Some issues seem to never go away, such as that of race, names, culture and history raised in the Oct. 16 news story "Shift to 'African American' May Prove There Is Much in a Name." It is an issue that has consumed much energy of Americans for a century or more.
During my life time I have been colored, negro, Negro, Afro-American, black, Black ... and now "African American." I accepted the other changes without resisting, but this time I simply raise the question: What is wrong with black? Is black broke? If it's not broke why fix it? And why African American? Why any name at all beyond, say, human being? The answer, unfortunately, is that names, as applied to people, do matter both in the way that people relate to each other and in the way they relate to themselves.
Jesse Jackson speaks of the cultural void of black and hints of closer international socio-political relations resulting from a change to African American. If this is true it meets one of the criteria for such name changes, i.e., it changes for the better how people relate to each other.
The more important criterion, however, is whether the new name alters how the newly named ones relate to themselves. When changing from Negro to black in the 1960s, the long standing extremely negative attitudes toward the color black were corrected. (The idea that "Black Is Beautiful" replaced the poor self-image of a prior time.)
The change from Negro to black clearly improved how the newly named ones related to themselves -- their self-image -- a significant problem then and now. Fixing, or attempting to fix the problem of this collective self-image is impossible without confronting and dealing with the concept and color black as it has been used to attempt to devalue nonwhites. Ducking the term now not only runs the risk of forgetting that history (and thus failing to correct it) but also raises the danger that it will be used again for the same purposes in the near future.
What significant problem does the change to African American correct? Certainly nothing as basic as that corrected by the change to black. Energy being devoted to changing identities from black to African American amounts to little more than a flirtation with frivolity. We have more deserving problems awaiting our attention. EUGENE WALTON Silver Spring