Black people

"Black man" and "Black woman" redirect here. For the novel, see Black Man. For other uses, see Black Woman.

Black people (seen both capitalized and with lowercase "b") is a term used in certain countries, often in socially based systems of racial classification or of ethnicity, to describe persons who are perceived to be dark-skinned compared to other given populations. As such, the meaning of the expression varies widely both between and within societies, and depends significantly on context. For many other individuals, communities and countries, "black" is also perceived as a derogatory, outdated, reductive or otherwise unrepresentative label, and as a result is neither used nor defined.[1]

Different societies apply differing criteria regarding who is classified as "black", and these social constructs have also changed over time. In a number of countries, societal variables affect classification as much as skin color, and the social criteria for "blackness" vary. For example, in North America the term black people is not necessarily an indicator of skin color or ethnic origin, but is instead a socially based racial classification related to being African American, with a family history associated with institutionalized slavery. In South Africa and Latin America, mixed-race people are generally not classified as "black". In other regions such as Australasia, settlers applied the term "black" or it was used by local populations with different histories and ancestral backgrounds.


Northern Africa

Soldiers of the Free Arabian Legion in Greece, September 1943

The Romans interacted with and later conquered parts of Mauretania, an early state that covered modern Morocco, western Algeria, and the Spanish cities Ceuta and Melilla during the classical period. The people of the region were noted in Classical literature as Mauri, which was subsequently rendered as Moors in English.[2]

Numerous communities of dark-skinned peoples are present in North Africa, some dating from prehistoric communities. Others are descendants of the historical Trans-Saharan trade in peoples and/or, and after the Arab invasions of North Africa in the 7th century, descendants of slaves from the Arab Slave Trade in North Africa.[3][4]

In the 18th century, the Moroccan Sultan Moulay Ismail "the Bloodthirsty" (1672–1727) raised a corps of 150,000 black slaves, called his Black Guard, who coerced the country into submission.[5][6]

According to Dr. Carlos Moore, resident scholar at Brazil's University of the State of Bahia, in the 21st century Afro-multiracials in the Arab world, including Arabs in North Africa, self-identify in ways that resemble multi-racials in Latin America. He claims that black-looking Arabs, much like black-looking Latin Americans, consider themselves white because they have some distant white ancestry.[7]

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had a mother who was a dark-skinned Nubian Sudanese woman and a father who was a lighter-skinned Egyptian. In response to an advertisement for an acting position, as a young man he said, "I am not white but I am not exactly black either. My blackness is tending to reddish".[8]

Algerian footballer Yacine Brahimi

Due to the patriarchal nature of Arab society, Arab men, including during the slave trade in North Africa, enslaved more black women than men. They used more black female slaves in domestic service and agriculture than males. The men interpreted the Qur'an to permit sexual relations between a male master and his female slave outside of marriage (see Ma malakat aymanukum and sex),[9][10] leading to many mixed-race children. When an enslaved woman became pregnant with her Arab master's child, she was considered as umm walad or "mother of a child", a status that granted her privileged rights. The child was given rights of inheritance to the father's property, so mixed-race children could share in any wealth of the father.[11] Because the society was patrilineal, the children took their fathers' social status at birth and were born free.

Some succeeded their fathers as rulers, such as Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, who ruled Morocco from 1578 to 1608. He was not technically considered as a mixed-race child of a slave; his mother was Fulani and a concubine of his father. Such tolerance for black persons, even when technically "free", was not so common in Morocco.[11] The long association of sub-Saharan peoples as slaves is shown in the term abd (Arabic: عبد,) (meaning "slave"); it is still frequently used in the Arabic-speaking world as a term for black people.[12]

Moroccan Gnawa musician Hassan Hakmoun

In early 1991, non-Arabs of the Zaghawa tribe of Sudan attested that they were victims of an intensifying Arab apartheid campaign, segregating Arabs and non-Arabs (specifically, people of Nilotic descent).[13] Sudanese Arabs, who controlled the government, were widely referred to as practicing apartheid against Sudan's non-Arab citizens. The government was accused of "deftly manipulat(ing) Arab solidarity" to carry out policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.[14]

American University economist George Ayittey accused the Arab government of Sudan of practicing acts of racism against black citizens.[15] According to Ayittey, "In Sudan... the Arabs monopolized power and excluded blacks – Arab apartheid."[16] Many African commentators joined Ayittey in accusing Sudan of practising Arab apartheid.[17]

Alan Dershowitz described Sudan as an example of a government that "actually deserve(s)" the appellation "apartheid."[18] Former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler echoed the accusation.[19]


An Ibenheren (Bella) woman

In the Sahara, the native Tuareg Berber populations kept "Negro" slaves. Most of these captives were of Nilotic extraction, and were either purchased by the Tuareg nobles from slave markets in the Western Sudan or taken during raids. Their origin is denoted via the Ahaggar Berber word Ibenheren (sing. Ébenher), which alludes to slaves that only speak a Nilo-Saharan language. These slaves were also sometimes known by the borrowed Songhay term Bella.[20]

Similarly, the Sahrawi autochthones of the Western Sahara observed a class system consisting of high castes and low castes. Outside of these traditional tribal boundaries were "Negro" slaves, who were drawn from the surrounding areas.[21]

Horn of Africa

In parts of the Horn of Africa, the local Afroasiatic (Hamitic-Semitic) speaking populations have long adhered to a construct similar to that of the Sahara, Nile and Maghreb. In Ethiopia and Somalia, the slave classes mainly consisted of individuals of Nilotic and Bantu origin who were collectively known as Shanqella and Adone (both denoting "Negro").[22][23] These captives and others of analogous morphology were distinguished as tsalim barya in contrast with the Afroasiatic-speaking nobles or saba qayh ("red men").[22] The earliest representation of this tradition dates from a seventh or eighth century BC inscription belonging to the Kingdom of Damat.[24]

South Africa

Nelson Mandela led the ANC in the battle against South African Apartheid.

