I'm just wondering if I as white South African would to move to the US would I have any right to call myself an African American?

  • 3
    You can call yourself whatever you want. Ask Rachel Dolezal.
    – littleadv
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 8:32

2 Answers 2


African American is generally used to refer to one's race or ethnicity, not immigration history. It's a synonym of Black American. Calling yourself this as a joke would be understood by most everyone. I'm sure you will find people who would say you would be "technically correct" to call yourself an African American, but the normal usage of "African American" is to distinguish Americans considered black from those who are not.

You could correctly call yourself a South African American.

There are a number of situations, like the census, where people are asked to self-identify their ethnic group. In a very limited sense, I suppose you could say that you self-identify with whichever ethnic group you want. But this could cause problems in situations where you might benefit from identifying with an ethnic group, but many people would dispute that you belong to it.

  • The census, at least in recent iterations, has defined "black or African American" in such terms as would exclude the descendents of Europeans who settled in Africa. I'd also add that at least some Americans whose roots are in the Caribbean feel misrepresented by the term African American and for most if not all non-Americans, the term is unambiguously incorrect.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 20:32

No. You would simply be an "African."

To be an African American, two criteria must be met:

  1. You must be of African ancestry or heritage.
  2. You must be, obviously, American.

You don't (yet) fit the second criteria. If you later acquire US Citizenship, you could then refer to yourself as "African American." (Why you would want to, don't know, but that's another question).

Even so, depending on the context or social setting, it could be considered unusual to refer to a foreigner who has acquired American citizenship as an "American." Colloquially, it would likely be more commonly simply to refer to you as a South African with US Citizenship.

If you have children in the US, who are therefore US Citizens by birth, they would be unequivocally American, and thus could be called "African American."

  • This answer is misleading in that it glosses over the controversy that would attach to anyone of primarily European ancestry claiming to be African American. Such a person's roots in South Africa would not do much to change that, if anything.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 14:30

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