Virginia Tech's College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences offers an undergraduate minor in Africana Studies and and Africana Studies concentration for both the M.S. in Sociology and Ph.D. in Sociology programs. These programs offer students an opportunity to "learn to critically assess the present cultural forces, structural forces, and historical conditions affecting the economic, legal, educational, social, and moral status of people of African descent." (Quoted description from the M.S. in Sociology Africana Studies Concentration site.)
This question is not easily answered and is well beyond the scope of this guide. It is, however, relevant to consider when approaching research on the topic of people of African descent. Here is a good short article from Afro.com that introduces some of the thoughts around this topic. At Virginia Tech, it is common to find any people of African descent grouped under the term "black".
People of African descent, or black people, come from all over the world. It is important to consider the ways a person might identify or be identified by others when crafting a search for materials about this population.
The terms Black and African American are both commonly used at Virginia Tech but you might also find people referred to by their nation of origin (for example: Nigerian American, Somali American, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, etc.).
When referring to issues of diversity or talking more broadly, it is also common to encounter the phrase "people of color". This phrase may refer to any people of color, not just those of African descent.
Language used to describe marginalized populations shifts over time. Sometimes terms that would not be considered respectful today were in common usage in the past and may still yield valuable results when conducting research. Please note that search terms are always plural which leads to terms like "Blacks" showing up as subject terms in databases even though they are considered disrespectful.
There are many more possible search terms depending on the specific focus of your research. If you need help crafting your search, please contact us.