In South Africa, the period of colonization resulted in many unions and marriages between European men and Bantu and Khoisan women from various tribes, resulting in mixed-race children. As the European settlers acquired control of territory, they generally pushed the mixed-race and Bantu and Khoisan populations into second-class status. During the first half of the 20th century, the Afrikaaner-dominated government classified the population according to four main racial groups: Black, White, Asian (mostly Indian), and Coloured. The Coloured group included people of mixed Bantu, Khoisan, and European descent (with some Malay ancestry, especially in the Western Cape). The Coloured definition occupied an intermediary political position between the Black and White definitions in South Africa. It imposed a system of legal racial segregation, a complex of laws known as apartheid.

The apartheid bureaucracy devised complex (and often arbitrary) criteria in the Population Registration Act of 1945 to determine who belonged in which group. Minor officials administered tests to enforce the classifications. When it was unclear from a person's physical appearance whether the individual should be considered Coloured or Black, the "pencil test" was used. A pencil was inserted into a person's hair to determine if the hair was kinky enough to hold the pencil, rather than having it pass through, as it would with smoother hair. If so, the person was classified as Black.[25] Such classifications sometimes divided families.

Sandra Laing is a South African woman who was classified as Coloured by authorities during the apartheid era, due to her skin colour and hair texture, although her parents could prove at least three generations of European ancestors. At age 10, she was expelled from her all-white school. The officials' decisions based on her anomalous appearance disrupted her family and adult life. She was the subject of the 2008 biographical dramatic film Skin, which won numerous awards.

During the apartheid era, those classed as "Coloured" were oppressed and discriminated against. But, they had limited rights and overall had slightly better socioeconomic conditions than those classed as "Black". The government required that Blacks and Coloureds live in areas separate from Whites, creating large townships located away from the cities as areas for Blacks.

In the post-apartheid era, the Constitution of South Africa has declared the country to be a "Non-racial democracy". In an effort to redress past injustices, the ANC government has introduced laws in support of affirmative action policies for Blacks; under these they define "Black" people to include "Africans", "Coloureds" and "Asians". Some affirmative action policies favor "Africans" over "Coloureds" in terms of qualifying for certain benefits. Some South Africans categorized as "African Black" say that "Coloureds" did not suffer as much as they did during apartheid. "Coloured" South Africans are known to discuss their dilemma by saying, "we were not white enough under apartheid, and we are not black enough under the ANC (African National Congress)".

In 2008, the High Court in South Africa ruled that Chinese South Africans who were residents during the apartheid era (and their descendants) are to be reclassified as "Black people," solely for the purposes of accessing affirmative action benefits, because they were also "disadvantaged" by racial discrimination. Chinese people who arrived in the country after the end of apartheid do not qualify for such benefits.[26]

Other than by appearance, "Coloureds" can usually be distinguished from "Blacks" by language. Most speak Afrikaans or English as a first language, as opposed to Bantu languages such as Zulu or Xhosa. They also tend to have more European-sounding names than Bantu names.[27]


Main article: Afro-Asian

West Asia

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabian footballer Majed Abdullah, nicknamed the "Saudi Arabian Pelé"

Historians estimate that between the advent of Islam in 650CE and the abolition of slavery in the Arabian Peninsula in the mid-20th century,[28] 10 to 18 million Black Africans (known as the Zanj) were enslaved by Arab slave traders and transported to the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring countries.[29] This number far exceeded the number of slaves who were taken to the Americas.[30] Several factors affected the visibility of descendants of this diaspora in 21st-century Arab societies: The traders shipped more female slaves than males, as there was a demand for them to serve as concubines in harems in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring countries. Male slaves were castrated in order to serve as harem guards. The death toll of Black African slaves from forced labor was high. The mixed-race children of female slaves and Arab owners were assimilated into the Arab owners' families under the patrilineal kinship system. As a result, few distinctive Afro-Arab communities have survived in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring countries.[31][32]

Genetic studies have found significant African female-mediated gene flow in Arab communities in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring countries, with an average of 38% of maternal lineages in Yemen are of direct African descent,[33][34] 16% in Oman-Qatar,[34] and 10% in Saudi Arabia-United Arab Emirates.[34]

Distinctive and self-identified black communities have been reported in countries such as Iraq, with a reported 1.2 million black people, and they attest to a history of discrimination. These descendants of the Zanj have sought minority status from the government, which would reserve some seats in Parliament for representatives of their population.[35] According to Alamin M. Mazrui et al., generally in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring countries, most of those of visible African descent are still classified and identify as Arab, not black.[36]


About 150,000 East African and black people live in Israel, amounting to just over 2% of the nation's population. The vast majority of these, some 120,000, are Beta Israel,[37] most of whom are recent immigrants who came during the 1980s and 1990s from Ethiopia.[38] In addition, Israel is home to over 5,000 members of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem movement that are descendants of African Americans who emigrated to Israel in the 20th century, and who reside mainly in a distinct neighborhood in the Negev town of Dimona. Unknown numbers of black converts to Judaism reside in Israel, most of them converts from the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.

