Historically, the terms African American and Black have been used interchangeably to describe any person with African ancestry living in the United States. However, although individuals with melanated skin are often perceived as Black Americans in our society, Black Americans are an extremely heterogeneous population. In 2016, a new phrase entered our collective lexicon to capture some of this nuance, categorizing Black Americans with generational roots in the United States as American descendants of slavery (ADOS), distinct from African or Caribbean immigrants. Although still a somewhat controversial idea, it is important to recognize that legitimate differences exist between these groups.
Although ADOS are underrepresented in many career fields, I have noticed throughout my decade-long career that compared with either African and Caribbean immigrants or first-generation Black Americans (i.e., native-born citizens who have one or more foreign born parents, like myself), ADOS are especially underrepresented in the American global health workforce.† The differences in lived experience between ADOS and African and Caribbean immigrants are valuable and should be celebrated, but it is time to recognize the important and beneficial perspective that ADOS can offer to the global health field.
Although I would love to supply data to supplement my lived experience, the extant data do not offer a designation to distinguish among ADOS, African or Caribbean immigrants, or first-generation Black Americans. Rather, this population is typically lumped together as Black or African American. Furthermore, many U.S. program implementers and policymakers do not share staff workforce demographic data broken down by racial and/or ethnic groups, if such data are collected at all. This remains a critical gap as we try to better understand the racial and ethnic composition of the American global health workforce.
At a critical moment when our world, and particularly the United States, is undergoing a racial reckoning and is grappling with anti-Black sentiment, the time is now ripe to capitalize on the momentum and advocate for the inclusion of more diverse voices at the global health table. Intentional effort must be undertaken to attract ADOS to global health careers, and toward that end, I offer the following recommendations.
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Harper C, 2003. HBCUs, Black women, and STEM success. Higher Education Today. Available at: https://www.higheredtoday.org/2018/05/14/hbcus-black-women-stem-success/. Accessed November 10, 2020.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Office of Civil Rights and Diversity, USAID, 2020. Equal Employment Opportunity Program Status Report, Fiscal Year 2019, Form 715-01. Washington, DC: USAID Office of Civil Rights and Diversity.