prevent becoming victims of racially motivated violence. To maintain self-esteem and dignity, middle-class African Americans created their own schools, churches, banks, social clubs, and other businesses.
In the last decade of the nineteenth century in the United States, racially discriminatory laws and racial violence aimed at African Americans began to mushroom. These discriminatory acts included racial segregation – upheld by the United States Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 - which was legally mandated by southern states and nationwide at the local level of government, voter suppression or disenfranchisement in the southern states, denial of economic opportunity or resources nationwide, and private acts of violence and mass racial violence aimed at African Americans unhindered or encouraged by government authorities. The desperate conditions of African Americans in the South that sparked the Great Migration of the early 20th century, combined with a growing African American intellectual and cultural elite in the Northern United States, led to a movement to fight violence and discrimination against African Americans that, like abolitionism before it, crossed racial lines. The Civil Rights Movement aimed at abolishing public and private acts of racial discrimination against African Americans between 1954 to 1968, particularly in the southern United States. By 1966, the emergence of the Black Power Movement, which lasted from 1966 to 1975, expanded upon the aims of the Civil Rights Movement to include racial dignity, economic and political self-sufficiency, and freedom from white authority. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the conditions which brought it into being are credited with putting pressure on President John F. Kennedy and then Lyndon B. Johnson that culminated in the passage the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and labor unions.
In 1790, when the first census was taken, slaves and free Negroes numbered about 760,000—about 19.3% of the population. In 1860, at the start of the American Civil War, the African American population increased to 4.4 million, but the percentage rate dropped to 14% of the overall population of the country. The vast majority were slaves, with only 488,000 counted as "freemen". By 1900, the black population had doubled and reached 8.8 million.
In 1910, about 90% of African Americans lived in the South, but large numbers began migrating north looking for better job opportunities and living conditions, and to escape Jim Crow laws and racial violence. The Great Migration, as it was called, spanned the 1890s to the 1970s. From 1916 through the 1960s, more than 6 million black people moved north. But in the 1970s and 1980s, that trend reversed, with more African Americans moving south to the Sunbelt than leaving it.
The following gives the African American population in the U.S. over time, based on U.S. Census figures. (Numbers from years 1920 to 2000 are based on U.S. Census figures as given by the Time Almanac of 2005, p 377) The CIA World Factbook gives the current 2006 figure as 12.9%  Controversy has surrounded the "accurate" population count of African Americans for decades. The NAACP believed it was under counted intentionally to minimize the significance of the black population in order to reduce their political power base.
|Year||Number||% of total population||Slaves||% in slavery|
|1930||11.9 million||9.7% (lowest)||-||-|
By 1990, the African American population reached about 30 million and represented 12% of the U.S. population, roughly the same proportion as in 1900. In current demographics, according to 2005 U.S. Census figures, some 39.9 million African Americans live in the United States, comprising 13.8 percent of the total population. African Americans were once the largest minority in the United States, but are now second, only behind Hispanics or Latinos of any race. At the time of the 2000 Census, 54.8 percent of African Americans lived in the South. In that year, 17.6 percent of African Americans lived in the Northeast and 18.7 percent in the Midwest, while only 8.9 percent lived in the western states. The west does have a sizable black population in certain areas, however. California, the nation's most populous state, has the fifth largest African American population, only behind New York, Texas, Georgia, and Florida.
Almost 58 percent of African Americans lived in metropolitan areas in 2000. With over 2 million black residents, New York City had the largest black urban population in the United States in 2000, overall the city has a 28 percent black population. Chicago has the second largest black population, with almost 1.6 million African Americans in its metropolitan area, representing about 18 percent of the total metropolitan population. Among cities of 100,000 or more, Gary, Indiana, had the highest percentage of black residents of any U.S. city in 2000, with 85 percent (though it should be noted that the 2006 Census estimate puts the city's population below 100,000.) Nonetheless, Gary is followed closely by Detroit, Michigan, with 83 percent African American. Atlanta, Georgia, has a substantial African American population of about 65 percent. Baltimore, Maryland, has a high African American population of 64 percent. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with 43 percent, Washington, D.C., with 60 percent, and Memphis, Tennessee with 61 percent, are also large African American population centers.
The nation's most affluent county with a majority African American population is Prince George's County, Maryland, with a median income of $62,467. Other affluent African American majority counties include Dekalb County in Georgia, and Charles City County in Virginia. Queens County, New York, which is the only county with a population of 65,000 or more where African Americans have a higher household income than White Americans.