Additionally, there are around 60,000 non-Jewish African immigrants in Israel, some of whom have sought asylum. Most of the migrants are from communities in Sudan and Eritrea, particularly the Niger-Congo-speaking Nuba groups of the southern Nuba Mountains; some are illegal immigrants.[39][40]


See also: Afro-Turks

Beginning several centuries ago, during the period of the Ottoman Empire, tens of thousands of Zanj captives were brought by slave traders to plantations and agricultural areas situated between Antalya and Istanbul in present-day Turkey.[41] Some of their descendants remained in situ, and many migrated to larger cities and towns. Other blacks slaves were transported to Crete, from where they or their descendants later reached the İzmir area through the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923, or indirectly from Ayvalık in pursuit of work.[42][43]

South Asia

See also: Siddi and Madhesi people

The Siddi are an ethnic group inhabiting India and Pakistan whose members are descended from Bantu peoples from Southeast Africa that were brought to the Indian subcontinent as slaves by Arab and Portuguese merchants.[44] Although it is commonly believed locally that "Siddi" derives from a word meaning "black",[45] the term is actually derived from "Sayyid", the title borne by the captains of the Arab vessels that first brought Siddi settlers to the area.[46] In the Makran strip of the Sindh and Balochistan provinces in southwestern Pakistan, these Bantu descendants are known as the Makrani.[47] There was a brief "Black Power" movement in Sindh in the 1960s and many Siddi are proud of and celebrate their African ancestry.[45][48]

In Nepal, the autochthonous Pahari traditionally used a vernacular equivalent of "Black Nepalese" to denote the darker-skinned Madhesi people.[49]

Southeast Asia

Ati woman, Philippines  the Negritos are an indigenous people of Southeast Asia.

The Negritos are believed to be the first inhabitants of Southeast Asia. Once inhabiting Taiwan,[50] Vietnam,[51] and various other parts of Asia, they are now confined primarily to Thailand,[52] the Malay Archipelago, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.[53] Negrito means "little black people" in Spanish (negrito is the Spanish diminutive of negro, i.e., "little black person"); it is what the Spaniards called the short-statured, hunter-gatherer autochthones that they encountered in the Philippines.[54] Despite this, Negritos are never referred to as black today, and doing so would cause offense. The term Negrito itself has come under criticism in countries like Malaysia, where it is now interchangeable with the more acceptable Semang,[55] although this term actually refers to a specific group. The common Thai word for Negritos literally means "frizzy hair".


Western Europe


See also: Afro-Spaniard
Spanish singer Concha Buika.

The term "Moors" has been used in Europe in a broader, somewhat derogatory sense to refer to Muslims,[56] especially those of Arab or Berber descent, whether living in North Africa or Iberia.[57] Moors were not a distinct or self-defined people.[58] Medieval and early modern Europeans applied the name to Muslim Arabs, Berbers, Black Africans and Europeans alike.[59]

Isidore of Seville, writing in the 7th century, claimed that the Latin word Maurus was derived from the Greek mauron, μαύρον, which is the Greek word for black. Indeed, by the time Isidore of Seville came to write his Etymologies, the word Maurus or "Moor" had become an adjective in Latin, "for the Greeks call black, mauron". "In Isidore’s day, Moors were black by definition…"[60]

Afro-Spaniards are Spanish nationals of West/Central African descent. They today mainly come from Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Gambia, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal. Additionally, many Afro-Spaniards born in Spain are from the former Spanish colony Equatorial Guinea. Today, there are an estimated 683,000 Afro-Spaniards in Spain.

United Kingdom

See also: Black British
A painting of Mary Seacole.

According to the Office for National Statistics, at the 2001 census there were over a million black people in the United Kingdom; 1% of the total population described themselves as "Black Caribbean", 0.8% as "Black African", and 0.2% as "Black other".[61] Britain encouraged the immigration of workers from the Caribbean after World War II; the first symbolic movement was those who came on the ship the Empire Windrush. The preferred official umbrella term is "black and minority ethnic" (BME), but sometimes the term "black" is used on its own, to express unified opposition to racism, as in the Southall Black Sisters, which started with a mainly British Asian constituency, and the National Black Police Association, which has a membership of "African, African-Caribbean and Asian origin".[62]


Main article: Afro-French
Young Negro with a Bow by Hyacinthe Rigaud, ca. 1697.

While census collection of ethnic background is illegal in France, it is estimated that there are about 2.5 – 5 million black people residing there.[63][64]


Main article: Afro-Dutch

Afro-Dutch are residents of the Netherlands who are of Black African or Afro-Caribbean ancestry. They tend to be from the former and present Dutch overseas territories of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and Suriname. The Netherlands also has sizable Cape Verdean and other African communities.


Main article: Afro-Portuguese

Eastern Europe

See also: Afro-Russian
A "Negro" mountaineer in Abkhazia, 1870.

As African states became independent in the 1960s, the Soviet Union offered many of their citizens the chance to study in Russia. Over a period of 40 years, about 400,000 African students from various countries moved to Russia to pursue higher studies, including many Black Africans.[65][66] This extended beyond the Soviet Union to many countries of the Eastern bloc.


