Print

Print


On Tue, 5 Sep 2000, The Gray Wizard wrote:

> The term "negro" has no validity as a "proper and original name"  for
> African-Americans.  It was a term imposed on a people whose cultural and
> historical identity was deliberately destroyed by the institution of
> slavery.  Its historical referents were slaves.  The shift from "negro" to
> "black" and "African-American" was a deliberate dissociation from that
> reference.

Quite so.  Indeed, there was a considerable celebration back in 1915
or so when major U.S. newspapers began to print "Negro" instead of "negro",
thus acknowledging the term as on a par with "German" or "Scandinavian":
the name of a distinct people.  Unsurprisingly, later generations
viewed that particular victory as rather hollow.

> In this case, the "oldest and most established title" for the heritage that
> African-Americans could take pride in was "African" and thus the shift away
> from the term "negro" and its similarities with "nigra" and "nigger".

Which were all originally mere dialectal variants, as someone (Tom?) has
already pointed out.  I emphasize *originally*.

The first edition of Webster's dictionary had many spellings that were
not adopted (and were mostly gone from the later editions), though Webster
surely introduced them as better phonetic representations for the
pronunciation of his day.  Among these were "zeber" for "zebra"
and "neger" for "negro".  In Webster's day, the line between "negro" and
"nigger" must have been thin to nonexistent.

In the end, the pronunciation /zibr@/ stuck in the U.S.,
but the analogous /nigr@/ was rejected in favor of /nigroU/ in the
North, and now everywhere.

The word "Negro" survives in many institutional names, such as the
United Negro College Fund and the Negro Ensemble Theatre.  I doubt
it offends anyone in such places any more.

[new topic]

I note that in the sf novel _Rivers of Time_, the hero (a future Australian)
uses the term "Native Australian", obviously founded on the U.S. use
of "Native American" < "Indian".  So evidently "Aboriginal" has become
objectionable in that future time.

--
John Cowan                                   [log in to unmask]
"[O]n the whole I'd rather make love than shoot guns [...]"
        --Eric Raymond