- Main article: African American contemporary issues
African Americans have improved their social economic standing significantly since the Civil Rights Movement and recent decades have witnessed the expansion of a robust, African American middle class across the United States. Unprecedented access to higher education and employment has been gained by African Americans in the post-civil rights era, however, due in part to the legacy of slavery, racism and discrimination, African Americans as a group remain at a pronounced economic, educational and social disadvantage in many areas relative to whites. Persistent social, economic and political issues for many African Americans include inadequate health care access and delivery; institutional racism and discrimination in housing, education, policing, criminal justice and employment; crime, poverty and substance abuse. One of the most serious and long standing issues within African American communities is poverty. Poverty itself is a hardship as it is related to marital stress and dissolution, health problems, low educational attainment, deficits in psychological functioning, and crime. In 2004, 24.7% of African American families lived below the poverty level.
Economically, blacks have benefited from the advances made during the Civil Rights era. The racial disparity in poverty rates has narrowed. The black middle class has grown substantially. In 2000, 47% of African Americans owned their homes. The poverty rate among African Americans has dropped from 26.5% in 1998 to 24.7% in 2004.
However, African Americans are still underrepresented in government and employment. In 1999, the median income of African American families was $33,255 compared to $53,356 of Whites. In times of economic hardship for the nation, African-Americans suffer disproportionately from job loss and underemployment, with the black underclass being hardest hit. The phrase "last hired and first fired" is reflected in the Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment figures. Nationwide, the September 2004 unemployment rate for blacks was 10.3%, while their white counterparts were unemployed at the rate of 4.7%.
In 2004, African American workers had the second-highest median earnings of American minority groups after Asian Americans, and African Americans had the highest level of male-female income parity of all ethnic groups in the United States. Also, among American minority groups, only Asian Americans were more likely to hold white collar occupations (management, professional, and related fields), and African Americans were no more or less likely than whites to work in the service industry. In 2001, over half of African American households of married couples earned $50,000 or more. Although in the same year African Americans were over-represented among the nation's poor, this was directly related to the disproportionate percentage of African American families headed by single women; such families are collectively poorer, regardless of ethnicity.
The income gap between black and white families is also significant. In 2005, Employed blacks earned only 65% of the wages of whites in comparable jobs, down from 82% in 1975. Although rates of births to unwed mothers among both blacks and whites have risen since the 1950s, the rate of such births among African Americans is three times the rate of whites.
According to Forbes magazine's "wealthiest American" lists, a 2000 net-worth of $800 million dollars made (by 2006 1.5 billion USD) Oprah Winfrey the richest African American of the 20th century in sharp contrast to the 20th century's richest White American Bill Gates whose net-worth briefly hit $100 billion in 1999 However, in Forbes' list of 2006, Gates' net worth decreased to $53 billion USD while Winfrey's net worth increased to $1.5 billion USD, making her the richest Black person on the face of the planet, and the first African American to make Business Week's 50 greatest philanthropists list. BET founder Bob Johnson, was also listed as a billionaire prior to an expensive divorce and has recently regained his fortune through a series of real estate investments. Forbes estimates his net worth at $1.1 billion USD solitifying him as the only male billionaire of predominantly African decent.
- redirect Template:African American topics
By 2003, sex had replaced race as the primary factor in life expectancy in the United States, with African American females expected to live longer than white males born in that year. In the same year, the gap in life expectancy between American whites (78.0) and blacks (72.8) had decreased to 5.2 years, reflecting a long term trend of this phenomenon. The current life expectancy of African Americans as a group is comparable to those of other groups who live in countries with a high human development index.
With no system of universal health care, access to medical care in the U.S. generally is mediated by income level and employment status. As a result, African Americans, who as a group are disproportionately poor and unemployed, are more often uninsured than non Hispanic whites or Asians. For a great many African Americans, healthcare delivery is limited, or nonexistent. And when they receive healthcare, they are more likely than others in the general population to receive substandard, even injurious medical care. African Americans have a higher prevalence of some chronic health conditions, and a higher rate of out-of-wedlock births relative to the general population. 56% of African American children are born into families where the mother is not married to the biological father. In 1998, single women headed 54% of African American households.