Due to the slave trade in the Ottoman Empire that had flourished in the Balkans, the coastal town of Ulcinj in Montenegro had its own black community.[67] As a consequence of the slave trade and privateer activity, it is told how until 1878 in Ulcinj 100 black people lived.[68] The Ottoman Army also deployed an estimated 30,000 Black African troops and cavalrymen to its expedition in Hungary during the Austro-Turkish War of 1716–18.[69]


Indigenous Australians

Unknown Aboriginal woman in 1911

Indigenous Australians have been referred to as "black people" in Australia since the early days of European settlement.[70] While originally related to skin colour, the term is used to today to indicate Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander ancestry in general and can refer to people of any skin pigmentation.[71]

Being identified as either "black" or "white" in Australia during the 19th and early 20th centuries was critical in one's employment and social prospects. Various state-based Aboriginal Protection Boards were established which had virtually complete control over the lives of Indigenous Australians – where they lived, their employment, marriage, education and included the power to separate children from their parents.[72][73][74] Aborigines were not allowed to vote and were often confined to reserves and forced into low paid or effectively slave labour.[75][76] The social position of mixed-race or "half-caste" individuals varied over time. A 1913 report by Sir Baldwin Spencer states that:

the half-castes belong neither to the aboriginal nor to the whites, yet, on the whole, they have more leaning towards the former; … One thing is certain and that is that the white population as a whole will never mix with half-castes... the best and kindest thing is to place them on reserves along with the natives, train them in the same schools and encourage them to marry amongst themselves.[77]

After the First World War, however, it became apparent that the number of mixed-race people was growing at a faster rate than the white population, and by 1930 fear of the "half-caste menace" undermining the White Australia ideal from within was being taken as a serious concern.[78] Dr. Cecil Cook, the Northern Territory Protector of Natives, noted that:

generally by the fifth and invariably by the sixth generation, all native characteristics of the Australian Aborigine are eradicated. The problem of our half-castes will quickly be eliminated by the complete disappearance of the black race, and the swift submergence of their progeny in the white.[79]

The official policy became one of biological and cultural assimilation: "Eliminate the full-blood and permit the white admixture to half-castes and eventually the race will become white".[80] This led to different treatment for "black" and "half-caste" individuals, with lighter-skinned individuals targeted for removal from their families to be raised as "white" people, restricted from speaking their native language and practising traditional customs, a process now known as the Stolen Generation.[81]

Aboriginal activist Sam Watson addressing Invasion Day Rally 2007 in a "White Australia has a Black History" T-shirt

The second half of the 20th century to the present has seen a gradual shift towards improved human rights for Aboriginal people. In a 1967 referendum over 90% of the Australian population voted to end constitutional discrimination and to include Aborigines in the national census.[82] During this period many Aboriginal activists began to embrace the term "black" and use their ancestry as a source of pride. Activist Bob Maza said:

I only hope that when I die I can say I’m black and it’s beautiful to be black. It is this sense of pride which we are trying to give back to the aborigine [sic] today.[83]

In 1978 Aboriginal writer Kevin Gilbert received the National Book Council award for his book Living Black: Blacks Talk to Kevin Gilbert, a collection of Aboriginal people's stories, and in 1998 was awarded (but refused to accept) the Human Rights Award for Literature for Inside Black Australia, a poetry anthology and exhibition of Aboriginal photography.[84] In contrast to previous definitions based solely on the degree of Aboriginal ancestry, in 1990 the Government changed the legal definition of Aboriginal to include any:

person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he [or she] lives[85]

This nationwide acceptance and recognition of Aboriginal people led to a significant increase in the number of people self-identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.[86][87] The reappropriation of the term "black" with a positive and more inclusive meaning has resulted in its widespread use in mainstream Australian culture, including public media outlets,[88] government agencies,[89] and private companies.[90] In 2012, a number of high-profile cases highlighted the legal and community attitude that identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is not dependent on skin colour, with a well-known boxer Anthony Mundine being widely criticised for questioning the "blackness" of another boxer[91] and journalist Andrew Bolt being successfully sued for publishing discriminatory comments about Aboriginals with light skin.[92]


John Caesar, nicknamed "Black Caesar", a convict and bushranger with parents born in an unknown area in Africa, was one of the first people of recent Black African ancestry to arrive in Australia.[93]

At the 2006 Census, 248,605 residents declared that they were born in Africa. This figure pertains to all immigrants to Australia who were born in nations in Africa regardless of race, and includes White Africans.

North America

United States

Main article: African American
The main slave routes in the Atlantic Slave Trade.

There were eight principal areas used by Europeans to buy and ship slaves to the Western Hemisphere. The number of enslaved people sold to the New World varied throughout the slave trade. As for the distribution of slaves from regions of activity, certain areas produced far more enslaved people than others. Between 1650 and 1900, 10.24 million enslaved West Africans arrived in the Americas from the following regions in the following proportions:[94]

Major slave trading regions of Africa, 15th–19th centuries

The variants neger and negar, derive from the Spanish and Portuguese word negro (black), and from the now-pejorative French nègre (negro). Etymologically, negro, noir, nègre, and nigger ultimately derive from nigrum, the stem of the Latin niger (black) (pronounced [ˈniɡer] which, in every other grammatical case, grammatical gender, and grammatical number besides nominative masculine singular, is nigr-, the r is trilled).

In the Colonial America of 1619, John Rolfe used negars in describing the slaves who were captured from West Africa and then shipped to the Virginia colony.[95] Later American English spellings, neger and neggar, prevailed in a northern colony, New York under the Dutch, and in metropolitan Philadelphia's Moravian and Pennsylvania Dutch communities; the African Burial Ground in New York City originally was known by the Dutch name "Begraafplaats van de Neger" (Cemetery of the Negro); an early US occurrence of neger in Rhode Island, dates from 1625.[96] Thomas Jefferson also used the term "black" in his Notes on the State of Virginia in allusion to the slave populations.

