By Carole Copeland Thomas
In the 31 years I have been in the diversity, multicultural, and inclusion industry, one of the most popular topics focuses on diversity names, categories, and labels. Let me share my perspective on one category that causes both agreement and disagreement with those who lay claim to its importance and meaning in our global society.
Question: Which Term Is It? Black or African American?
Answer: Either term is appropriate. Some people prefer African American, while others prefer black. Style, tradition, and history dictate which term to use. From a global perspective, black is more appropriate, referring to any person of African descent from Lagos, Nigeria, to Liverpool, England to Long Island, New York.
The term African American pertains to those individuals living in the United States. It can relate to people like me, a 7th generation American whose ancestors were born
in slavery. It can also pertain to those born outside of the US, but now living in America.
However, don't be surprised if you encounter those born outside of the US who still reject self-identifying as "African Americans." For example, some in the Haitian community will call themselves Haitian-Americans or Haitians before calling themselves African Americans.
It gets tricky because one term does not fit all.
Your best bet is to ASK QUESTIONS and get feedback from a person or group before arbitrarily assigning a label to an ethnically different person.
Here's where it gets a bit complicated:
The socially acceptable term to use in the US: People of Color
NOT acceptable in the United States: Colored People (this is an old term closely tied to racial discrimination of the past.)
Please Note: The term "colored" is still used by some in South Africa to describe people of mixed race.
Old Fashion Term in the United States that may turn heads if you use it:
Negro or Afro-American
Yes, I know about the Afro-American Newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland. The publisher emeritus was the best man at my brother's wedding. It is one of the oldest and most respected newspapers in the US. I also know about the NAACP - National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. That organization, like several others, decided to keep
their original name first created in 1909.
A term that is NOT ACCEPTABLE anywhere: Nigger.
It's so distasteful that it’s difficult for me to even include it in this guidebook. I am particularly offended that it is the word of choice by some hip-hop artists, rap artists, comics, and other
entertainers. NO, it is not at all cool to use that word. The historical implications connected to its violent past are still too radioactive to consider mainstreaming its use.
And finally, there are those who only prefer to be called an "American" or "human" and see no value at all in the realm of diversity categories and labels.
So, your best bet is to ASK people of color which term they prefer using. You might be surprised in their response.
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This year's Gaines Family Reunion was particularly poignant for me and for my daughter and many of my cousins, nieces, nephews, and other relatives who shared hugs, kisses, and stories last weekend in Orlando. First, it was sad to acknowledge that our family historian, Clarence Gaines, had died, leaving us with more questions about our expanding family that available answers. Meeting his brother, Douglass, and nephew, Doug, Jr. for the first time was comforting in our collective time of mourning.
Then, it was the realization that our family was increasingly multicultural. Significant others who are Jewish, Russian, Hispanic and everything in between are also now a part of the Gaines equation. And that's a big aha moment for me.
The question is, who is in your family mix? And what exactly does a modern-day American family look like in the days of diversity, multiculturalism, mixed marriages and inclusion?
We'll explore this topic and its impact on the very social fabric of our society.
About The Gaines Family
The Gaines Family represent the descendants of William and Louisa Gaines, two slaves who were allowed to marry on the Georgia plantation in Georgia in the 1700s. They had 14 children, and the family was not split up, like many slave families during that era of African bondage. One of their 14 children, Gus Gaines, had 14 children, and we are of that lineage.
The reunions started in 1986 when cousins Theresa Johnson and Lula McKeever decided to pull the family together for biannual gatherings in celebration of our heritage and deep roots in America. Meticulous family research followed when Clarence Gaines took charge of that multigenerational activity.
Now some 32 years later the matriarch of the family remains Theresa Johnson, who just celebrated her 90th birthday.
Our family has owned small community banks, has produced doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, business owners and countless ministers in the past 200 years. We are also aligned with the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, even though we are not directly related to him. And two Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church are family ancestors.
My mother's paternal grandmother was Sarah Gaines, one of the 14 children of Gus Gaines. I pay tribute to Sarah, my great-grandmother, and all other members of the Gaines family who came before me.
We are Americans. We are a multicultural American Family!
by Carole Copeland Thomas, MBA, CDMP, CITM
This article is written for an American audience; however, I know that many friends and colleagues around the world read my newsletter and visit my website. So feel free to adapt these tips to conform to your province, region, or country.
