This is a very interesting piece on how African-Americans moved from colored , to negro, to black, and finally to African-American. Much of it you may already know. There is however, some interesting facts that may surprise you.
Who is African-American?
To be considered African American in the United States of America, not even half of one's ancestry need to be black African. The nation's answer to the question "Who is black?" long has been that a "black" is any person with any known African ancestry. This definition reflects the long experience with racism, white supremacy, slavery, and, later, with Jim Crow laws.
In the Southern United States, 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 call it the hypo-descent rule, meaning that racially mixed persons are assigned the status of the subordinate group. This definition emerged from the American South to become America's national definition, generally accepted by whites and blacks — but for different reasons. White supremacists, whose motivation was racist, considered anyone with African ancestry tainted, inherently inferior morally and intellectually and, thus, subordinate. During slavery, there was also a strong economic incentive to maximize the number of individuals who could be owned, bred, worked, traded and sold outright as human chattel. The designation of anyone possessing any trace of African ancestry as "black", and, therefore, of subordinate status to whites, guaranteed a source of cheap labor during slavery and for decades afterward. For African Americans, the one-drop system of racial designation was a significant factor in ethnic solidarity. African Americans generally shared a common lot in society and, therefore, common cause — regardless of their ethnic admixture and social and economic stratification.
The United States Supreme Court formalized the legal status of this rule in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), where the Court affirmed the legality of racial segregation and upheld the State of Louisiana's ruling that, despite being 7/8 white, Homer Plessy's one black great-grandparent rendered him legally non-white and, therefore, subject to being barred from whites-only railway carriages.
Caucasoid peoples, Indians, Asians and Arabs are traditionally not considered African American, though they or their ancestors may have emigrated from the African continent after generations of residence. In relatively rare cases when South African whites, Caucasoid North Africans or Asian immigrants from Africa living in America have self-identified as African American in an attempt to benefit from Affirmative Action or other entitlement programs, their claims generally have not been upheld.
In the 1980s, interracial couples with children began to organize and lobby for the addition of a more inclusive term of racial designation that would reflect the heritage of their offspring. As a result, the term biracial has become more widely used and accepted to classify people who in another era would have been called mulattos. (Biracial also can refer to other racial admixtures.)
Terms no longer in common use
The term Negro, which was widely used until the 1960s, today increasingly is considered passé and inappropriate or derogatory. It is still fairly commonly used by older individuals, in the Deep South, and by medical/anthropological texts. Once widely considered acceptable, Negro fell into disfavor for reasons already herein stated. The self-referential term of preference for Negro became black.
Negroid is a term used by European 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.
Other largely defunct, seldom used terms to refer to African Americans are mulatto and colored. Even so, the use of the word "colored" can still be found today in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP. The American use of the term mulatto originally was used to mean the offspring of a "pure African black" and a "pure European white". The Latin root of the word is mulo, as in "mule", implying incorrectly that—like mules, which are horse–donkey hybrids—mulattoes are sterile crosses of two different species. For example, in the early 20th century, African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass, who had enslaved blacks as mothers and white fathers, were referred to as mulattoes. While not as common as "mixed" or "biracial," or even "multiracial," mulatto is still sometimes used to refer to people of mixed parentage and, despite its origin, is not considered inherently derogatory.
The term quadroon referred to a person of one-fourth African descent, for example, someone born to a Caucasian father and a mulatto mother. Someone of one-eighth African descent technically was an octoroon, although the term often was used to refer to any white person with even a hint of black ancestry.
Mulatto and terms with the -roon suffix persisted in a social context for a number of decades, but by the mid twentieth century, they no longer were in common use. With the end of slavery, there was no longer a strong commercial incentive to classify blacks by their African-European ancestral admixture. The occasional use of these terms, however, does still persist in electronic media, literature and in some social settings.
Who Is African-American?