Harriet Tubman, an African-American fugitive slave, abolitionist, and conductor of the Underground Railroad

By the 1900s, nigger had become a pejorative word in the United States. In its stead, the term colored became the mainstream alternative to negro and its derived terms. After the African-American Civil rights movement, the terms colored and negro gave way to "black". Negro had superseded colored as the most polite word for African Americans at a time when black was considered more offensive.[97] This term was accepted as normal, including by people classified as Negroes, until the later Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s. One well-known example is the identification by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. of his own race as "Negro" in his famous speech of 1963, I Have a Dream. During the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, some African-American leaders in the United States, notably Malcolm X, objected to the word Negro because they associated it with the long history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination that treated African Americans as second-class citizens, or worse.[98] Malcolm X preferred Black to Negro, but later gradually abandoned that as well for Afro-American after leaving the Nation of Islam.[99]

Since the late 1960s, various other terms for African Americans have been more widespread in popular usage. Aside from Black American, these include Afro-American (in use from the late 1960s to 1990) and African American (used in the United States to refer to Black Americans, people often referred to in the past as American Negroes).[100]

Civil rights activist Martin Luther King.

In the first 200 years that black people were in the United States, they primarily identified themselves by their specific ethnic group (closely allied to language) and not by skin color. Individuals identified themselves, for example, as Ashanti, Igbo, Bakongo, or Wolof. However, when the first captives were brought to the Americas, they were often combined with other groups from West Africa, and individual ethnic affiliations were not generally acknowledged by English colonists. In areas of the Upper South, different ethnic groups were brought together. This is significant as the captives came from a vast geographic region: the West African coastline stretching from Senegal to Angola and in some cases from the south-east coast such as Mozambique. A new African-American identity and culture was born that incorporated elements of the various ethnic groups and of European cultural heritage, resulting in fusions such as the Black church and Black English. This new identity was based on provenance and slave status rather than membership in any one ethnic group. By contrast, slave records from Louisiana show that the French and Spanish colonists recorded more complete identities of the West Africans, including ethnicities and given tribal names.[101]

The US racial or ethnic classification "black" refers to people with all possible kinds of skin pigmentation, from the darkest through to the very lightest skin colors, including albinos, if they are believed by others to have West African ancestry (in any discernible percentage), or to exhibit cultural traits associated with being "African American". As a result, in the United States the term "black people" is not an indicator of skin color or ethnic origin but is instead a socially based racial classification related to being African American, with a family history associated with institutionalized slavery.[102] Relatively dark-skinned people can be classified as white if they fulfill other social criteria of "whiteness", and relatively light-skinned people can be classified as black if they fulfill the social criteria for "blackness" in a particular setting.[103]

In March 1807, Great Britain, which largely controlled the Atlantic, declared the transatlantic slave trade illegal, as did the United States. (The latter prohibition took effect 1 January 1808, the earliest date on which Congress had the power to do so after protecting the slave trade under Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution.)

By that time, the majority of black people in the United States were native-born, so the use of the term "African" became problematic. Though initially a source of pride, many blacks feared that the use of African as an identity would be a hindrance to their fight for full citizenship in the US. They also felt that it would give ammunition to those who were advocating repatriating black people back to Africa. In 1835, black leaders called upon Black Americans to remove the title of "African" from their institutions and replace it with "Negro" or "Colored American". A few institutions chose to keep their historic names, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church. African Americans popularly used the terms "Negro" or "colored" for themselves until the late 1960s.[104]

The term black was used throughout but not frequently since it carried a certain stigma. In his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech,[105] Martin Luther King, Jr. uses the terms negro fifteen times and black four times. Each time he uses black it is in parallel construction with white; for example, "black men and white men".[106]

With the successes of the civil rights movement, a new term was needed to break from the past and help shed the reminders of legalized discrimination. In place of Negro, activists promoted the use of black as standing for racial pride, militancy, and power. Some of the turning points included the use of the term "Black Power" by Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael) and the popular singer James Brown's song "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud".

Michael Jordan, an African American basketball player.

In 1988, the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson urged Americans to use instead the term "African American" because it had a historical cultural base and was a construction similar to terms used by European descendants, such as German American, Italian American, etc. Since then, African American and black have often had parallel status. However, controversy continues over which if any of the two terms is more appropriate. Maulana Karenga argues that the term African-American is more appropriate because it accurately articulates their geographical and historical origin. Others have argued that "black" is a better term because "African" suggests foreignness, although Black Americans helped found the United States.[107] Still others believe that the term black is inaccurate because African Americans have a variety of skin tones.[108][109] Some surveys suggest that the majority of Black Americans have no preference for "African American" or "Black",[110] although they have a slight preference for "black" in personal settings and "African American" in more formal settings.[111]

Increases in the number of black immigrants to the United States from parts of Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America since the late 20th century have raised questions about who uses the term African American. The more recent immigrants may view themselves, and be viewed, as ethno-culturally distinct from native-born Americans who descend from West African slaves.[112]

The U.S. census race definitions says a "black" is a person having origins in any of the black (sub-Saharan) racial groups of Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as "Black, African Am., or Negro" or who provide written entries such as African American, Afro-American, Kenyan, Nigerian, or Haitian. The Census Bureau notes that these classifications are socio-political constructs and should not be interpreted as scientific or anthropological.[113] Most African Americans also have European ancestry in varying amounts; a lesser proportion have some Native American ancestry. For instance, genetic studies of African Americans show an ancestry that is on average 17–18% European.[114]

One-drop rule

Multiracial social reformer Frederick Douglass.