African Americans are the American racial group most affected by HIV and AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has been estimated that "184,991 adult and adolescent HIV infections [were] diagnosed during 2001-2005" (1). More than 51 percent occurred among blacks than any other race. Between the ages of 25-44 years 62 percent were African Americans. Dr. Robert Janssen (2007) states, "We have rates of HIV/AIDS among blacks in some American cities that are as high as in some countries in Africa". The rate for African Americans with HIV/AIDS in Washington D.C. is 3 percent, based on cases reported. In a New York Times Article, about 50 percent of AIDS-related deaths were African American woman, which accounted for 25 percent of the city's population. In Many cases there are a higher proportion of black people being tested than any other racial group. Dr. Janssen goes on by saying "We need to do a better job of encouraging African Americans to test. Studies show that approximately one in five black men between the ages 40 to 49 living in the city is HIV-positive, according to the TIMES. Research indicates that African Americans sexual behavior is no different than any other racial group. Dr. Janssen says "Racial groups tend to have sex with members of their own racial group.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Politics and Social Issues
Collectively, African Americans are more involved in the American political process than other minority groups in the US, indicated by the highest level of voter registration and participation in elections among these groups in 2004.  African Americans collectively attain higher levels of education than immigrants to the United States.
Crime, particularly in impoverished, urban communities, is a serious and ongoing issue in America. The African American population in many urban areas are disproportionately poor, a factor which resonate in the nation's crime statistics for metropolitan areas.
Impact on the United States
From their earliest presence in North America, African Americans have contributed literature, art, agricultural skills, foods, clothing styles, music, language, social and technological innovation to American culture. The cultivation and use of many agricultural products in the U.S., such as yams, peanuts, rice, okra, sorghum, grits, watermelon, indigo dyes, and cotton, can be traced to African and African American influences. A couple of notable examples include George Washington Carver, who created 300 products from peanuts, 118 products from sweet potatoes, and 75 from pecans; and George Crum, who invented the potato chip in 1853.
African American music is one of the most pervasive African American cultural influences in the United States today and is among the most dominant in mainstream popular music. Hip hop, R&B, funk, rock and roll, soul, blues, and other contemporary American musical forms originated in black communities and evolved from other black forms of music including blues, jazz, and gospel music. African American derived musical forms have also influenced and been incorporated into virtually every other popular musical genre in the world, including country and techno. African American genres are the most important ethnic vernacular tradition in America as they have developed independent of African traditions from which they arise more so than any other immigrant groups, including Europeans; make up the broadest and longest lasting range of styles in America; and have, historically, been more influential, interculturally, geographically, and economically, than other American vernacular traditions .
African Americans have also had an important role in American dance. Bill T. Jones, a prominent modern choreographer and dancer, has included historical African American themes in his work, particularly in the piece "Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land". Likewise, Alvin Ailey's artistic work, including his "Revelations" based on his experience growing up as an African American in the South during the 1930s has had a significant impact on modern dance. Another form of dance, Stepping, is an African American tradition whose performance and competition has been formalized through the traditionally black fraternities and sororities at universities.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Many African American authors have written stories, poems, and essays influenced by their experiences as African Americans, and African American literature is a major genre in American literature. Famous examples include Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou. African American inventors have created many widely used devices in the world and have contributed to international innovation. Though most slave inventors were nameless, such as the slave owned by the Confederate President Jefferson Davis who designed the ship propeller used by the entire Confederate navy, but following the Civil War, the growth of industry in the United States was tremendous and much of this was made possible with inventions by ethnic minorities. By 1913 over 1,000 inventions were patented by Black Americans. Among the most notable inventors were Jan Matzeliger, who developed the first machine to mass-produce shoes, and Elijah McCoy, who invented automatic lubrication devices for steam engines. Granville Woods had 35 patents to improve electric railway systems including the first system to allow moving trains to communicate. He even sued Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison for stealing his patents and won both cases. Garrett Morgan developed the first automatic traffic signal and gas mask, and Norbert Rillieux who created the technique for converting sugar cane juice into white sugar crystals. Moreover, Rillieux was so brilliant that in 1854 he left Louisiana and went to France where he spent ten years working with the Champollions deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics from the Rosetta Stone.
Lewis Latimer created an inexpensive cotton-thread filament, which made electric light bulbs practical because Edison's original light bulb only burned for a few minutes. More recent inventors include McKinley Jones, who invented the movable refrigeration unit for food transport in trucks and trains and Lloyd Quarterman who with six other Black scientists, worked on the creation of the atomic bomb along (code named the Manhattan Project.) Quaterman also helped develop the first nuclear reactor, which was used in the atomically powered submarine called the Nautilus.
