US Census considers removing ‘Negro’ on questionnaire

Copyright 2010, The Associated Press

Copyright 2010, The Associated Press

The U.S. Census Bureau is considering removing the term Negro from its form by 2020.

The Census Bureau has been considering within the last few years changing some minor aspects of the census in regards to racial classification, as more advocacy groups pushed for more updated racial categories to reflect current cultural trends. The term ‘Negro’ is listed as one of the racial categories on the questionnaire alongside black and African-American.

As first reported by theGrio, many in the African-American community were shocked to learn that the term was going to be included in the 2010 Census form. The Census Bureau said the reason for keeping ‘Negro’ on the form for so long was due to a 2000 study which indicated a large portion of people chose to write ‘Negro’ as their race, which prompted the Bureau to keep the category.

Census Bureau director Robert Groves actually publicly apologized on C-Span for the use of the category, after a viewer complained that the Negro category form was “racist.”

“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 Negro,” the viewer said in a phone interview. “I do not like that, that is out of character, and it really hurt my feelings … that to me is racist.”

Groves, an African-American himself, responded on-air and apologized to the viewer, “First of all, let me apologize to you on behalf of all my colleagues. The intent of every word on the race and ethnicity questions is to be as inclusive as possible so that all of us could see a word here that rings a bell for us … 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.”

The term “Negro” to categorize people of African descent was a common term until the 1960s Civil Rights movement. However, the Civil Rights movement encouraged people to use the terms  “black” or “Afro-American.” In the late 1980s,  Jesse Jackson encouraged the black community to identify as African-Americans.

But the word Negro has made a slight resurgence within the past couple of years.

In 2007, Rush Limbaugh played a song titled “Barack the Magic Negro” on his radio show, referring to Barack Obama‘s first presidential race.

Additionally, Senate majority leader Harry Reid called the then-presidential candidate a “light-skinned” African-American “with no negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” according to Rush Limbaugh’s book Game Change.

David Love, in a previous theGrio op-ed, details the pros and cons of the term Negro in society. He says that while for many the word brings back the painful history of segregation and inequality, the word is also used by many black elders referring to a time of “black self-sufficiency and pride.”

But despite the debates surrounding the ‘political-correctness’ of the word Negro, the Census Bureau is primarily concerned that Americans can accurately identify themselves racially in future Census counts. The 2010 Census revealed that many Americans did not identify with the current categories used by the Census Bureau to classify race.

This is not the first time the Census had to change its racial categories to be up to date with cultural shifts in racial categorization. The term mulatto, for example, referring to a person of mixed black and white background, was removed the Census in 1920.

Other major changes that may be made to the 2020 Census is categorizing Hispanic as a race. Currently, Hispanic is only considered an ethnic background and is not included in the race section.

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