WASHINGTON – After more than a century, the Census Bureau is dropping its use of the word Negro to describe black Americans in surveys.
Instead of the term that came into use during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, census forms will use the more modern labels black or African-American.
The change will take effect next year when the Census Bureau distributes its annual American Community Survey to more than 3.5 million U.S. households, Nicholas Jones, chief of the bureau’s racial statistics branch, said in an interview.
He pointed to months of public feedback and census research that concluded few black Americans still identify with being Negro and many view the term as offensive and outdated.
This is a reflection of changing times, changing vocabularies and changing understandings of what race means in this country, said Matthew Snipp, a sociology professor at Stanford University, who writes frequently on race and ethnicity.
Starting with the 1960s civil rights movement, black activists began to reject the Negro label and came to identify themselves as black or African-American.
Still, the term has lingered, having been used by Martin Luther King Jr. in his speeches.
It also remains in the names of some black empowerment groups that were established before the 1960s, such as the United Negro College Fund, now often referred to as UNCF.
When asked to mark their race, Americans are currently given a choice of five government-defined categories in census surveys, including one checkbox selection which is described as black, African Am., or Negro.
Beginning with the surveys next year, that selection will simply say black or African American.