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 “I feel it is more of an outdated term.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.

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