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

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 16 03:38:16 UTC 2010

As was "colored" before it. Is only the opinion of one person enough
let you relax WRT something of no consequence, in any case? At one
time - during the time when "Negro" was hip, in fact - it used to
bother me when my white, Asian, and Chicano drinking buddies continued
to use "colored" a couple of decades after "Negro" had supposedly
become the currently-hip term.

Then, Stokely and H. Rap determined that "black" should be the term
that we-whose-great--grandparents-were-slaves /
we-who-are-the-great-grandchildren-of-slaves folk should use. Since
"black" was, among the general population of soul, the one word more
hurtful and embarrassing than "nigger," under any set of circumstances
(as Richard Pryor once phrased it, "I'm *not* black! I'm colored!"), I
was, at first, amazed, stunned, astonished, and shamed that this word
should even be mentioned in this use on national TV in front of white
people, as though it were nothing. Indeed, these black fools even
proclaimed as they declaimed that we Negroes should be *proud* to call
ourselves "black," if for no other reason than to express solidarity
with our sub-Saharan black brothers. WTF?!!! Shit! This nigger done
lost his mind! And I was annoyed because my non-Negro friends and
acquaintances continued to use "colored"!

Then, it suddenly became clear to me that this
change-the-term-every-quarter-century jive was simply empty of
content, nothing but bullshit totally unworthy of notice and not worth
worrying about for any reason. Except, apparently, among white people.
White people, to whom black people are not in a position to do
anything of greater consequence than to be quoted by another *white*
man as being supposedly unhappy about something that some third white
man, mistakenly or on purpose, has said.

I can remember black organizations patting themselves oon the back
because they had gotten white newspapers, in a large part of the U.S.,
at least, to capitalize the "n" of the erstwhile "negro," thereby
destroying the lynching-of-the-month clubs, ending the form of serfdom
known as "share-cropping," closing prisons like Parchman's Farm and
Angola, preventing telephone books in the South from adding "c" for
"colored" after the names of black people in the telephone book, etc.,
etc., and ultimately bringing into existence the actuality of the
siblinghood of person under the parenthood of Deity.

BTW, when is someone going to get the Rev. Jesse's opinion on this
matter? His opinion has to count more than that of the professor.
After all, 99.44% of black America has never heard of this nig-, uh,
African-American McWhorter and 99.44% of those who have think that
he's white, because of his stance on political issues of far greater
importance than whether "Negro" is as bad a word as, say, "blackamoor"
or "fuck" or whether Obama's idiolect can or should be included under
the rubric of the made-up concept of "standard" American English, as
though that that somehow makes any kind of difference. I may be
mistaken, but I can't recall that anybody felt that LBJ's accent
inability to speak without sounding as though he wasn't from Chicago
was worthy of note in any newspaper of record.

 As usual, I could be entirely mistaken, inasmuch as I have, once
again, made no attempt to research a topic upon which I have
pontificated. IAC, given that people have a problem understanding that
"fuck someone over" is not identical to "fuck over someone," any more
than "set fire to" is identical to "set something afire," it hardly


On Wed, Jan 13, 2010 at 3:51 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: McWhorter on "Negro" [Was: on "Negro English"]
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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).
> Joel
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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