Black and African Americans
“Black and African Americans” is a phrase used to describe a diverse array of people. Racial and ethnic identities—and the language surrounding them—are continuously evolving, both generationally and through nuanced self-identification. Generally, the term Black denotes a racial identification, while African American refers to an ethnicity, specifically Americans with ancestry from one or more of the African continent’s Black racial groups. Historically, the term Black American referred to people of African descent with dark skin. In modern contexts, however, Black identity is not inherently tied to dark skin or specifically African descent. Black people may have light skin, or identify as Afro-Caribbean, Indigenous Australian, or Melanesian.
Since 1619, Black and African Americans have created, developed, engineered, built, written, composed, taught, researched, and led some of the most important foundations of U.S. history, culture, and technology. They have also been systematically exploited, excluded, and killed to further the unearned advantage of white Americans. From health disparities and wage gaps, to voter suppression, police brutality, redlining, environmental racism, and the adultification of Black children, Black lives have been consistently valued less by our society despite their immense contributions. Some of the most marginalized include disabled, LGBTQ+, and economically poor Black people.
In recent years, increasing momentum fueled by Black activism and the Black Lives Matter movement has pushed Black and African Americans to the forefront of social justice and advocacy. Even with the more direct spotlight, however, efforts often fall short of recognizing and addressing the compound effects of intersecting marginalizations, such as police violence against disabled Black people, inappropriate school discipline for Black girls, and fatal violence targeting transgender Black women. Black activism and allyship also remain controversial in many spaces and communities due to persisting stereotypes, discrimination, and anti-Black racism.
Achieving health equity and racial justice for Black and African Americans requires deeply uprooting racist systems that perpetuate their exploitation and abuse. Institutionalizing and operationalizing equity and justice throughout all leadership levels of all sectors will require organizations, allies, and systems to deeply center and follow the leadership of people with lived experience. Community-led processes, self-representation, and centering Black voices are a few effective tactics communities can leverage to advance equity and well-being for Black and African Americans.