*I read a commentary recently lamenting the elimination of the designation of the term, “Negro” for American born Africans, now commonly referred to as “African Americans,” from the U.S. Census form. I just shook my head, said “Good-bye, Negro and turned the page. I didn’t pay much attention to it Then one of my more intellectually provocative Twitter followers, a very high profile personality that likes to engage people, tweeted the article and queried should we save “Negro”? Okay…now I’m thinking, “Should I comment on this?” After all, I’ve recently retired from dealing with Negroes (and its more vile derivative—Nig[you know who]) and try to keep them out my space. I really could care less. I’ve promised my friends to stay “suckafree in 2013.”
Don’t get me wrong…I like Negroes. I just don’t want them leading me. It’s like flying in a 1913 plane in 1963..or a 1963 plane in 2013. It just doesn’t go fast enough and can’t handle the turbulence of the day. I know some Negroes and have a great affinity for a few of them. I’m not ashamed to say that some of my best friends were Negroes—back in the day (they don’t call themselves that now—that’s for a reason). Negroes did some things in their day—more than African Americans have done. African Americans help elect a black President but will have less—in the collective—than the generation that preceded it (mostly Negroes). Anybody ever stopped to think why Negroes stopped calling themselves Negroes? Because, it was a term of subjugation that turned into a racial designation, to mark black people for discrimination. They threw the name, away for something more cultural significant to their indigenous identity. Now we want to save it, because they 40 years late in eliminating it from the Census form?
Some black people never miss an opportunity to go out backwards…
Still, I think there’s a more enlightened discussion that could take place here. A history lesson in race reality, cultural identity and historical subjugation could be had. So, I decided to engage my Twitter friend, and we had a good time with it, but agreed there’s not much that could be debated in 140 characters, but we’d hit it later in a more comprehensive space. Well, this is it.
While black people have a lot more to worry about than defending what we used to be called, cultural identity is something that plaques Africans born in America to this day. I find it interesting…no, horrifying, that most black Americans will reject their African roots, yet you have some that want to cling to an American designation of negative and meaningless identity.
The historical significance of the word, Negro, is meaningless in the overall construct of the African American experience. Black people didn’t name themselves Negroes, no more than Native Americans named themselves “Indians” or “Redskins” or any other demeaning designation in America’s racialized social construct. They were named Negro by their subjugators and oppressors. Negro is not a race, or even a racial designation. Negro is a mindset. Negro was “the best” of the choices we were given when they didn’t want to call us American, or human. In fact, Negro—from the time the Portuguese and Spanish termed Africans “Negro” which simply means “black,” from the Latin root “Necro,” which means “death,” Negro had come to mean, “dead people of no origin” in eradicating blacks knowledge of their African lineage. Blacks in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries refused to adapt to the word, Negro, choosing to be called “colored” instead. When blacks were called referred to, commonly, by the most extreme reference (still in circulation today, though not on the Census form), whites cleaned it up for more public discourse, and Nigra or Negro, became the reference.
At the turn of the 20th Century (after the Plessy decision), it was common to put society on notice by designating someone in the newspaper, John Jones, “a Negro,” for the purpose of framing racial context and injecting bias. Sadly enough, by the mid-20th Century, blacks had ingested its subjugator’s designation for them—preferred to the alternative (which they have never stopped calling us, and the younger generation followed the Negro by trying to take the sting out of the more vile derivative—to no avail). Just because someone gives you garbage doesn’t mean you have to ingest it. You throw garbage away. Negro was thrown away years ago.
A point was made that 36,000 black people designated themselves as “a Negro” in the last Census. Well, out of 38 million black people that’s a percentage of.000947, meaning 99.999% of black people reject that designation. It’s as close to being a monolith as black have ever been in America. In scientific or statistical measurement, .000947 would be called, “Insignificant.”
This wasn’t a conversation worth having, but we tend to do that kind of thing and mainstream press will publish anything insignificant about us. We can count on that. Black people may not know what they want to be called…but they damn sure know what they don’t want to be called.
If we want to know what black people were called in the 20th Century, we can (and should) go to the history books and get the real context and construct of the term, Negro. We don’t have to be reminded of the degradation by keeping it on the U.S. Census form.
No melancholy feelings here.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist and author of, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.