Is Negro a Derogatory Term?

Some people say yes, some people say no. Either way, Glen Beck is a Racist Moron.

First, watch this:

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(I love the fact that Rachel appreciates "Get Smart" .... but I digress)

Then watch this....

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(The book referred to here is: Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics)

What do you think should be done about the issue off who gets counted where in relation to prisons? That is a very interesting question. Given that so many elections are decided by a few percentage points, and districting is so tricky, this seems to be political dynamite.

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It all goes to show that 1) you can't know how someone identifies themself and 2) you can't always avoid offending someone even with the best intentions. What Beck doesn't get is that racism is in the eyes of the beholder and it's not his place to decide how they describe themselves.

For Texans and other southerners it should be:


For all else it should be

Self identified ethnic association (please write in or leave blank)

The young man worries about young African Americans (yAA) being so offended by the word Negro, and yet so many yAA males routinely call each other Nigga(h). The yAA males two doors down frequently crank up their sound system while I'm in my garden so I get to listen to it as well. I'm sure many in his grandmother's age group don't understand this yAA culture's self-identification with this term any more than he does their possible self-identification with the term Negro. But to disallow either is to say the other doesn't belong.
I totally age that GB is a moron, and I fail to see what gets his goat about the use of the term. He's correct about one thing. African American isn't a race, it's a category. Just like White or Caucasian. I personally prefer Caucasian rather than white because it is a more specific term, but still mostly useless. Is Martin Sheen White or Hispanic? Either could be White for census purposes, but he could self-identify as Hispanic or Caucasian. What about Lenny Kravitz? He could be classified as African American or White or Jewish. I have no idea how he self-identifies. It's just a slot into which most Americans put ourselves and others, for whatever reason. It speaks to our sense of order and our need to compartmentalize. We have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees. The concept of race has become so meaningless as populations blend that the whole question should be dropped by the 2050 census. The work that Dr. Harris-Lacewell brought up is fascinating and is certainly food for thought.

Nobles, Melissa. Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics
Stanford University Press, 2000
Shades of Citizenship

"Negro" is never racist if you pronounce it in over-enunciated Spanish.

But the only categories that matter can be done in binary form anyway: Anglo v. Foreignji or Leggy Supermodel v. Who Cares.

By DesertHedgehog (not verified) on 09 Jan 2010 #permalink

I'm sorry but this is feigned outrage if I've ever seen it. So, "Negro" is bad but "Black" is okay? In Spanish, "negro" means "black". What is the correct term in Spanish then? I suppose the United Negro College Fund should change their name then.

If they're really concerned about the census reaching out to young "African Americans" then maybe they should use a term that is prevalent in the that culture. You know, maybe pick out a term they use to desribe themselves in their music.

Feigned outrage from anybody is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to gain sympathy.

Shouldn't the question be something like "How does person 1 identify themselves?"?
Shouldn't it be one option per box (regardless of the subject)?
Isn't it weird that 'white' is on top?
Isn't it weird that there's only one word to describe 'white'?

Perhaps I should have said "feigned offense". My point was clear and yes I watched both videos. The woman in the second video supported my position nicely.

Oh, and Stephanie, look at the first video title "Retro term on census raises ire". You might want to consult a dictionary or thesaurus on the term "ire". I take back what I said, "feigned outrage" fits just fine.

I'd just like to point out one of those facts that ought to be obvious: the numerically biggest group consumers of 'rap' and 'hip-hop' music are, in fact, surburban white girls. So really, music packaged by mainstream marketers to be *consumed* by suburban white girls, is *hardly* a guaranteed accurate indication of how any actual people refer to themselves.

As far as prisons- I think we should count them whereever they want to be counted, and allow them to vote, damnit.

@Rich Wilson- I find "human" also works for that purpose. Or just writing in "that is an ill-posed question and I fail to see your need to know that sort of information"

It's a simple principle - don't use words that other people might find offensive, unless you're deliberately trying to piss them off. It's basically the concept of "think of other people, not just yourself".

I'm more concerned that hardly anyone seems to be asking about whether there should be a question about race on the census form in the first place.

I suppose that you need to collect data on race to be able to detect racism, but it's depressing that it's still deemed necessary that people provide their racial identification in this day and age.

I'm baffled as to why more people aren't outraged by "Washington Redskins". I find it abhorrent.

By Rich Wilson (not verified) on 09 Jan 2010 #permalink

Deen, I think that's correct. Becca, I would agree with the get counted and "vote where you want" thing but there is a pragmatic down side.

I'm thinking of places that I've worked (in prisons) where the local community of voters would be about 75 percent or in some cases way less of the voting population if all prisoners voted and voted where they "lived." As hilariously funny as it would be especially when it came to town council, JP and public safety officer elections (considering that in most cases three or four percent of the local population are people who work for in-prison organized crime syndicates), there is a very severe down side: Communities with prisons are happy to have the prisons because of the jobs and other benefits. Life would probably be easier if they were not insensitivized to change this behaviour.

But it would be funny.

Rich: No kidding. I have been hoping for some time now that a Native American consortium buys the team and renames it.

The Bloody Custers?
The Pink Honkeys?
The Pale Faces?