A few other notable examples include the first successful open heart surgery, performed by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, the conceptualization and establishment of blood banks around the world by Dr. Charles Drew, the air conditioner, patented by Frederick M. Jones. Dr. Mark Dean holds three of the original nine patents on the computer on which all PCs are based. More current contributors include Otis Bodkin, who invented an electrical device used in all guided missiles and all IBM computers, and Colonel Frederick Gregory, who was not only the first Black astronaut pilot but the person who also redesigned the cockpits for the last three space shuttles. Gregory was also on the team that pioneered the microwave instrumentation landing system. In 2000, Bendix Aircraft Company began a worldwide promotion of this microwave instrumentation landing system.
The gains made by African Americans in the civil rights and Black Power movements not only obtained certain rights for African Americans, but changed American society in far-reaching and fundamentally important ways. Prior to the 1950s, Americans were still living in the shadow of slavery and Jim Crow, when, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., African Americans and their supporters challenged the nation to "rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed that all men are created equal…."
The Civil Rights Movement marked a sea-change in American social, political, economic and civic life. It brought with it boycotts, sit-ins, demonstrations, court battles, bombings and other violence; prompted worldwide media coverage and intense public debate; forged enduring civic, economic and religious alliances; disrupted and realigned the nation's two major political parties; and over time has changed in fundamental ways the manner in which blacks and whites interact with and relate to one another. Ultimately, the movement resulted in the removal of codified, de jure racial segregation and discrimination from American life and law and heavily influenced the civil and social liberties that many Americans of varied cultural backgrounds expect for themselves.
The term "African American"
The term African American carries important political overtones. Earlier, terms used to identify Americans of African ancestry were conferred upon the group by Americans of European ancestry and were included in the wording of various laws and legal decisions which became tools of white supremacy and oppression. There developed among blacks in America a growing desire for a term of their own choosing.
With the political consciousness that emerged from the political and social ferment of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the term Negro fell into disfavor among many blacks. It had taken on a moderate, accommodationist, even Uncle Tom, connotation. In this period, a growing number of blacks in the U.S., particularly African American youth, celebrated their blackness and their historical and cultural ties with the African continent. The Black Power movement defiantly embraced Black as a group identifier—a term they themselves had repudiated only two decades earlier—a term often associated in English with things negative and undesirable, proclaiming, "Black is beautiful".
In this same period, a smaller number favored Afro-American. In the 1980s the term African American was coined on the model of, for example, German American. It was largely popularized by Jesse Jackson, and quickly adopted by major media outlets. Many blacks in America expressed a preference for the term as it was formed in the same way as the names for other ethnic groups. Some argued further that, because of the historical circumstances surrounding the capture, enslavement and systematic attempts to de-Africanize blacks in the U.S. under chattel slavery, most African Americans are unable to trace their ancestry to a specific African nation; hence, the entire continent serves as a geographic marker.
For many, African American is more than a name expressive of cultural and historical roots. The term expresses African pride and a sense of kinship and solidarity with others of the African diaspora—an embracing of the notion of pan-Africanism earlier enunciated by prominent African thinkers such as Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois, Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and, later, George Padmore.
A discussion of the term African American and related terms can be found in the journal article "The Politicization of Changing Terms of Self Reference Among American Slave Descendants" in American Speech v 66 is 2 Summer 1991 p. 133-46.
Who is African American?
Since 1977, the United States officially categorized Black people (revised to Black or African American in 1997) are classified as A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Other Federal offices, such as the United States Census Bureau and the adheres to the OMB standards on race in its data collection and tabulations efforts. The U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation also categorizes Black or African-American people as "A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa" through through racial categories used in the UCR Program adopted from the Statistical Policy Handbook (1978) and published by the Office of Federal Statistical Policy and Standards, U.S. Department of Commerce derived from the 1977 OMB classification.
2000 US Census Definitions of Race
Native Hawaiian and
other Pacific Islander
Due in part to a centuries-old history within the United States of America, historical experiences pre- and post-slavery, and migrations throughout North America, the vast majority of contemporary African Americans possess varying degrees of admixture with European and Native American ancestry.
