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Clinton called it that in 1996. But it’s still not the preferred wording for many.
President Donald Trump has brought about some confusion regarding Black History Month. Since 1976, each president has declared February as a month celebrating black history. But today, Trump has taken credit for changing the name to “National African American History Month,” after deciding black was “outdated” and that “African American” was the more politically correct term, an administration official reportedly told TMZ.
A lot of people are mad about the change. However, Trump wasn’t really the first one to do it.
So you can change the name of black history month but not give us a longer month???? Wtf is national African American history month anyway
— Inzlay (@inzlay) February 2, 2017
In 1986, Congress passed a law designating February “National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” However, in 1996, President Bill Clinton switched it up by calling it “National African American History Month. In fact, in 2015 President Obama used that wording, though in 2016 it appears to have gone back to Black History Month. Either way, Trump is certainly not the first person to make the change.
Despite the back and forth, black and African-American are not interchangeable terms, and for many black people, calling it African American History Month, no matter who does it, erases the experiences of American descendants of slaves.
In an article for the Manhattan Institute, John H. McWhorter argues that African-American is the term for immigrants and recent descendants of Africans in America, whereas black speaks more to the experiences of people who may have African heritage, but no connection to the continent.
“To term ourselves as part ‘African’ reinforces a sad implication: that our history is basically slave ships, plantations, lynching, fire hoses in Birmingham, and then South Central, and that we need to look back to Mother Africa to feel good about ourselves,” he writes.
In other words, Donald Trump didn’t come up with National African American History Month on his own, but that’s no surprise considering he can’t seem to get his facts straight about black history.
Jaya Saxena is a lifestyle writer and editor whose work focuses primarily on women's issues and web culture. Her writing has appeared in GQ, ELLE, the Toast, the New Yorker, Tthe Hairpin, BuzzFeed, Racked, Eater, Catapult, and others. She is the co-author of 'Dad Magazine,' the author of 'The Book Of Lost Recipes,' and the co-author of 'Basic Witches.'