Wednesday, January 6, 2010


i was watching Channel 12 Brooklyn News today, and they reported that some people were upset about the inclusion in the 2010 census of the word "Negro" (see the story here). the 2010 census uses the term interchangably with "African American" and "Black". it said that some individuals find it offensive and would like it to be removed from the questionaire.

i found this interesting. the name we as blacks wish to call ourselves has gone through many changes in our attempts at self-discovery, and in those changes, we've come to view certain labels as offensive, outdated, and some to be fitting. it seems like we've become aware in more recent times that some terms we used to call ourselves were simply names that were given to us by whites. it wasn't what we wanted to call ourselves or what we identified ourselves as. i think many a times we take offense to words like "negro" and "colored" because of negative associations we have with it. for example, none of the people i knew prior to...the last year used the term "colored", and no one i know uses the term "negro" (not in a positive or neutral light anyway...). so the only times i've heard those terms were in movies showing the racial tensions of early America and in text books highlighting the same time period..and usually they were coming from the mouths of racists. or i've heard them from older whites in my hometown community. so, naturally, i wouldn't use the term myself, but would i get offended at the term? i would say it depends on the context.

in this context, for me, i don't find the term offensive. it has no negative definition such as the term "nigger", so i find it to be an indifferent word that we just associate negatively. however, when an older white person uses the term when they're describing young boys they think want to rob, stab, and kill them just because they have on hooded sweatshirts...then it becomes offensive. but it has to do with the context, and the individual using the word, and not necessarily the word itself.

at one point, we were called negroes and niggers, then we were colored, then afro-americans, then african-americans, and more recently, we're black. but which, if any of these terms (with the exception of the obvious..) is the best to describe us...or is it just one? why exactly is the term "negro" outdated? has it always been offensive? is it meant to be offensive? even if it isn't meant to be offensive, is it? defines the term as such:
"1. Anthropology. a member of the peoples traditionally classified as the Negro race, esp. those who originate in sub-Saharan Africa: no longer in technical use.
2. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of one of the traditional racial divisions of humankind, generally marked by brown to black skin pigmentation, dark eyes, and woolly or crisp hair and including esp. the indigenous peoples of Africa south of the Sahara.
3. being a member of the black peoples of humankind, esp. those who originate in sub-Saharan Africa."

the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language on the same website defined it as this:
"n. pl. Ne·groes Often Offensive
A Black person. See Usage Note at black.
A member of the Negroid race. Not in scientific use"

the online Etymology Dictionary said this about the origin and history of the word:
member of a black-skinned race of Africa," 1555, from Sp. or Port. negro "black," from L. nigrum (nom. niger) "black," of unknown origin. Use with a capital N- became general early 20c. (e.g. 1930 in "New York Times" stylebook) in ref. to U.S. citizens of African descent, but because of its perceived association with white-imposed attitudes and roles the word was ousted late 1960s in this sense by Black (q.v.).

here's what Malcolm X had to say about the term:
"when you have no knowledge if your history, you're just another animal; in fact, you're a Negro; something thats nothing. the only black man on earth who is called a negro is one who has no knowledge of his history. the only black man in earth who i called a negro is one who doesn't know where he came from. thats the one in america. they don't call Africans negroes.
why, i had a white man tell me the other day, "he's not a negro." here the man was black as night, and the white man told me, "he's not a negro. he's an african." i said "well, listen to him." i knew he wasn't, but i wanted to pull old whitey out, you know. but it shows you thaty they know this. you ate negro because you don't know who you are, you don't knoe what you are, you don't know where you are, and you don't know how you got here. but as soon as you wake up and find out the positive answer to all these things, you cease being a negro. you become somebody."

these were the photos that popped up when i typed the word "negro" into google image search.

comment. think. discuss. comment.

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