Friday, January 08, 2010

On Retirement of “Negro” From the English Language

Now I haven’t used the word “Negro” in my everyday speech, to my knowledge, ever. The word was the polite way to refer to people of African-American descent, especially if one eschewed the far more common racist term. But my recollection is that up until the early ‘60s, if one wanted to refer to African-Americans politely, one used the term “colored.”

At that time, the term “black” was considered derogatory.

Then for some reason, “black” became the term of preference as the civil rights movement gained legs.

Then we had temporary acceptance of “Afro-American” or just simply “Afro,” although that latter one got confusing because one had to get from the context whether one was referring to one’s ethnicity or one’s hairstyle.

And finally, as of the early 21st century, I think we have settled on “African-American” and “black.”

And “negro” is universally viewed as archaic. The last white person I ever heard who used the term was Kinky Friedman, who tries to pass himself off as a populist.

Why mention this? Well it’s now 2010 and the country is about to count its citizenry again, and ethnicity is one of the things they are tracking. So it comes as some surprise that fully 50 years after the term has been allocated to the dusty shelves of history, the US Census will contain in the vast majority of its questionnaires a box that one can check if they identify themselves with being African-American. The box to check in that case has more than one term, however: “black, African American, or Negro.”

This is because, they say, some older African-Americans identify themselves with the term “Negro.”

However, the Census Bureau is not without a brain and this year, for the first time, they are going to send out 30,000 forms that does not include the term “Negro” to test the notion that they can retire the term.

I am of the opinion that “Negro” like its coarser near-homonym is not only antiquated but should now be considered derogatory. Like the blogger at The Root, I believe that asking one to identify themselves as “black, African American, or Negro” is tantamount to someone with special needs identifying themselves as “Handicapped or Retarded.”

It isn’t even an English word. “Negro” stems from the Latin word “niger” which means “black.” Why go out of your way to use a term that is derogatory and not even English?

Why focus on using this antiquated word to identify an ethnic group? It makes as much sense to refer to someone who sells fruit and vegetables as a “costermonger” rather than a “green grocer.”

It is time, at long last, to retire the term “Negro” to the annals of history.

Or maybe, the term should be reserved for the exclusive use of Glenn Beck.

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