McWhorter on "Negro" [Was: on "Negro English"]

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Wed Jan 13 20:51:04 UTC 2010

I'm somewhere between relieved and pleased to see McWhorter writing
"However, it ["Negro"] is more properly an archaism, not so long ago
thoroughly acceptable among blacks and whites."  (He goes on "If Reid
was wrong to use the word, then I assume he is also supposed to refer
to the United African-American College Fund.")  I am writing about
18th-century (and a bit about 19th-century) Massachusetts, where one
cannot avoid "Negro" in quotations, and probably should not in
paraphrasings.  It has seemed to me only confusing for me to write,
say, "black" in other contexts -- I can hear my (potential) readers
asking, why does he use "black" here and "Negro" there, when I do not
mean any distinction.

I intend to explain my vocabulary, and to mention "Changes in the
names used to refer to people of African descent in America have a
... complicated and instructive" history (Patrick Rael,
"Introduction," in African-American Activism before the Civil War:
The Freedom Struggle in the Antebellum North, ed. Patrick Rael [New
York: Routeledge, 2008], 18).


The American Dialect Society -

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