Term ‘Negro’ on census sparks talk

| Assignment Editor

As the biblical tradition of counting heads is set to begin, many observers are asking the same question: Why is the word “negro” on the census?

Every 10 years, the U.S. government conducts a census to determine which areas of the country need federal funding the most, to reapportion congressional representation and to learn more about the current U.S. population. The survey asks for information, including the number of people living in a household and the race of the members of the household.

Question nine on the 2010 census has sparked a national debate. The question, which refers to the survey taker, reads: “What is Person 1’s race?” One of the responses is: “Black, African Am., or Negro.”

Many Washington University students were shocked to learn that the government printed the term “Negro” in the census. Reactions on campus to the use of this term, which many people consider to be culturally insensitive, have been mixed.

Professor Garrett Duncan, director of the Program in African and African American Studies, says that many African Americans still refer to themselves as being “Negro.”

He argues that by not including the term “negro,” the government would limit the number of African-Americans who responded.

“My father, had he been alive today, would be one such person and I don’t think that he and others should be excluded from being counted,” Duncan wrote in an e-mail to Student Life.

According to Duncan, this term was still popular among the African-American population at the time of the 1990 census.

“Terms of identification have a human face and, again, people and context matter,” Duncan said.

Student opinions on this matter vary. Many students recognize that the term is used often by a certain generation of African Americans, but do not think it should be included in the census.

“I feel that it is just a generational thing,” junior Vanetia Cannon said. “I would not refer to myself as ‘negro,’ but my parents and grandparents would…I feel personally that it should not be on a personal government form.”

Junior Gail Burks was surprised that the government decided to use the word on the census form. “I feel it is more of an outdated term. Some people think ‘Negro’ sounds like the n-word. I do not think it should be on a government form,” Burks said.

Freshman Allison Brenner shared Burks’ sentiment. “I think it is difficult for non-African-Americans to judge because how you want to be identified is such a personal thing, but I think there are better words that could have been chosen,” she said.

More than anything, members of the Wash. U. community were taken aback by the very inclusion of the term.

“It is surprising that they would go forward with that because there are such strong opinions associated with that word,” junior Rohit Ray said.

According to the census Web site, ask.census2010.gov, the census for all college students living in dormitories or Greek housing will be completed in conjunction with the dorm. The U.S. Census Bureau will be able to request school records in the event that students do not provide the necessary information. The census count for college students will start in early April.

  • Mara

    Recently, I found the 2010 Census form hanging on my door. As I began filling it out, I came across a dilemma. The U.S. government wants to know if my children are adopted or not and it wants to know what our races are. Being adopted myself, I had to put “Other” and “Don’t Know Adopted” for my race and “Other” and “Don’t Know” for my kids’ races.

    Can you imagine not knowing your ethnicity, your race? Now imagine walking into a vital records office and asking the clerk for your original birth certificate only to be told “No, you can’t have it, it’s sealed.”

    How about being presented with a “family history form” to fill out at every single doctor’s office visit and having to put “N/A Adopted” where life saving information should be?

    Imagine being asked what your nationality is and having to respond with “I don’t know”.

    It is time that the archaic practice of sealing and altering birth certificates of adopted persons stops.

    Adoption is a 5 billion dollar, unregulated industry that profits from the sale and redistribution of children. It turns children into chattel who are re-labeled and sold as “blank slates”.

    Genealogy, a modern-day fascination, cannot be enjoyed by adopted persons with sealed identities. Family trees are exclusive to the non-adopted persons in our society.

    If adoption is truly to return to what is best for a child, then the rights of children to their biological identities should NEVER be violated. Every single judge that finalizes an adoption and orders a child’s birth certificate to be sealed should be ashamed of him/herself.

    I’d really like to know how Uncle Sam wants adopted persons will sealed identities to answer the race question. Does the U.S. Government want us to lie or does it expect us to be psychic?

  • Hank Harrington

    cinderella deloncra is wrong. “Negro” is not OUR word. It is a word GIVEN us by WHITE SLAVE OWNERS. Our ancestors had no choice in what they were called, just as they had no choice in being slaves. Please tell me you’re not a Wash U student with that type of opinion….

  • cinderella deloncra

    There is nothing offensive about the word Negro. It was their word after all. You should hear the N word I say.

  • Eric

    If some people choose to self-identify as Negroes, why should the government (or, for that matter, college students in their twenties) tell them they can’t?