1. Visit Washington DC.
Every American should visit our nation’s capital at least once in your life to see where our President lives and where Congress makes our laws. All of the Smithsonian Museums are FREE of charge in Washington, so put them at the top of your list. You have to make a reservation to go on the White House Tour, but you can go to the Senate and House of Representative buildings at any time free of charge. The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington remains a top choice for many. Make sure that you get your tickets in advance. https://nmaahc.si.edu/visit/passes
For more information about the nation's capital, visit www.washington.org.
2. Visit Your Congressional Offices
All 435 US Congressional Representatives have an office in Washington DC AND offices in their local districts. I have visited my congressman and senators and met with them in their Washington DC office and their offices in Massachusetts. Go to either www.senate.gov or www.house.gov to find out who your congressional representative is. It is best to meet with your congressional representative or senator in your home district in your state.
In Washington, the House of Representatives Buildings include:
--Cannon House Office Building
--Longworth House Office Building
--Rayburn House Office Building
The Senate Buildings include:
--Hart Senate Office Building
--Dirksen Senate Office Building
--Russell Senate Office Building
3. Visit Your State Capital
Visiting your state capital should be an easy one for you. Especially if you live in your state capital, like Boston, Massachusetts. It’s FREE to visit your state capital and most offer tours at certain times of the day. I am a member of a public service sorority, Delta Sigma Theta (www.deltasigmatheta.org). As part of our Social Action Agenda, we plan a State House event every year around the United States called “Delta Day at the State House” (DDSH), that is open to the general public. We usually select a state-related topic, like redistricting, tour the capital, and invite our legislators to address our audience at a two-hour program we hold in a reserved room at the State Capital Capital. (Our Annual Nation’s Capital Legislative Conference is only open to members.)
Whether you are an individual, a family, or a group, visiting your state capital is a strongly encouraged for every informed, empowered citizen. Every state has their own website and pertinent information on state, city, and town issues. Google your state’s website and explore its resources. Most state capitals have a bookstore or some resources center where you can purchase items related to your state affairs. I enjoy browsing the documents, photos, and historical guidebooks on Massachusetts when I visit my state capital bookstore. I encourage you to visit your state capital in the coming year.
4. Visit Your Governor, State Representatives, And Senators
When you visit your state capital, don’t forget to stop in the office of your governor and state legislators. When we hold DDSH (see #3) we always plan visits to our respective legislators’ offices. You don’t have to make an appointment. You can stop in, speak to a staff member, leave your name and number, and schedule a future meeting with either a staff member, representative and/or senator. You can also sit in on a legislative session, hearing or other meeting, depending on when your state’s legislators are in session.
It may be a bit more challenging to have a one-to-one meeting with your governor. However, when he/she attends events around your state, plan to attend and ask a pertinent question (about bridges, roads, housing, education, budgets, etc.) during the session. You can follow up with the designated staff member attending the event with the governor. They never travel alone to events.
Google your state house for more information on contacting your representative or senator. Some state legislators meet at designated times of the year, per their Constitution. The Texas Legislature meets in regular session on the second Tuesday in January of each odd-numbered year. The Texas Constitution limits the regular session to 140 calendar days.
Others meet at selected times of the year. (Massachusetts State Legislature is called the General Court.) The Massachusetts Legislature has a two-year cycle. The current cycle runs from January 3, 2018, to July 31. 2018. (The Massachusetts legislators are elected every two years. Currently, informal sessions are being held at the State House throughout the summer months. ) The times your state legislature meets depends on your state Constitution.
Call your governor’s office to learn more. You also have a better chance of connecting with your legislator at some event in your state (like a public hearing). Walk up to your legislator, introduce yourself, and ask when you can visit his/her office and talk more about your particular issue.
5. Visit The United Nations in New York City
At least once in your life, visit the United Nations. It’s located in New York City, and much of the building is FREE and open to the public. There’s tight security, so plan your timing accordingly. It might take you 15 minutes to go through security.
The WORLD visits the United Nations every day! The entire world! Forget all of the naysayers who trash the value of the UN, plan a visit at some point in your life. There are world exhibits, sessions that you can observe, tours (with a small charge), conferences and events held in the building. I have spoken at the UN as part of conferences, attended luncheons, and find the environment fascinating.
Every world event from hunger, to civil wars, are discussed, evaluated and negotiated in the United Nations building. Many many school groups visit the building, and it’s fun seeing young people exchange ideas and information at the UN. There is a cafeteria in the building and an extensive bookstore and gift shop. You can reach the building using public transportation. Take your camera and video camera and snap those photos wherever you can. Stop and meet a visitor dressed in their native outfit and learn more about their country. Plan to stay for a half day or a full day. It’s a big complex and will take some time to get through the public parts.
For more information visit www.un.org.
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