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The term "Negro" was used on the 2000 Census, but it seems to have become more outdated in the years since.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is not a slur (it was MLK's word of choice in the "I Have a Dream" speech), but it has come to offend by connoting an outdated view by whites of blacks, of racial dynamics, and how such matters should be approached.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