another "Negro" in quotes

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 25 18:12:50 UTC 2010

On Mon, Oct 25, 2010 at 4:35 AM, Margaret Lee <mlee303 at> wrote:
> Also, back in the day (before the '60's), the newspaper in my hometown of L=
> ynchburg, VA identified as "Negro" any black person who had been arrested o=
> r had committed a crime,=C2=A0This was probably the same for most newspaper=
> s at the time, especially in the South.=20

The same was true in Saint Louis, except that, regardless of what a
person had done, good or bad, his race or non-European-origin
nationality was specified, with _Negro_ being the term of choice for
blacks. (FWIW, in those days in "The Lou," the use of "black" to refer
to a colored person/Negro would have been as insulting as using
"nigger" and even more hurtful and psychologically debilitating.)

One time, two physicians made the local news as a consequence of
having had a study of theirs published as the cover article in JAMA.
One was J. Owen Blache, MD, a family friend upon whose daughter I had
a tremendous crush, and the other, Park Jung-il(?), was from Korea.
This was such a big deal that the article was accompanied by a
photograph of the two doctors. One of them was identified only by his
name. The other was specifically identified as "Korean."

The problem was that Dr. Blache was not immediately identifiable at a
glance as a "Negro." (Recall that, in the United States, *anyone* can
be colored/Negro/black/African-American, irrespective of his
appearance. Or not. Youneverknow.) He, being a native of Trinidad,
spoke with a foreign accent, his name wasn't of obvious British,
French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, or even German origin, his features
were European, he was "bright-skinned," and he had "good" hair. He
could have been a Negro, because anybody can be. But he also could
have been white. It was possible to ask, of course, and, if he
answered, "I'm a Negro," then no harm, no foul.

But, what if he was white? Daring to imply that his whiteness was
anything less than totally obvious, that it appeared to be the case
that there was a nigger in his genealogical woodpile... Well, that
would simply have been a social gaffe beyond imagining! A _fubar_, if
you will. There was a major clue, the fact that Dr. Blache was chief
of pathology at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, the colored city hospital
that was once the largest black medical center on earth. But, since a
white man was free to work wherever he chose... Again, what's a
reporter to do? Youneverknow.

So, the reporter, deciding that discretion was the better part of
valor, dropped back five yards and punted. OTOH, the Chinese guy was
obviously not white. Asking him where in China he was from hardly
presented a problem.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"––a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
–Mark Twain

The American Dialect Society -

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