From the late 19th century, the South used a colloquial term, the one-drop rule, to classify as black a person of any known African ancestry. This practice of hypodescent was not put into law until the early 20th century.[115] Legally the definition varied from state to state. Racial definition was more flexible in the 18th and 19th centuries before the American Civil War. For instance, President Thomas Jefferson held persons who were legally white (less than 25% black) according to Virginia law at the time, but, because they were born to slave mothers, they were born into slavery, according to the principle of partus sequitur ventrem, which Virginia adopted into law in 1662.

Outside of the US, some other countries have adopted the one-drop rule, but the definition of who is black and the extent to which the one-drop "rule" applies varies greatly from country to country.

The one-drop rule may have originated as a means of increasing the number of black slaves[116] and was maintained as an attempt to keep the white race pure.[117] One of the results of the one-drop rule was the uniting of the African-American community.[115] Some of the most prominent abolitionists and civil-rights activists of the 19th century were multiracial, such as Frederick Douglass, Robert Purvis and James Mercer Langston. They advocated equality for all.


Barack Obama, the first biracial President of the United States, was throughout his campaign criticized as being either "too black" or "not black enough".[118][119][120]

The concept of blackness in the United States has been described as the degree to which one associates themselves with mainstream African-American culture, politics,[121][122] and values.[123] To a certain extent, this concept is not so much about race but more about political orientation,[121][122] culture and behavior. Blackness can be contrasted with "acting white", where black Americans are said to behave with assumed characteristics of stereotypical white Americans with regard to fashion, dialect, taste in music,[124] and possibly, from the perspective of a significant number of black youth, academic achievement.[125]

Due to the often political[121][122] and cultural contours of blackness in the United States, the notion of blackness can also be extended to non-black people. Toni Morrison once described Bill Clinton as the first black President of the United States,[126] because, as she put it, he displayed "almost every trope of blackness".[127] Christopher Hitchens was offended by the notion of Clinton as the first black president, noting, "Mr Clinton, according to Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, is our first black President, the first to come from the broken home, the alcoholic mother, the under-the-bridge shadows of our ranking systems. Thus, we may have lost the mystical power to divine diabolism, but we can still divine blackness by the following symptoms: broken homes, alcoholic mothers, under-the-bridge habits and (presumable from the rest of [Arthur] Miller's senescent musings) the tendency to sexual predation and to shameless perjury about same."[128] Some black activists were also offended, claiming that Clinton used his knowledge of black culture to exploit black people for political gain as no other president had before, while not serving black interests.[129] They cite the lack of action during the Rwandan Genocide[130] and his welfare reform, which Larry Roberts said had led to the worst child poverty since the 1960s.[131] Others cited that the number of black people in jail increased during his administration.[132]

The question of blackness also arose in the Democrat Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. Commentators have questioned whether Obama, who was elected the first President with black ancestry, is "black enough", contending that his background is not typical because his mother was white American, and his father was a black Kenyan immigrant.[118][120] Obama chose to identify as black and African-American.[133]

In July 2012, reported on historic and DNA research by its staff that discovered that Obama is likely a descendant through his mother of John Punch, considered by some historians to be the first African slave in the Virginia colony. An indentured servant, he was "bound for life" in 1640 after trying to escape. The story of him and his descendants is that of multi-racial America since it appeared he and his sons married or had unions with white women, likely indentured servants and working-class like them. Their multi-racial children were free because they were born to free English women. Over time, Obama's line of the Bunch family (as they became known) were property owners and continued to "marry white"; they became part of white society, likely by the early to mid-18th century.[134]

South America

Jongo, a Brazilian dance of West African origin (c. 1822)

Approximately 12 million Africans were shipped to the Americas during the Atlantic slave trade from 1492 to 1888, with 11.5 million of those shipped to South America and the Caribbean.[135] Brazil was the largest importer in the Americas, with 5.5 million African slaves imported, followed by the British Caribbean with 2.76 million, the Spanish Caribbean and Spanish Mainland with 1.59 million Africans, and the French Caribbean with 1.32 million.[136] Today their descendants number approximately 150 million in South America and the Caribbean.[137] In addition to skin color, other physical characteristics such as facial features and hair texture are often variously used in classifying peoples as black in South America and the Caribbean.[138][139] In South America and the Caribbean, classification as black is also closely tied to social status and socioeconomic variables, especially in light of social conceptions of "blanqueamiento" (racial whitening) and related concepts.[139][140]


Main articles: Race in Brazil and Afro-Brazilian
Joaquim Barbosa, a preto former Justice of the Supreme Federal Court in Brazil

The concept of race in Brazil is complex. A Brazilian child was never automatically identified with the racial type of one or both of his or her parents, nor were there only two categories to choose from. Between an individual of unmixed West African descent and a very light mulatto individual, more than a dozen racial categories were acknowledged, based on various combinations of hair color, hair texture, eye color, and skin color. These types grade into each other like the colors of the spectrum, and no one category stands significantly isolated from the rest. In Brazil, people are classified by appearance, not heredity.[141]

