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Why the Census removed 'Negro' from its forms

by Take Two®

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Question 9 on the first page of the 2010 Census form. After more than a century, the Census Bureau is dropping use of the word "Negro" to describe black Americans in its surveys. Instead of the term, which was popularized during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, census forms will use "black" or "African-American." Carolyn Kaster/AP

The U.S. Census has decided to remove the word "Negro" from its forms, citing complaints from some respondents who found the word offensive.

For a century, forms used the phrase "Black, African American or Negro" as racial identifiers. Going forward, the last word will be dropped.

Linguist and author John McWhorter says that the word isn't so much offensive as archaic and out of date.

"'Negro' until fairly recently was a perfectly acceptable way to refer to what we now call African Americans or blacks," he said. "But it fell out of fashion and now for many people it hearkens back to the days of Jim Crow and overt racism and so it makes people uncomfortable."

The word is still in use in some official capacity - for instance, the United Negro College Fund. But McWhorter suspects that organization will likely change its name in the near future as well to reflect current language.

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