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article imageBlack population in U.S. upset over use of word 'negro' in census

By Cristina Quiñones     Feb 9, 2010 in Politics
Many American blacks were outraged when they opened their 2010 Census booklets and found the term “Negro” as one of their race options.
Often regarded as a pejorative term, “Negro” has been used by the census since the 1950s. Thousands expressed their disappointment regarding the term as a blatant expression of a part of American history they wish to put behind them.
So why did the Census Bureau include the term in this year’s census?
According to the New York Daily News, Census Bureau spokesman Jack Martin stated that “Negro was intended to be term of inclusion” because in the 2000 Census, more than 50,000 elderly blacks wrote down “Negro.”
This quagmire is in large part due to the dynamic nature of race labels. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. often referred to “the Negro” in his speeches to inspire and empower his addressees, while black leaders before him often used the now offensive term “colored man” (the NAACP still remains the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). “Black,” which was once deemed a more derogatory term than “Negro,” was revived during the Black Power Movement in the 1960s. In the '80s, Jesse Jackson promoted the term “African American” in an effort describe a people that had both American citizenship and a unique history.
In its defense, it seems that the Census Bureau was well aware of the difference ways in which blacks categorize themselves. This year blacks had the option of being categorized as Black, African American or Negro. The problem? All of these options were next to a single box, which in and of itself was offensive to many because the all-in-one option did not allow them to choose which term they would be categorized as. Simultaneously, the fact that the choice was listed as “Black, African or Negro” suggests that the Census Bureau was not intent on mashing all of the categories together; it was simply trying to be all-inclusive while using less boxes.
It seems that not even three separate boxes would have alleviated the backlash of the incident. Infamous radio and television host Glen Beck has criticized the inclusion of “African American” as a race, calling it a “bogus, PC, made up term [that is] not a race.” Meanwhile, the “Barack the Magic Negro” fiasco and Senator Harry Reid’s comments on President Obama's lack of a "Negro dialect” have yet to recede from recent memory (and probably should have served as an indicator to the Census Bureau that the term “Negro” is, in fact, offensive to most blacks).
What remains unclear if those who still categorize themselves as “Negro” would be equally offended if their term of choice was no longer included. More importantly, even if they were, would it still be worth including the term at the risk of offending the remaining 35 million black citizens?
More about Negro, Census 2010, Census bureau, Census, Controversy
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