35

Watching Why does the US have so many child brides?, there was an interesting part where marriage licenses were shown:

brides

where under race, in two places, it is clearly written as:

Negro

The specific date is not clear but it is most likely '71.

When did official documentation stop referring to black people as Negros?

I would have thought before '71, surely...

  • 9
    I'm not sure when they stopped using the term in practice, but they could have done so in theory right up to 2016. – sempaiscuba Oct 24 '17 at 13:00
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    What's interesting is that "negro" (or a variant thereof), in many languages, just means "black", so the word itself, denotationally, isn't really much different. The issue many people have with it is the historical connotation. – JAB Oct 24 '17 at 15:23
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    @Azor-Ahai Unfortunately not. – JAB Oct 24 '17 at 17:26
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    Assuming the shown document is a marriage license or application for such, it would be a state document rather than a federal one, so the answer is probably different for every state (and some might not have used the term in the first place.) – reirab Oct 24 '17 at 17:40
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    What does "official documentation" mean? The United Negro College Fund uses this term in their documents right now. If the question is limited to government agencies it should probably say that. – barbecue Oct 24 '17 at 17:51
51

It seems that the term was used on a number of pieces of legislation as late as the 1970's. In 2016, President Obama signed legislation into law which struck outdated racial terms such as “Oriental” and “Negro” from federal laws. As this article observes:

Two sections in the U.S. Code written in the 1970s governing public health and civil rights attempted to define minority groups by using the outdated terms.


For those who are interested, the two sections of the U.S. code mentioned above are:

  • Section 211(f)(1) of the Department of Energy Organization Act (42 U.S.C. 7141(f)(1))

and

  • Section 106(f)(2) of the Local Public Works Capital Development and Investment Act of 1976 (42 U.S.C. 6705(f)(2))

Even more recently, the term "Negro" was included in the 2010 U.S census:

2010 Census

However, in 2013 the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the term will not appear in future censuses.

  • 26
    The reason that "Negro" was used on the 2000 and 2010 forms is that previously when the word "Negro" was omitted, 56,000 people refused to check the "Black or African American" box, and instead said they were "some other race" and hand-wrote that they were "Negro". Some folks are very proud of the word "Negro", and have never accepted the newer terms. census.gov/newsroom/blogs/director/2010/01/the-word-negro.html – DavePhD Oct 25 '17 at 10:59
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    @DavePhD It's also the fact that using the phrase "African-American" implies that you are American, when many people who live in the US with dark skin have other nationalities (either legally or culturally), and might rather identify as, for instance, French or English, or even actually an African country. So at the very least, making "African-American" the only option for people of African descent will exclude people, not only because of what glossary they prefer to use, but also because they don't want to lie. – Arthur Oct 25 '17 at 11:37
  • @Chloe I disagree that the question on the census is racist, but more importantly, it is a very important tool for documenting and identifying racism in other policies or contexts. The argument you are making has often been made by those who deny that discrimination exists, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. – Bryan Krause Oct 25 '17 at 22:56
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    @Arthur As a Brit, that's particularly an issue for us when American-oriented forms are rolled out globally. "African-American" doesn't work for black Brits, and anything even hinting at "African" is completely broken for Aboriginal Aussies. More interestingly, American forms tend to lump all white people under "Caucasian", whereas a British form needs to be more specific about subgroups such as "white - Irish" and "white - European" to catch other kinds of racism. – Graham Oct 26 '17 at 13:10
30

The US Army stopped using the term "Negro" in November of 2014.

See U.S. Army apologizes, will drop term 'Negro' from policy document

However, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) still has a document, originally published 12 April 2015, Racial and Ethnic Categories and Definitions for NIH Diversity Programs and for Other Reporting Purposes, appearing as current policy, which states:

"Negro" can be used in addition to "Black or African American."


Additionally, since the question is specifically referring to 1971, I would point out that the 1971 NASA report Contextual planning for NASA - A second handbook of alternative future environments for mission analysis discusses the fact that "Negro" was the term preferred by blacks at this time. Specifically:

Percent of Blacks preferring to be called the following terms (April 1970):

"Negro" 51%

"Colored" 11%

"Black" 8%

"Afro-American" 8%

Other 4%

No difference 16%

No opinion 3%

  • That NASA technical report is a particularly interesting find. I've downloaded it to read later, but at first glance it looks like it will be pretty grim reading! – sempaiscuba Oct 24 '17 at 20:50

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