My friend in San Francisco emailed a little story. He was watching World Cup with his daughter—Spain vs. Switzerland. The girl, a 9-year-old, asked her daddy a question.
"How come there are African-Americans on the Swiss team?"
How does a parent answer something like that? Does she think that only the United States has black people? Is she innocently asking why Americans are playing for the Swiss national squad? Is she using "African-American" reflexively, simply because she has never been taught another term for darker-skinned people?
For the record, judging from the Swiss roster, the kid was probably looking at Blasé Nkufo, born in the Congo, and Gökhan Inler, of Turkish descent.
The right answer then, might have been something like, "They aren't Americans, dearheart. That fellow is from the Congo. That chap over here comes from Turkey."
My friend didn't know that at the time, however. Nor did I, in fact, until looking it up online just a few moments ago.
While the little girl can be excused, grown-ups can't be. When British racer Lewis Hamilton won his first Formula 1 race, a bunch of news outlets had to issue corrections after calling him the "first African-American" to win an F1 race. Boxer Lennox Lewis and Naomi Campbell, also British, often are similarly mislabeled. So is Iman, born in Somalia, for goodness sake.