when did "Black" start replacing....

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu May 25 21:16:09 UTC 2006

A minor correction: After "Negro" became hip, "colored" lost nearly
all of its former status in everyday speech, falling to the level of a
mild form of "nigger": if *I* want to use it, just joking around,
that's cool. But, if *you* use it, that's *not* cool. Being a
mild-mannered PhD-manque, I've never given anybody any shit about it,
but hearing it from thin lips tends to make my flesh crawl. (In Texas,
"c" for "colored" was placed after the name of every black person in
the local telephone book. The telephone company is now SBC, with
headquarters in San Antonio. Back in the day, SBC was the Southwestern
Bell Telephone Co., with its HQ in St. Louis, where, however, the
telephone books didn't identify patrons by race.)

A Japanese-American buddy of mine used "colored" as his regular term.
Since it was totally clear that he meant no harm, I didn't jump on him
about it. Nonetheless, it gave me the creeps to hear it. Back in the
day, lots of non-blacks continued to use the term in conversation,
likewise meaning absolutely no harm. Nevertheless ... Well, it is hard
to keep up with the nomenclature, if you don't have a vested interest
in it. A Malaysian-Chinese friend once had to remind me that his name
was "Yu-jin" and not "Eugene."

These days, non-blacks tend to bend over backward to use
"African-American" when talking to me. If they're friends, I ask them
to go with "black." Otherwise, I   don't say anything, though I
personally consider "African-American" to be a lame pomposity whose
spread I find astonishing. But a variant of it, "Asian-American," has
replaced "Oriental," even in my lexicon. OTOH, I get a chuckle out of
the hassles involved in trying to come up with a matching term for
people whose ancestors spoke Spanish. In BE, we simply call them all
"Spanish," amomng ourselves, at least.

OT, but perhaps interesting. Back in the day, the NYT did a major
article on the status of Spanish - in the black sense - policemen in
The City. The authors noted that those Spanish cops who considered
themselves to be black were not treated in the article. I was totally
surprised. Whoa! There are people in this country who are
volunteeering to be plain, ordinary niggers of their own free will?!
Man, that is *heavy*! Since that time, I've seen it happen with my own
eyes, as it were.

I ran across Fermin, a former colleague from Honduras whom I hadn't
seen in years. The conversation went something like this:

W. Hola, _FehrMEEN_! Que tal, hombre?
F.  _FURm at n_. Evvithang cool, man. Sssup?
W. Todo va muy bien. Soy casado! Que pasa con la familia y los otros, FehrMEEN?
F.  FURm at n. Ain't nothin' hap'nin. You got married, man? Dynamite!
W. Hasta luego, FehrMEEN!
F.  FURm at n. See ya latuh, bruh.

The bit with the name is meant to show that every time that I
pronounced his name in Wilsonic Spanish, Fermin "corrected" it to
Ferminous English.


On 5/25/06, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: when did "Black" start replacing....
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >On 5/25/06, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at yahoo.com> wrote:
> >>
> >>I recall Stokely Carmichael and/or H. Rap Brown explicitily insisting on
> >>the exclusive use of _Black_ (capitalized) for the reason that _Negro_
> >>"meant" _nigger_.  These statements received wide media coverage.
> >>
> >>The year was either 1967 or 1969, the latter I think. Before that, except
> >>for the occasional neutral use in anthropology (e.g., "black Africans")
> >>whites used _black_ chiefly as a deliberate insult.
> >
> >The documentary "James Brown: Soul Survivor" (aired on the PBS series
> >"American Masters" a few years ago) makes the case that the real
> >turning point for the mainstreaming of the word "black" was the
> >success of the single "Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud (Part
> >1)," which cracked the top ten of Billboard's pop charts in the fall
> >of 1968.
> >
> And a bit earlier there was the Black Power salute by John Carlos and
> Tommie Smith at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
> Larry
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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