Jesse Jackson wants to ban "N-word"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Dec 2 16:56:16 UTC 2006

I remember some national figure denouncing "Afro-American" around 1970 as pernicious because it wasn't formally parallel to "Italian-American" or "Irish-American."  Evidently he'd never heard of "Italo-American," "Hiberno-American," "Anglo-American," etc.

  He must have been aware of "Franco-American," but may have thought it referred to the Spanish dictator.


Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Dave Wilton
Subject: Re: Jesse Jackson wants to ban "N-word"

I recall seeing "Afro-American" in a Doonesbury strip from the early 70s
(one featuring the short-lived character Thor, a black elementary student
who was tutored by Doonesbury). The humor in the punch line depended on the
word seemingly being "hip" among whites, but passe and dated among blacks.
(Thor doesn't show for class. Mike finds him playing baseball. When asked,
Thor says he couldn't go to class because it was "Afro-American Cultural
Appreciation Day." While Doonesbury wonders if he is being conned, another
player asks Thor about the holiday and he replies it was the best he could
come up with on the fly.)

And there is a parallelism in that Africa, Italy, and Japan are all places.
There is also a stronger parallel with "Asian American" and the much rarer
"European American."

Also, since it is impossible for most African Americans to pinpoint the
exact place where their ancestors came from (and if they could, the modern
country that is there did not exist back then), use of country names
wouldn't really work in this case.

--Dave Wilton
dave at

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Wilson Gray
Sent: Friday, December 01, 2006 8:43 PM
Subject: Re: Jesse Jackson wants to ban "N-word"

"Afro-American" was once popularized in the mid-'60's?! Who knew? If
it was, well, I'll be John Brown, as my mother would so.

And, needless to say, there's no parallelism between
"African-Americans" and "Italian-Americans" or "Japanese-Americans,"
given that Africa is a continent and Italy and Japan are merely


On 12/1/06, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Benjamin Zimmer
> Subject: Re: Jesse Jackson wants to ban "N-word"
> On 12/1/06, Margaret Lee wrote:
> >
> > FWIW, this is an excerpt from a paper I wrote on the subject a few years
> >
> > The shift from Black to African American occurred in 1988 when Dr.
> > Edelin, President of the National Urban Coalition, proposed that the
next year's
> > meeting be called, not the Black Summit, but the African American
> > The purpose of this change was to reassess the condition of blacks in
> > while "linking Africans in North America with those on the Continent of
Africa and
> > throughout the Diaspora "(Smitherman, in Mufwene et al., 1998, 213).
> Edelin was also involved in the Dec. 19, 1988 press conference of
> black leaders where "African-American" first got serious media
> exposure, but Jesse Jackson got most of the attention:
> -----
> New York Times, Dec. 21, 1988, p. A16
> Jackson and Others Say 'Blacks' Is Passe
> CHICAGO, Dec. 20 (AP) -- A group of prominent blacks, including the
> Rev. Jesse Jackson, says members of their race prefer to be called
> African-Americans.
> ''Just as we were called colored, but were not that, and then Negro,
> but not that, to be called black is just as baseless,'' Mr. Jackson
> said at a news conference Monday after the group met to discuss
> national goals.
> ''To be called African-Americans has cultural integrity,'' he said.
> ''It puts us in our proper historical context. Every ethnic group in
> this country has a reference to some land base, some historical
> cultural base. African-Americans have hit that level of cultural
> maturity.''
> Mr. Jackson was joined by Richard Hatcher, the former Mayor of Gary,
> Ind., Ramona Edelin, the National Urban Coalition's president, Gloria
> Toote, a former Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development,
> and others.
> -----
> And back in the mid-'60s when "Afro-American" was popularized, there
> were already some suggesting "African-American" as an alternative:
> -----
> New York Times, Dec. 11, 1966, p. 45
> Substitute Word for "Negro" Argued
> "There's no letter 'o' in Africa; we should just be called
> African-Americans, just as others are called Italian-Americans or
> Japanese-Americans," said Mr. Michaux [sc. Lewis H. Michaux, owner of
> the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem].
> -----
> --Ben Zimmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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