Scholars disagree over the effects of social status on racial classifications in Brazil. It is generally believed that achieving upward mobility and education results in individuals being classified as a category of lighter skin. The popular claim is that in Brazil, poor whites are considered black and wealthy blacks are considered white. Some scholars disagree, arguing that "whitening" of one's social status may be open to people of mixed race, a large part of the population known as pardo, but a person perceived as preto (black) will continue to be classified as black regardless of wealth or social status.[142][143]


Brazilian Population, by Race, from 1872 to 1991 (Census Data)[144]
Ethnic group White Black Brown Yellow (Asian) Undeclared Total
1872 3,787,289 1,954,452 4,188,737 9,930,478
1940 26,171,778 6,035,869 8,744,365 242,320 41,98341,236,315
1991 75,704,927 7,335,136 62,316,064 630,656 534,878 146,521,661
Demographics of Brazil
Year White Pardo Black
1835 24.4% 18.2%51.4%
2000 53.7% 38.5%6.2%
2010 48.4% 42.4%6.7%

From the years 1500 to 1850, an estimated 3.5 million captives were forcibly shipped from West/Central Africa to Brazil; the territory received the highest number of slaves of any country in the Americas.[145] Scholars estimate that more than half of the Brazilian population is at least in part descended from these individuals. Brazil has the largest population of Afro-descendants outside of Africa. In contrast to the US, during the slavery period and after, the Portuguese colonial government and later Brazilian government did not pass formal anti-miscegenation or segregation laws. As in other Latin countries, intermarriage was prevalent during the colonial period and continued afterward. In addition, people of mixed race (pardo) often tended to marry white, and their descendants became accepted as white. As a result, some of the European descended population also has West African or Amerindian blood. According to the last census of the 20th century, in which Brazilians could choose from five color/ethnic categories with which they identified, 54% of individuals identified as white, 6.2% identified as black, and 39.5% identified as pardo (brown) — a broad multi-racial category, including tri-racial persons.[146]

In the 19th century, a philosophy of racial whitening emerged in Brazil, related to the assimilation of mixed-race people into the white population through intermarriage. Until recently the government did not keep data on race. However, statisticians estimate that in 1835, roughly 50% of the population was preto (black; most were enslaved), a further 20% was pardo (brown), and 25% white, with the remainder Amerindian. Some classified as pardo were tri-racial.

By the 2000 census, demographic changes including the end to slavery, immigration from Europe and Asia, assimilation of multiracial persons, and other factors resulted in a population in which 6.2% of the population identified as black, 40% as pardo, and 55% as white. Essentially most of the black population was absorbed into the multi-racial category by intermixing.[141] A 2007 genetic study found that at least 29% of the middle-class, white Brazilian population had some recent (since 1822 and the end of the colonial period) African ancestry.[147]

Race relations in Brazil

Brazilian Candomblé ceremony

Because of the acceptance of miscegenation, Brazil has avoided the binary polarization of society into black and white. In addition, it abolished slavery without a civil war. The bitter and sometimes violent racial tensions that have divided the US are notably absent in Brazil. According to the 2010 census, 6.7% of Brazilians said they were black, compared with 6.2% in 2000, and 43.1% said they were racially mixed, up from 38.5%. In 2010, Elio Ferreira de Araujo, Brazil's minister for racial equality, attributed the increases to growing pride among his country's black and indigenous communities.[148]

The philosophy of the racial democracy in Brazil has drawn some criticism, based on economic issues. Brazil has one of the largest gaps in income distribution in the world. The richest 10% of the population earn 28 times the average income of the bottom 40%. The richest 10 percent is almost exclusively white or predominantly European in ancestry. One-third of the population lives under the poverty line, with blacks and other people of color accounting for 70 percent of the poor.[149]

Fruit sellers in Rio de Janeiro c. 1820

In 2015 United States, African Americans, including multiracial people, earned 76.8% as much as white people. By contrast, black and mixed race Brazilians earned on average 58% as much as whites in 2014.[150] Some have posited that the facts of lower socioeconomic status for people of color suggest that Brazil practices a kind of one-drop rule, or discrimination against people who are not visibly European in ancestry. The gap in income between blacks and other non-whites is relatively small compared to the large gap between whites and all people of color. Other social factors, such as illiteracy and education levels, show the same patterns of disadvantage for people of color.[151]

Some commentators observe that the United States practice of segregation and white supremacy in the South, and discrimination in many areas outside that region, forced many African Americans to unite in the civil rights struggle, whereas the fluid nature of race in Brazil has divided individuals of African descent between those with more or less ancestry and helped sustain an image of the country as an example of post-colonial harmony. This has hindered the development of a common identity among black Brazilians.[150]

Though Brazilians of at least partial African heritage make up a large percentage[152] of the population, few blacks have been elected as politicians. The city of Salvador, Bahia, for instance, is 80% people of color, but voters have not elected a mayor of color. Journalists like to say that US cities with black majorities, such as Detroit and New Orleans, have not elected white mayors since after the civil rights movement, when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 protected the franchise for minorities, and blacks in the South regained the power to vote for the first time since the turn of the 20th century. New Orleans elected its first black mayor in the 1970s.[148][153] New Orleans elected a white mayor after the widescale disruption and damage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Black people in Brazil c. 1821

Critics note that people of color have limited media visibility. The Brazilian media has been accused of hiding or overlooking the nation's Black, Indigenous, Multiracial and East Asian populations. For example, the telenovelas or soaps are criticized for featuring actors who resemble northern Europeans rather than actors of the more prevalent Southern European features) and light-skinned mulatto and mestizo appearance. (Pardos may achieve "white" status if they have attained the middle-class or higher social status).

