They Put 'Negro' on There?

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If you've filled out a Census form this year, you may have noticed the inclusion of the word "Negro" in the racial classifications section. And if you were surprised by this, you're not alone.

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves this morning apologized to a woman who was offended by the word's inclusion on the form--the woman called into C-SPAN's "Washington Journal," where Groves was appearing to talk about the 2010 Census--and explained why the word was used.

The form asks respondents to check a box identifying their race; one of the options is "Black, African Am., or Negro."

The term "Negro" was used on the 2000 Census, but it seems to have become more outdated in the years since. It is not a slur (it was MLK's word of choice in the "I Have a Dream" speech), but it has come to offend by connoting an outdated view by whites of blacks, of racial dynamics, and how such matters should be approached.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to apologize, just this year, in part for using the word to describe then-candidate Barack Obama--specifically, his lack of a "Negro dialect"--after his remarks were printed in the book "Game Change," by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. (I filled out a Census form last night and said to myself: "Whoa--they put 'Negro' on here?" thinking of the Reid incident. The term was used uncontroversially in a high school history class of mine, albeit a class full of white people; times seem to have changed even since then.)

Groves apologized to the woman, who called the inclusion of "Negro" "racist" and reminiscent of the slur "Negroid."

"First of all, let me apologize to you on behalf of all my colleagues, and then I need to tell you why that word is there," Goves said on C-SPAN.

Research done before the 2000 Census, Groves said, had indicated a substantial bloc of older African Americans would be more likely to/comfortable with identifying as "Negro," as opposed to "black" or "African American," and that 56,000 people, half of them under 45 years of age, write "Negro" in on their 2000 questionnaires.

Groves said similar research should have been done again before the 2010 questionnaire was written.

Here's the video:



Here is a transcript of the woman's complaint:
...[T]his is the first time in my 72 1/2 years on the earth where I've seen a card that had, I mean, the Census Bureau being that large. And question number nine: I am black. I did not appreciate the 'Black, the Afro-American and Negro.' That is back when I used to live in Nashville, Tennessee when people were called 'Negroid.' I do not like that. That is out of character, and I really--it really hurt my feelings. I did call...and talk to the lady about that, but that to me is racist. You have a blessed day. Goodbye.
And of Groves's response:
First of all, let me apologize to you on behalf of all my colleagues, and then I need to tell you why that word is there. This takes a couple of minutes. Before the 2000 Census, there was a lot of research done about how to ask race, and some of the research was set up to not give categories at all. We would ask someone to think about race and then tell us what word they would call themselves in racial terms. The results of that research were that there was a older cohort of African Americans who, in that research, freely said, 'Well, I would think of myself as a Negroid--a Negro.' The results of that research produced the 2000 wording of the questionnaire, which is exactly what you see here: 'Black, African American, or Negro.'

Now, there's one other thing we need to know. About 56,000 people in the 2000 Census, in addition to checking that box, went below and wrote in the word 'Negro,' so they both checked 'Black, African American and Negro' and they wrote in by hand the word 'Negro.' When you analyze the characteristics of those people, about half of them were less than 45 years of age. This was a big surprise. So those were the results of the 2000 Census.

Now, I have noted this already: I think in retrospect we should have done some of that same research this decade. It was not done. There were--it was a focus on other attributes of this. The intent of every word on the race and ethinicty questions is to be as inclusive as possible, so that all of us could see a word here that rings a bell for us--that's how I think of myself. It was not to be offensive, and again I apologize on that. My speculation is that in 2020 that word will disappear, and there are gonna be other words that are gonna change. Our language about race and ethnicity is under constant flux. It's a challenge for us to keep in tune with that dynamic nature, but we need to do it.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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