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Question 9: Black, African Am., or Negro?

On Tuesday night, friend of mine posted the following question to her twitter: “What’s the difference between African-American, Black or Negro?” I jokingly replied: “About 60 years”. She, of course, was speaking about Negro being included as one of the racial options on the 2010 Census. When the story first broke, there was quite a bit of backlash and conversation. Most seemed to be of the opinion that the term is at best outdated and maybe even offensive or dare we say…racist. I was one of the people who were upset about it. How dare we be classified as Negro? Not in “Post-Racial” America.

The more I consider the term, the less I react to its inclusion as an option. Especially when I consider the aversion my great-grandmother had toward the term “Black”. She thought that being called “Black” was insulting and even racist. And don’t even get me started on how she felt about the term “African-American”. Black didn’t become beautiful until the ideological shift of the 1960s and 70s when the term was imbued with power.

For people, like my great grandmother, who grew up describing themselves as Colored or Negro and trying to survive the tough racial climate in the Deep South, the term Black is simply not the way that they’d choose to describe their race. In that way, I understand the argument from the Census Bureau that the term is meant to be inclusive. In the same way that “Negro” is offensive to some of us, “Black” may be offensive to some older generations.

Negro was once (and apparently still is :/ ) an appropriate term to describe Black people. Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King Jr. have all, at one point, used the word to describe our great and mighty race. I understand classifying the term obsolete but is it racist?