The new name would be used for the same number of years that the Redskins was used as a name. Then a new, neutral name would be selected. Like the Aardvarks

"I'd just like to point out one of those facts that ought to be obvious: the numerically biggest group consumers of 'rap' and 'hip-hop' music are, in fact, suburban white girls. So really, music packaged by mainstream marketers to be *consumed* by suburban white girls, is *hardly* a guaranteed accurate indication of how any actual people refer to themselves."
Becca, you may be correct about marketing hip-hop and rap but I didn't say anything at all about how music is mass marketed. I have never heard even one suurban white girl refer to herself or others as nigga(h). I do hear the young men down the street (and their friends) refer to each other as such. This is verbatim how this small subset self-identifies. Just as the subset of the older generation discussed in the first video self-identifies as Negro. No one said anything about guarantees, but both of these are valid ways for "actual people to refer to themselves".
Deen, the information is not used to detect racism, it is used to allocate federal and state money, design social and educational programs, and a host of other uses. Again, perhaps by the 2050 census, race as an identifier will be useless.

@momkat: then those social and educational programs better be specifically aimed at reducing racial inequality, because I don't see any other morally defensible reason for a government to forcibly divide their citizens into racial categories.

What people call each other among themselves is one thing. What the government tells them they should call themselves is something else altogether.

I can't understand why Washington continues to name their team the "Redskins," either. One fan told me it was to "honor" them, like the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves and from one of my Universities, that in North Dakota. It was so important that they retain it that the donor for their hockey arena, Ralph Engelstad, told them he would withdraw his endowment if they changed it even after he was dead.

Negro, as a term, was not a pejorative when I was younger and it is interesting how language evolves based on changes in cultural norms. There could be a whole post on that, couldn't there, Greg?

My friends, my wife, and my mother all have some pretty interesting names for me that are all a part of my identity. I'd still be awfully surprised to find them on the census.

Plus, I don't really think that your neighbors are using Nigga(h) as a descriptor of their ethnicity. Just because only people of African descent are described as Nigga(h)s, doesn't make it a collective term for all people of African descent.

I don't see N'Avi on the census. Isn't that rather racist?!

Getting back to the start of the clip, what Glen Beck said about African American not being an appropriate term was exactly done and calculated to piss people off; to piss off a particular class of people, black people who do self-identify as African American.

In that example, Glen Beck is being racist and is race baiting. It is not at all a close call.

Frank (21) I think the Fighting Sioux made a deal to change the name based on the determination of the Sioux elders or council in their area, who said "Fighting Sioux" was OK. Of course, over here in my neck of the wouds. "Sioux" is derogatory and incorrect, among the people who do not call them selves Sioux (the Lakota, for instance).

I think this is an interesting case (like most controversial issues) where the words themselves start to upstage other, non-verbal issues. Which is not to say that we shouldn't use care with our words, just that we should be careful about other things too.

Words get an unfair advantage for our attention, because we use them to communicated. It's extremely easy to have a conversation in words about the words used on the census form. It's much harder to have a conversation about the methodology of counting people and districting having a systematically skewed impact on specific groups of people.

The policies that have the largest impacts on race, gender, and class are ones that target innocuous sounding proxies for those variables. Unfortunately, these issues are often hard to understand, never mind fix.

MPL, I think you are right. I think they should not be using the word "Negro" on the form, but the reason they are doing it is because there are boneheads in administrative positions in the census bureau, and that is not the biggest issue we have to deal with.

Frankly, I don't understand why the Census bureau doesn't collect the demographic data through modern polling techniques. I know they're Constitutionally required to do a comprehensive count, but there's no reason they couldn't collect the demographics separately, and they could collect with higher quality methodologies.

I know I would be much more interested in what 100,000 randomly chosen Americans said in open response to a question about racial, ethnic, national and family history than what 300,000,000 Americans filled in on a scantron sheet.

I was mildly bemused to see two Venezuelan friends great each other as "Gordo" and "Negro". In 1969, a Venezuelan friend told me, "There is no racism in Venezuela. It just happens that all the poor people have dark skins." However, last time I was there, mid-90's, there were a good many light-skinned poor folks. But, is this really social progress?

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 12 Jan 2010 #permalink

Black young people call themselves nigger and nigga or whatever but because of the color of my skin I'm supposed to call them something else ?? I tell them to go to hell. I'm going to call them negro now and I will call them negros.

If they are ashamed to be called by their proper term, they need to put up or shut up. I've never seen any one stop blacks calling whites as "whitey" or "cracker" etc in music, radio or tv.

Barak Obama is president, we might as well start calling thees people niggers.

Ian, you might want to stop and think a minute before calling anyone by their "proper term." You wouldn't want them to turn around and do the same to you, would you?

After reading all these threads/tags/blogs/comments I still don't know how to "correctly" describe or address a **??**.
Seems to me that the **??** race collectively have a gigantic chip on their shoulders about being what they are.
I can't help it if I'm white and they're **??*'s.
Maybe, at the end of the day, they want to be called White ?

Aitcharr, I suggest you just try "Negra" (Negro in a southern accent). That should work for you just fine.

Let me know how that goes.