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ERIC Number: EJ992926
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2012-Jul-29
Pages: N/A
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0009-5982
The Trouble with the Other N-Word
Miller, D. Quentin
Chronicle of Higher Education, Jul 2012
When Jackie Robinson broke through to the (white) major leagues, "Negro" was the agreed-upon term to designate African-Americans. In fact, he broke through from "the Negro leagues." It would be a historical distortion to say that Robinson had once played in the "black baseball leagues" or the "African-American baseball leagues." For well over half of the 20th-century, "Negro" was the term that most Americans, black and white alike, used to refer to African-Americans. "Negro" had to go, most black people agreed, for a few reasons. One was that it did not seem like it was on a level playing field with "white," since it was a foreign word that had been appropriated for the sole purpose of labeling an enslaved group of people as part of a systematic dehumanizing process. Another reason grew out of an insistence on black self-determination that involved renaming. This was the era when Malcolm Little changed his last name to "X," when Cassius Clay answered to Muhammad Ali, and when Lew Alcindor became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. There was a popular campaign throughout the land proclaiming that "black is beautiful," though "black" was not the only candidate for the new racial term of choice. "Afro-American" made a brief run, and some universities, like Harvard and the University of Massachusetts, retain that vestige in the names of their departments. But in 1967, African-American and black have coexisted as the acceptable adjectives to describe an American of African ancestry. "Negro" has been a historical term. Why, then, do some students, who are not African-American and who are young, occasionally use it in their papers and even during class discussions, with no sense that they have uttered a word that not only sounds "off" and anachronistic but also makes most listeners wince? Essentially students have treated the word "Negro" no differently from the way it is used when discussing Jackie Robinson: as though it's still acceptable when referring to a historical figure. The problem might stem from students' awkwardness when talking about race in a culture that has convinced itself that it is race-blind. "Negro," the seemingly more benign fraternal twin of a clearly racist term, is a word whose casual, persistent, and insidious use should be scrutinized more closely. Its legacy is equally rooted in slavery's dehumanizing abuses. This author contends that the fact that he has encountered 10- and 20-year-olds who do not hear those historical echoes when they utter it indicates that educators still have much work to do.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Massachusetts