(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Census Bureau is bidding farewell to the term “Negro” on its surveys and forms after more than 100 years of use.
The description has come to be viewed as outdated and even offensive by many people in the black community, officials say, so the bureau will reduce the options to “black” or “African-American.”
The agency will include the new language next year in its annual American Community Survey, which reaches upwards of 3.5 million households in the United States.
The term’s use dates back five centuries to when Portuguese and Spanish explorers used their languages’ word for black to describe the people of sub-Saharan Africa.
It followed slavery to the United States, surviving Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era before losing favor during the civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s.
The first U.S. census, which was taken in 1790, displayed only three different racial categories: “free white,” “all other free persons” and “slaves.” The term “Negro” appeared for the first time in 1900, to identify people of African descent.
The government considered ending usage of the word “Negro” for the 2010 Census but ultimately decided against it. The bureau reasoned that there was still a segment of the U.S. population that personally identified with the term. Most of them were older blacks living in the southern states.
Robert Groves, a former Census Bureau director, wrote a controversial blog post about the subject then, saying that the Census Bureau hadn’t done any research on the respondent reaction to the word “Negro” in the 2000s, but that it did “do tests that showed answers to the ethnicity and race questions tended to change depending on the order of the questions.”
In response to that information, Groves wrote, “I think some research on the sensitivity of answers to the presence of ‘Negro’ should have been done last decade, but I am unaware of what limitations there were on the research program then.”
He continued, “Some of the commentary on the question comes from people offended by the term. I apologize to them. I am confident that the intent of my colleagues in using the same wording as Census 2000 was to make sure as many people as possible saw words that matched their self-identities. Full inclusiveness was the goal.”
Nicholas Jones, chief of the bureau’s racial statistics branch, said census research, using public feedback, has now confirmed that most black Americans no longer identify with the term and find it “offensive.”
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