My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Use of “Negro” on census form causes stir

A question on forms for the 2010 Census uses “Negro” as a response choice, and some blacks are taking issue with the Census Bureau‘s wording.

The New York Daily News reports:

The census formĀ for 2010 features a word more often heard in 1966: Negro.

For many New York blacks, the word conjures visions of Jim Crow and segregation – even if the Census Bureau says it’s included to ensure an accurate count of the nation’s minority residents.

“It’s a bad vibe word,” said Kevin Bishop, 45, a Brooklyn salesman. “It doesn’t agree with me, doesn’t agree with my heart.”

Pamela Reese Smith, visiting the city yesterday from Rochester, said the term was outdated.

“I don’t think my ancestors would appreciate it in 2010,” said Smith, 56. “I don’t want my grandchildren being called Negroes.”

Question No. 9 on this year’s census form asks about race, with one of the answers listed as “black, African-Am. or Negro.”

Census Bureau spokesman Jack Martin said the use of “Negro” was intended as a term of inclusion.

“Many older African-Americans identified themselves that way, and many still do,” he said. “Those who identify themselves as Negroes need to be included.”

The form was also approved by Congress more than a year ago, and the word has appeared on past forms.

Readers, weigh in: Is “Negro” inappropriate or inclusive?

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16 Responses to “Use of “Negro” on census form causes stir”

  1. Ivan Says:

    My mom uses it, and I find it retrograde and archaic. It harks back to segregation and apparthide thinking.

  2. Census Supporter Says:

    I support the Census despite this inappropriate description. Mr. Martin’s explanation that older African Americans “identified” with the word is weak. He used the past tense which says something.
    Therer’s always room and time to change the form. For the sake of increasing participation in the Black community and for good relations, please Census Bureau stop the presses to remove Negro.

  3. FactChecker Says:

    By not completing the form, you are ensuring an undercount and under representation for the next 10 years…..

  4. Anonymous Ex-CL Atlanta Says:

    I’m wondering when the Bureau did its most recent cognitive study on this question wording. There had to be one in the mid-1990s because the wording was changed from “Black or Negro” on the 1990 questionnaire to “Black, African Am., or Negro” in 2000 (and through to today). Demographics and views have shifted enough in the last 10+ years that what might have been a justifiable choice of wording in 2000 probably isn’t okay in 2010. The older African American population that self-identified as “Negro” is smaller, and there’s a growing younger population for whom the term evokes a bygone era of oppression (note this discussion on MSNBC). I’d like to see recent data on the matter, but I have my doubts.

  5. Anonymous CL Says:

    Huh, what were they thinking? (or were they?) I don’t think it even matters how many of the older people who ‘identify’ with the word “Negro” are still alive — because I doubt there’s anybody, even in 2000 or 1990, who still identifies ONLY with the word “Negro” exclusively. They surely would all see “black” and/or “African-American” as matching their identity too.

  6. FactChecker Says:

    In Census 2000, 56,000 people bypassed the Black/African American box and instead checked other and entered Negro.

  7. Anonymous CL Says:

    FactChecker: I don’t understand… your comment makes it sound like “Negro” wasn’t part of the same “Black/African American box” in Census 2000′s forms. But Ex-CL Atlanta posted proof that this option on the race question in Census 2000′s forms said the same thing as 2010′s: “Black, African Am., or Negro”.

  8. Greg Says:

    Anonymous CL: I heard the same fact that FactChecker quotes on an NPR story this week. In the 2000 Census, even though there was a box for “Black, African American or Negro”, 56,000 people still checked “Other” and entered “Negro”. This tells me that a number of Americans still identify with the term “Negro”, although my assumption is that the number is small and getting smaller year over year.

    As a white person, the word is very awkward to say, but still survives in organizational language (e.g., United Negro College Fund and National Council of Negro Women).

  9. FactChecker Says:

    Anonymous CL: You are correct that “Negro” was part of the 2000 check box. The point I was trying to make was that 56,000 bypassed the option to be associated with “Black, African American” and instead wrote in Negro.

  10. Anonymous CL Says:

    Ah, I see. I was confused by why people would be writing it in if it were already included. It doesn’t really make sense that this (writing it in when it’s already included) would be used to justify continuing to include it. Meaning that if many of the relatively-few people who do still use Negro as their preferred term are already writing it in, seems like we could stop including it and just let all of them write it in, so that it doesn’t need to be printed on all the forms for everyone else to look at and get offended about.

  11. Libbypw Says:

    I think Greg made a very good point in why Negro is used and apparently not an offensive word. I think Suraj Pavawalla would find another reason to indignantly not do anything he/she didn’t want to do if Negro had not been used, something else whould have rised his/her ire.

    It is sad how many people are so thin skinned, but would disregard the enumeration of a person based on his age or how few of them there are. Instead of re-educating the elderly, how about teaching youngsters not to be so self-absorbed.

  12. spudman Says:

    many black people are comfortable with the term, if you are not, deal with it, do not tell me how i’m supposed to feel… & i won’t impose on you. pick a more important battle.

  13. Ellis Wyatt Says:

    I thought “Negro” was ok now that Harry Reid used it.

  14. norma H.P Says:

    take it off who the hell do you think you are to put that on the form you want us to fill it out but you have racist questions are you kidding me take it off and i will fill it out not until you do asap

  15. Tee Says:

    If Negro was the only choice I would be outraged. But, there are older people who are comfortable with this word. I do understand but the other choices are a reflection of change.

  16. charm Says:

    More is expected of our nation.