Some courts have called a person black if the person had any known African ancestry. It became known as the one-drop rule, meaning that a single drop of "black blood" makes a person "black". Some courts have called it the traceable amount rule, and anthropologists used to call it the hypodescent rule, meaning that racially mixed persons were assigned the status of the subordinate group. Prior to the one-drop rule, different states had different laws regarding color; in Virginia, for example, a person was legally black if he or she had at least one-sixteenth black ancestry. The one-drop rule was implemented by states in the southern United States during the early to mid-1880s [How to reference and link to summary or text]. For African Americans, the one-drop system of pigmentocracy was a significant factor in ethnic solidarity. African Americans generally shared a common lot in society and, therefore, common cause -- regardless of their multiracial admixture or social and economic stratification.
In the 1980s, parents of mixed-race children began to organize and lobby for the addition of a more inclusive term of racial designation that would reflect the heritage of their children. In recent decades, as the multicultural climate of the United States has continued to expand. Although the terms mixed, biracial and multiracial are increasingly used, it remains common for those who possess any visible traits of black heritage to identify or be identified solely within black/African American ethnic groups. As well, it is very common in the United States for people of mixed ancestry possessing any recent African American or black heritage to self-identify demographically as black/African American while acknowledging both their African American and other cultural heritages socially.
Terms no longer in common use
The terms Negro or Colored, which were widely used until mid 1960s, have become inappropriate or derogatory. Once widely considered acceptable, Negro and Colored fell into disfavor for reasons already herein stated. The self-referential term of preference for Negro became black. The term survives in certain historical organizations such as the United Negro College Fund and defunct organizations like the Negro Leagues as well as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Negroid was a term used by anthropologists first in the 18th century to describe indigenous Africans and their descendants throughout the African diaspora. As with most descriptors of race based on inconsistent, unscientific phenotypical standards, the term is controversial and imprecise. Because of its similarity to Negro, growing numbers of blacks have substituted the term Africoid which, unlike Negroid, encompasses the phenotypes of all indigenous peoples of Africa.[dubious — see talk page]
Criticisms of the term
There is some criticism of the term 'African American'.
It may be criticised that African Americans are not really African (say culturally) or really American (because they are marginalised in American society). To be African American, some argue that an individual would have to be born in Africa. The term can also be interpreted to include non-black immigrants from Africa to the United States, such as white South Africans or Arab Africans, although these groups generally do not refer to themselves as African American nor generally thought of as such in the United States. (The blonde actress Charlize Theron, who was born in South Africa to Afrikaner parents, is not referred to as African American. Senator Barack Obama, who has one African parent, generally is, although some people question this classification. Forensic anthropologist Clea Koff, who also has one African parent, is in the same category as Obama, but is also called racially mixed, a slightly vaguer term.)
The term 'African American' has also been misused by some in lieu of 'Black', regardless of an individual's nationality, ethnicity or geography. For example, during the 2005 civil unrest in France, CNN anchorwoman Carol Lin referred to the rioters as "African Americans". This leads to the belief amongst many opponents of the term that African American presents an 'American-centric' view of black people across the world.
Defenders of the term argue that the term was never meant to encompass all Africans, or even all black people, but only those individuals formerly referred to as 'American Negroes', primarily people whose ancestors survived the Middle Passage and slavery. Further, in the U.S., which is often described as a nation of immigrants, hyphenated American terms historically have been used to indicate one's national origin, or that of one's ancestors.
By virtue of this, any person born in Africa would take on the name of his or her country of origin. For example, an individual from Nigeria would be called a 'Nigerian-American', as the term is descriptive of national origin, as opposed to 'African American'. Many prefer the term 'African American' because, although the historical national origin of the majority of black Americans is untraceable—most African nations were named centuries after most slaves were imported— the continent of Africa serves as an indicator of geographic origin and a descriptive term.
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Demographics of the United States
Demography of the United States · Demographic history
Economic · Social
Race · Ethnicity · Ancestry
Alaska Natives · Asian Americans · African Americans · Africans in the United States · Hispanics in the United States · Native Americans · Pacific Islander Americans · White Americans · European Americans
- REDIRECT Template:Race in the 2000 U.S. Census
Peoples of the African diaspora
African American - Africans in the United States - Afro-Asian - Afro-Argentines - Afro Australian - Afro-Arab - Afro-Brazilian - Black British - Black Canadian - Black French - Afro-Caribbean- Afro-Colombian - Afro-Cuban - Afro-Latin American - Afro-Germans - Afro-Guyanese - Afro-Mexican - Afro-Peruvian - Afro-Trinidadian people - Afro-Turks - Siddi
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