A Brief Note on Vocabulary

Critically discussing historical ideas about race can get us mixed up pretty quickly in a swamp of mutual misunderstanding. In order to make sure that we can comprehend each other, please use the words below as I define them:

Socioracial – We use this term because historical ideas about human difference were not the same as 20th and 21st century notions of race.  Moreover, race was not a word people in the colonial past would have used.  Socioracial indicates that what we are studying are race-like ideas. 

Indians – Use this term only when you are discussing what people in the past thought or said, not to refer to actual indigenous people.

Amerindians – Indigenous people of the Americas did not refer to themselves as Indians: this was an imposition of European imperialists.  Nonetheless, we need a term to refer to the native inhabitants of the hemisphere generally, and for that use “Amerindian” or “indigenous people.”

Negro – Similar to Indian, this word was imposed by the imperialists, so only use it to discuss what people in the past thought or said.  To refer to actual people, use “people of African descent,” “enslaved Africans,” or “free people of color” (if they were not enslaved).