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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