J Epidemiol Community Health 59:1014-1018 doi:10.1136/jech.2005.035964
  • Continuing professional education

Negro, Black, Black African, African Caribbean, African American or what? Labelling African origin populations in the health arena in the 21st century

  1. Charles Agyemang1,
  2. Raj Bhopal2,
  3. Marc Bruijnzeels1
  1. 1Institute of Health Policy and Management, Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  2. 2Public Health Sciences, Division of Community Health Sciences, College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr C Agyemang
 Department of Health Policy and Management, Erasmus Medical Center, Burg Oudlaan 50, L-gebouw, 3000 DR Rotterdam, Netherlands;
  • Accepted 2 September 2005


Broad terms such as Black, African, or Black African are entrenched in scientific writings although there is considerable diversity within African descent populations and such terms may be both offensive and inaccurate. This paper outlines the heterogeneity within African populations, and discusses the strengths and limitations of the term Black and related labels from epidemiological and public health perspectives in Europe and the USA. This paper calls for debate on appropriate terminologies for African descent populations and concludes with the proposals that (1) describing the population under consideration is of paramount importance (2) the word African origin or simply African is an appropriate and necessary prefix for an ethnic label, for example, African Caribbean or African Kenyan or African Surinamese (3) documents should define the ethnic labels (4) the label Black should be phased out except when used in political contexts.


  • Funding: none.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.