“What do y’all want to be called?”

[Excerpt: When All God’s Children Get Together, “Segregation Woes and New Life Today”]

by Ann Miller Woodford

ann-woodford-wnc-artistAnn Miller Woodford is our guest contributor to this Shelf Life in the Mountains. She is a native of Andrews, NC, and is an author, artist, speaker, and founder/Executive Director of One Dozen Who Care, Inc., a community development organization in western North Carolina.

“What do y’all want to be called?” That used to be a frequent question asked of Black people in the region. Even Blacks still do not agree on what term is offensive, so my advice has been to follow those who research the most inoffensive terms, such as major newscasters. The terms “Colored” and “Negro” went out in the 50s and 60s. However, it must be understood that some older African Americans held on to those terms far too long, since those were much preferred over being called “Nigger,” “Darkie,” “Spook,” “Coon,” “Jungle Bunny,” “Porch Monkey,” “Boy” or “Girl.” The term, “Afro-American” also is becoming antiquated, but “Person of Color,” “African American” and “Black” are still viable terms, if one must distinguish our race of people.

Just as White Appalachians often feel disrespected when typecast as “rednecks,” “hicks,” “country” or other derogatory labels, Affrilachians do not appreciate disparagement by other racial groups, as well. It should be understood that though any group may tease themselves in jest; they do not appreciate others ridiculing them with politically incorrect labels. We should, however, note that the use of “African American” can be applied to a White Native of Africa such as the South African-born actress and activist, Charlize Theron. On the other hand, Black people who are not naturalized citizens of the United States are not African Americans.

We all have the African, Scots Irish, and Cherokee blood that makes up Black Appalachians, because White masters had children by slave women. Some people do not use the term African American, because they know some others choose Black by skin color, or some would rather not be called any racial name; they say just call me human.

The late Rev. Frank Blount of Murphy mentioned that his mother was “left puzzled” by not knowing exactly what her ethnicity was. Mrs. Blount said that as a student at Virginia Union College, people often asked her what she was by race. They also did that to my sister, Mary Alice Miller Worthy, and the One Dozen Who Care, Inc. president, Patricia Hall, in the places where they have worked. All three considered themselves to be African American.

Not many families ever discussed their racial mixture, because it could cause embarrassment, concern, or upset. Folks like my father’s family, though they had the same mother and father, ranged in color from very white skin of his two youngest sisters to the dark brown color of my father’s skin.

“Out of wedlock” children, especially if bi-racial, in past days, were often put down inside and outside of families.

In a taped interview in the late 1960s for a college paper, I came home on holiday and asked the question of some Black people in the Happytop community of Andrews, “What would you rather be called — colored, Negro or Black?” My grandfather, Cleve Miller, an octogenarian at the time whose own mother was a slave until she was nine years old, answered the question in a self-determined way: “African is what I would rather be called!”

During that same time, two of his oldest grown children said that they would rather be called “Colored.” School-age youngsters I interviewed at that time, refused to be called any of those terms.

Since legitimate media reporters, such as, newspaper, radio and television reporters, commentators, and anchor persons must keep up with current terminology, it may be wise to pay attention to any politically correct wording that they use. Most Black people in our region seem to respectfully endure the word “Colored,” although most wonder why it is even a question anymore.

AW Ptg Grampa w sausage mill

Portrait by Ann of William Cleveland “Cleve” Miller, her grandfather

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