Newly Minted

Newly Minted
Right after I was hooded

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The 2010 Census, Negros, and Me

Apparently I stand corrected, at least on my initial reaction to the "Negro" category. It would seem that a) there is a portion of our community that does prefer "Negro" as a self identifier; and b) that most Americans do not find "Negro" offensive or are not sure if it is offensive as evidenced in the online poll below.

POLL - Do you think the term “Negro” on U.S. Census forms is offensive?(1159)
(42.28%) YES - It's offensive
(43.49%) NO - It's acceptable
(14.24%) I'm not sure

I have had some fantastic conversations in the last three days about the census form. I for one am still overwhelmingly upset. I get a knot in the pit of my stomach every time I think about it; not the word per se, but the power that I believe this word will give racism at the local level. I imagine, as a student affairs professional, the following scenario:

A young person of color ends up in my office via judicial affairs. There has been a fight and in this fight the student of color has physically assaulted a white student. Upon further investigation we find out that the student of color alleges that the white student had uttered a racial epithet which resulted in the physical assault.

I have experienced this scenario over and over; both at the institution I work at and with my own sons. Different interpretations of the law, and application, have yielded different results legally. What I can say is, regardless of consequence, every incident has deemed racial epithets unacceptable AND inciteful.

How and where do we locate "Negro" when that is the word that was used in the above scenerio instead of "Nigger". I tread softly here as I have heard compelling reasons NOT to blithely connect those two words. However, my initial reaction and that of most of my peers suggests that the interpretation of "Negro" by the bottom three generations might well equal the interpretation of the word "Nigger". What I am certain of is that we don't want to create a social acceptance of generally calling people of color "Negro". But, now that the United States Government has reintroduced "Negro" as an acceptable term, in a way it has not been since about 1960, can we stop "Negro" from sliding over into contemporary and acceptable linguistics.

A wise woman, a couple generations ahead of me in her life journey, pointed out a couple important facts about the word "Negro". First, that her own birth certificate lists "Negro" as the race of herself and her parents. Second, Martin Luther King's (as well as other civil rights writers) writings use the word "Negro" as an acceptable term. If nothing else I have come to see this conversation/debate/concern as an intergenerational one. I tip my hat to the generations before me who have seen things and endured things that I never have. I do live in fear, however, that in my or my children's lifetimes we may suffer those same events again. Going back in time strikes me as a particularly dangerous proposition for the Black, African Am., or Negro community.

The one thing I will NOT take my claws out of, regardless of the excellent reasons offered by my mentors and peers for including "Negro" in teh 2010 Census, is that congress made this choice in relative secrecy. I am completely unable to find any mention of this move to add "Negro" to the 2010 Census before about January 4... 2010. I am talking about a popular culture, quasi-political, media trail of this conversation/debate; like the one we usually see when race intersects with social behavior and/or consequence. I am unable to find mention of the bill passing in congress; let alone any mention of a public/private or legal debate about the matter. I also am unable to find mention of the study that produced the data that is loosely referred to in the Census Bureau's response to inquiry in the past week. This I am not going to accept. The addition of "Mixed Race" or "Other" to the 2000 Census was public and unavoidable.

All I am asking is who had the conversation preceding the inclusion of the "Negro" on the 2010 Census? Who are we representing in the addition of "Negro"? Finally, if the intention is to make sure more people are represented accurately and in a way that compels them to self-report via census why do I have to write in my racial identity - Mixed Race, still, because it is not represented on the Census and never will be. Mixed race is NOT acceptable. Negro is???? Apparently myself and my family don't deserve the same representation in the counting of brown bodies as those who identify as "Negro" and I want to know WHY!

More soon...


  1. Amen from another mixed-race professor (of history). I was also outraged by the way questions 8 and 9 redefined race as we know it. For example, if one were to check Latino or Hispanic from question 8, they were given no other option but to identify as either White, Black, Asian, or Other. This is an effort to enlarge who might be counted as White. With all the talk over the inevitability of a Brown majority congressional leaders have made a way
    to enlarge the White majority.

  2. I find this to be a particularly interesting perspective. Historically people of mixed race have been manipulated through the Census by both black and white majorities. I am not sure which camp is responsible for these changes. I have not heard this accusation of whitening outside of latin america so I have to give this some thought. Thank you for posting.