These patterns of discrimination against non-whites have led some academic and other activists to advocate for use of the Portuguese term negro to encompass all African-descended people, in order to stimulate a "black" consciousness and identity.[154] This proposal has been criticized since the term pardo is considered to include a wide range of multiracial people, such as caboclos (mestizos), assimilated Amerindians and tri-racials, not only people of partial African and European descent. Trying to identify this entire group as "black" would be a false imposition of a different identity from outside the culture and deny people their other, equally valid, ancestries and cultures. It seems a one-drop rule in reverse.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Black people.


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  118. Adesioye, Lola (27 June 2008). "Ralph Nader's guilt complex". The Guardian. "Comment is free". Retrieved 27 June 2008.
  119. 1 2 Coates, Ta-Nehisi Paul (1 February 2007). "Is Obama Black Enough?". Time. Retrieved 27 June 2008. Barack Obama's real problem isn't that he's too white — it's that he's too black.
  120. 1 2 3 Chielozona Eze, Postcolonial Imaginations and Moral Representations (2011), p. 25:"For Du Bois, blackness is political, it is existential, but above all, it is moral, for in it values abound; these values spring from the fact of being an oppressed."
  121. 1 2 3 Barbara Olson, The Final Days (2003), p. 58:"In fact, Bill Clinton had promoted an even worse variation, that authentic blackness is political..."
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  134. United Nations Slavery Memorial: "Accurate figures are still not available but at a conservative estimate, using the figures that have been generated by the latest Slave Trade Database, of the estimated millions transported, Portugal dominated the trade with 5.8 million or 46%, while Great Britain transported 3.25 million or 26%, France accounted for 1.38 million or 11%, and Spain 1.06 million or 8%. So it is unmistakable, that the 4 leading colonial powers accounted for a combined total of 11.5 million Africans or 92 % of the overall trade. The remainder was transported by the US 305,326, the Netherlands 554,336, and Denmark/Baltic 111,041. There were several stages to the trade. During the first phase between 1501 and 1600, an estimated 277,509 Africans or just 2 % of the overall trade, were sent to the Americas and Europe. During the 17th century, some 15 % or 1,875,631 Africans embarked for the Americas. The period from 1701 to the passage of the British Abolition Act in 1807 was the peak of the trade. Here an estimated 7,163,241 or 57% of the trafficking in Africans transpired, with the remaining 26 % or 3,204,935 occurring between 1808 and 1866."
  135. United Nations Slavery Memorial:"In the Americas, Brazil was the largest importer of Africans, accounting for 5.5 million or 44%, the British Caribbean with 2.76 million or 22%, the French Caribbean 1.32 million, and the Spanish Caribbean and Spanish Mainland accounting for 1.59 million. The relatively high numbers for Brazil and the British Caribbean is largely a reflection of the dominance and continued expansion of the plantation system in those regions. Even more so, the inability of the enslaved population in these regions to reproduce meant that the replacement demand for laborers was significantly high. In other words, Africans were imported to make up the demographic deficit on the plantations."
  136. "Community Outreach" Seminar on Planning Process for SANTIAGO +5, Global Afro-Latino and Caribbean Initiative, 4 February 2006.
  137. De La Torre, Miguel A. (2009). Hispanic American Religious Cultures. ABC-Clio. p. 386. ISBN 1-59884-139-4. The ways of defining blackness range from characteristics of skin tones, hair textures, facial features...
  138. 1 2 Whitten, Norman E.; Torres, Arlene, eds. (1998). Blackness in Latin America and the Caribbean. Indiana University Press. p. 161. ISBN 0-253-21194-8. In still other instances, persons are counted in reference to equally ambiguous phenotypical variations, particularly skin color, facial features, or hair texture.
  139. Hernandez, Tanya Kateri (2012). Racial Subordination in Latin America. Cambridge University Press. p. 20. ISBN 1-107-02486-2. Given the larger numbers of persons of African and indigenous descent in Spanish America, the region developed its own form of eugenics with the concepts of blanqueamiento (whitening) ...blanqueamiento was meant to benefit the entire nation with a white image, and not just individual persons of African descent seeking access to the legal rights and privileges of colonial whites.
  140. 1 2 Skidmore, Thomas E. (April 1992). "Fact and Myth: Discovering a Racial Problem in Brazil" (PDF). Working Paper. 173.
  141. Telles, Edward Eric (2004). Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Color in Brazil. Princeton University Press. pp. 95–98. ISBN 0-691-11866-3.
  142. Telles, Edward E. (3 May 2002). "Racial Ambiguity Among the Brazilian Population" (PDF). Ethnic and Racial Studies. California Center for Population Research. 25 (3): 415–441. doi:10.1080/01419870252932133.
  144. Telles 2004, p. 24
  145. "CIA World Factbook: Brazil".
  146. V.F. Gonçalves, F. Prosdocimi, L. S. Santos, J. M. Ortega and S. D. J. Pena, "Sex-biased gene flow in African Americans but not in American Caucasians", GMR, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 6.
  147. 1 2 Tom Phillips, "Brazil's census offers recognition at last to descendants of runaway slaves", The Guardian, 25 August 2010.
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  150. Roland, Edna Maria Santos. "The Economics of Racism: People of African Descent in Brazil".
  151. Tom Phillips, "Brazil census shows African-Brazilians in the majority for the first time", The Guardian, 17 November 2011.
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