Over the past few years, we’ve engaged in extensive conversation both internally and externally with members on which term—”Black” or “African American”—is most appropriate when referring to black individuals and African-American individuals. In the past, we’ve defaulted to the adjective “African-American” to describe the segment and also used “African Americans” as shorthand for the segment.
Recently, however, we’ve seen a shift toward the use of “black” as the primary modifier in many organizations and within academic centers and policy organizations (e.g., black Americans, black consumers). For example, Pew Charitable Trust generally uses the term “Black” as do Brookings Institute, Urban Institute, P&G and many other highly respected organizations. Thus, we now use “black” as a modifier (e.g., black segment, black Americans) and “Black” as shorthand for the segment.
Our decision to use the term “b/Black” also issues from the fact that it is technically more correct as this term can apply to all individuals descended from the African diaspora, including those that do not identify with African or American heritage. Consider for example recent black immigrants from Africa may not identify with American heritage, or recent black immigrants from the Caribbean who may not identify with either African or American heritage.
Additionally, we’ve seen indicators that this term is more associated with the move among many black Americans to re-appropriate “blackness,” an appearance and expression the mainstream historically viewed as negative, in order to invert that dynamic, as well as empower and celebrate. Look no further than “Black Panther,” “Black Twitter” and the show “Blackish” for examples.
It is important to note, however, that there are still many views on what terminology is the best to use. This short video from PBS’s program on black culture Say It Out Loud does a great job of drawing out all the challenges of settling on a single term to refer to a group that is internally quite diverse. And this article from economist Margaret Simms at the Urban Institute highlights the importance of acknowledging structural racism regardless of the terminology one ultimately decides on.
Thus, we think one of the best approaches companies can take when deciding which terminology they use is to be informed and thoughtful, and to remain open to candid discussion about why they’ve made the choice they make.