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U. S. Census Bureau Says Many Blacks Still Identify Themselves as 'Negro'

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - In March, many of the estimated 145 million households who receive the Census Bureau's shortened questionnaire for the nation's decennial headcount may be full of raised eyebrows when they get to Question 9, which asks about a person's race. Beside the designation for respondents who self-identify as Black and African-American is the word “Negro”, an antiquated term that is considered regressive to many in the African-American community, especially today with the country being led by a Black president.

“Being a 24-year-old Black man I think it takes me back to a place that I've never been, and quite honestly, I view it as politically incorrect. I know that some of the older generations may see it as correct but as a young man who has grown in a time period where those words were never used I don't really expect for them to be used now,” said Austin Weatherington, a journalist from Cleveland.

The Census Bureau has explained in a news release that the reason that the word Negro has been included on Census questionnaire is because testing prior to Census 2000 indicated that a large number of respondents self-identified with the term. They decided against omitting the term in order to avoid an unintended undercount due to a change in question wording.

Secondly, the Census Bureau is following the guidance of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget's 1997 revised standards for the classification of race and ethnicity for federal data after a series of tests were conducted in 1996. To that end, The OMB defined the 'Black or African American' racial category as “a person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa,” and stipulated that “terms such as ‘Haitian’ or ‘Negro’ can be used in addition to ‘Black or African American’.” The NAACP is not as alarmed as Weatherington.

“In the African-American community, there is a tendency to be more of a generational divide but there are a lot of older African-Americans that still utilize that term and prefer it,” said Hilary Shelton, NAACP's vice president for advocacy and director of its Washington Bureau.  

The Census Bureau will again be testing the removal of the term "Negro" from the race question in the 2020 Census.

There are reasons other than generational gaps that some prefer Negro or Black.

“For instance, we have people of African decent that have come into the country that are citizens and will be counted as such but don't like the term 'African-American' because they weren't born here,” Shelton explained. “They prefer the term 'Black'. But in this particular category, we just need to make sure that we capture all of those groups. So to help prevent the confusion, we've added all three terms. So, we think that it's a good idea.”

Adds Shelton, “We shouldn't be alarmed … Keep in mind that the goal of the census is to collect the information as comprehensive and as accurately as possible.”

There is power in numbers, and the outcome of 2010 Census data will determine how more than $3 trillion in federal funding will be allocated over the next decade as well as how states will be represented in Congress. And so, the flow of federal funds into Black communities and congressional representation will be determined by how accurate the Black population is counted, how ever they self-identify.

The inclusion of 'Negro' on a U.S. census form is nothing new, even in post-segregation America. The word was listed in at least the previous two headcounts, according to archived versions of the 1990 and 2000 forms on the Bureau's website. So will 'Negro' ever be phased out?

“The Census is not created to help transform the thoughts of these communities but to make sure it collects that information,” Shelton said. “And so, the Census will stop using it if the American people decide that it's not helpful and that no one relates to it any more. As long as people relate to it and, again, to capture that data as accurately and as comprehensively as possible, then it should be used.”
 

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