The “Regular Black” and “Ethnic Black” Experiences in College

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Students at Duke University during the 2014 Duke Africa Fashion Show (YouTube)

Kids on the nation’s campuses know the lengths to which some students go to distinguish their brand of blackness.

By Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele

This article was published at The Root on April 8, 2014.

I’ll never forget the expression on my friend’s face during one of our African-American-studies classes at Duke University, when she was asked to clarify her response—for what seemed like the umpteenth time—to the question, “Where are you from?” after having answered, “America.”

“Look, I’m just regular black,” she said, with an air of frustration plainly woven into her response.

Regular black. It’s become a sort of declaration used by some native black Americans to distinguish themselves from first-generation black Americans—those whose parents migrated to the United States from Africa or the Caribbean. A friend of a colleague said that the term “JB,” or “just black,” was regularly used at her alma mater, Yale.

And these terms have gained popularity as a convenient shorthand, particularly at top-tier universities and Ivy League schools, where a 2007 study found that approximately 40 percent of black students had at least one parent born in a foreign land—nearly half of the black-student population. Meanwhile, only 20 percent of black college students across the nation have at least one immigrant parent, which means that ethnic black students are overrepresented—and have a large market share—at the very best colleges in America

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  1. Very interesting article, Diana. I’ve never heard the term “regular black.” I was in college in the 80s so it didn’t have a name back then, I guess. I am also a first generation black American of Jamaican descent, both parents Jamaican immigrants. So I can relate to some of the issues surrounding confusion about we we identify ourselves and how others perceive us.

    I recall going through a “who am I” period as a student at Howard University asking myself as I sat in Black History class, ” Am I Black American, African-American, Jamaican, or something else.” I wanted to identify as Jamaican but my cousins weren’t having it and would call me “Yankee.” You see, if you weren’t born there, you couldn’t really claim the culture, especially if you had an American accent and ate American food. My sisters and brother were the only cousins born in the US, unlike the rest who were born in Jamaica, England, or Canada. So my identity crisis came on many levels.

    Today I proudly identify as “Jahamerican” holding fast to all of the Jamaican traditions of my culture and heritage. Thanks for this article; thought-provoking.

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