• author
    • Kelvin Wade

      Columnist
    • March 4, 2013 in Columnists

    The end of the Negroes

    Where have all the Negroes gone? Finally the Census Bureau is dropping the word “Negro” from the census. Now the option will simply be “black” or “African-American.” The Bureau considered dumping “Negro” from its surveys for the 2010 census but didn’t because they argued some older blacks preferred the term.

    They dumped “colored” long ago. Colored is definitely offensive. It implies that white is the norm and that darker skinned people are colored in. There’s white supremacy built into the term and it makes most black folks bristle when they hear it.

    I don’t find the term Negro offensive as much as I just find it outdated. It’s a relic of the past and we’ve moved on. The only time I hear it these days is when my brothers and I use it as a laugh.

    But what about “African-American?” A 2011 Washington Post-NBC poll found that 42 percent of respondents preferred the term “black,” while 35 percent preferred “African-American.” Thirteen percent had no preference.

    You want to know something? I’ve been black all of my life and I’ve never heard a single black person refer to blacks as “African-American” in private. The only time I use it in columns is when I get tired of writing “black” so much. Just to break up the prose.

    The resistance to African-American is that many blacks, while they acknowledge their historic roots to Africa, don’t feel a connection to the continent. It’s different from being Italian-American or Polish-American because those are specific countries. White folks have the surety of knowing what country their ancestors immigrated from so they’re not walking around calling themselves “European-Americans.”

    Besides, Secretary of State John Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz, was born in Mozambique but became an American citizen, so isn’t she “African-American” even though she’s a white woman?

    Mostly, I think resistance is because the intelligentsia forced this label on us. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and black scholars popularized the term during the ’80s and the media picked up on it soon afterwards. It at least sounded better than “Afro-Americans,” a term that sounds like something the Johnson Products Co. came up with to sell more Afro Sheen in the 70’s.

    It wasn’t organic like how regular black folks cast off “Negro” through the rise of slogans like “Black Power” and “Black is Beautiful.” There was a resonance to James Brown’s 1968 hit “Say it Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Black people began to accept themselves and love themselves.

    “African-American” is clunky. I’m not going to write about “African-American on African-American crime.” “Say it loud — I’m African-American and proud!” just doesn’t roll off the tongue.

    But the term will continue to gain ground. It has already become the official term for black Americans by the media. One of the troubles with the term is when it’s applied outside our borders. In November 2005, riots roiled Paris streets. CNN anchor Carol Lin reporting on the violence said, “…it’s been 11 days since two African-American teenagers were killed, electrocuted during a police chase, which prompted all of this.” Well, no, they weren’t African-Americans, they were French citizens of Tunisian origin. She meant two black French guys.

    So while it’s perfectly okay to refer to black Americans as “African-Americans,” “black” works just as well.

    Some may question why have these racial distinctions in the census. Aren’t we all Americans? Yes. But it important to keep information on racial groups to monitor and mitigate things like black on black crime, health problems, discrimination, redlining, incarceration rates, educational progress and other things. Data is important. Not to mention, descriptions are important if we want to be able to identify people. If a 20-something year old white man with blonde hair robbed you, that racial information is important in identifying the assailant.

    So there is still value.

    But still… my 8 year old grandson of mixed black, white and Japanese heritage, looks at his café au lait complexion and proclaims himself, “brown.” It’s the cutest thing.  I’m glad that the burden of this nation’s racial history and schism hasn’t yet burdened him. The real interesting thing is that he doesn’t look black, white or Japanese and he’s the future of a browning America. Perhaps one day a majority of Americas will have to check so many of those little boxes on the census form that racial identity itself will lose meaning.

    What a day that’ll be.



    • Like this article.My grandkids use forms of brown as well. My granddaughter looks like she is from Guatemala and she is the brown one in their family and it goes to pink. Someone who is black is black, dark black, dark brown, light brown etc. My on and off partner is black but they think of him as dark brown. They also think Asians are like China Dolls, no clue where that came from but in describing their school mates, I get China doll, Polish, and all shades of brown when and if they need to distinguish who they are talking about. They also seem to not notice color much at all.



    • Nice column. I’ve often wondered if it would simply be better to have 3rd generation Americans be, “American”. And then let each person fill in a percentage of what they are. Most of us are mutts anyway.

      I’m 3/4 Mexican with 1/4 Scottish by way of Canada. So I’m Mexicottish. I never see that one as an option.

      I do change my nationality everytime. Coincidentally, in the last census, I was negro. Glad I got to use that one before it went away.

      I’m lobbying for “Beaner” to be included. Hispanic is boring and sounds like some second rate cleaning product you get from the 99 cent store. Then again, since a great number of my people are involved in the custodial trade, it makes sense.



    • Gary, you are too funny. Love your sense of humor.


      • Kelvin

      • March 4, 2013 at 7:12 pm
      • Reply

      I’m cool to stick with black. It’s better than what a lot of folks are calling us when none of us are around.



    • You’re black? I just saw you as a really cool guy who could write. And cheats in Scrabble.


      • Maya North

      • March 4, 2013 at 11:06 pm
      • Reply

      I am beige. I am also an illegitimate child with a father who remarried after her mother passed away. I have plenty of red in my hair. Thus I am officially a redheaded bastard stepchild. That’s as close to determinate ancestry as I have–I am beige, have curly reddish brown hair shot through with silver, blue eyes, full lips, round as a butterball turkey, and I am a bastard stepchild 😉 Hugs!



    • What does it matter anyway? In the long run, a million years from now all humans will be black or brown and we’ll all have Asian eyes. I think that we might have a large bubble like head and long skinny fingers, short bodies on long skinny legs. the language will be a mixture of all modern language and only I will know what it means-I have a large brain. The government will finally admit that vegetables are bad and meat is good and those that eat the green leaf will be pale and sickly looking like white folks are today.
      Donald



      • With the influx of Chinese and their population growth we will all eventually have some Chinese in us. Thus the Asian look. They say within 100 years that’s it. Donald is sooooo smart and always thinking.


        • Kelvin

        • March 5, 2013 at 10:01 pm
        • Reply

        What does anything we do now matter in a million years? We might as well do whatever the hell we want without regard to anything or anyone else! My grandchildren already have Asian in them and they’re absolutely gorgeous.



    • Kelvin, I really liked the part where you pointed out that saying “African American” is like saying “European American”. This particular point has bothered me for a long time. Africa has many countries, and they’re no more interchangeable than European countries. But the mainstream white world lumps them all together. And yet, you’ll hear white folks say they’re Italian or French… talking about their ancestry, not their current citizenship, but less often hear black folks say their Libyan or Kenyan. WHY IS THAT? I hope you’ll do a follow-up column examining that particular piece!



    • Kelvin- I would love it if race were no longer even considered in describing a person. Also, the media always notes how old each person is…”Mary Smith, age 52, was shopping at WalMart when…” Why does everything have to be in a box? I remember once hearing a journalist refer to the “African-American” spice girl….and I cracked up because she’s English! Duh!



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