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

Salikoko Mufwene s-mufwene at UCHICAGO.EDU
Sun Jan 17 05:24:39 UTC 2010

Joel S. Berson wrote:
> At 1/16/2010 11:55 AM, Salikoko Mufwene wrote:
>> Tom Zurinskas wrote:
>>> The word "colorful" has nice connotations.  And black has some
>>> negative connotations.  The word "black" doesn't really describe
>>> Negro skin color.  Too extreme.  How about "black" in an African
>>> language that would sound nice?   Watusi?
>> How about using "Scot" or "Irish" or "German" in reference to all Whites
>> in North America?
> I wonder if Salikoko Mufwene has misunderstood Tom Zurinskas in the
> last part above.  Was he suggesting that some word from the Watusi
> language be adopted into English to refer to the alleged "black"
> race?  Not that English should use the word "Watusi" to refer to all
> "black" people?
SSM: I couldn't select "African language" as a possible antecedent of
"Watu[t]si", because there is no African "Watutsi" language that I know
of. "Watutsi" is Swahili plural for Tutsi people, and they speak
Kinyarwanda or Kirundi, depending on whether they live in Rwanda or
Burundi. So, I think I was cooperative in my interpretation of Tom's
> But there's more that's objectionable and distasteful in Mr.
> Zurinskas's message -- not just in the first part above but also in
> his other paragraph, which was
>> I've always thought the term "colored" was a nice term for Negro
>> people and that Negro was a neutral scientific kind of term, like
>> Caucasian (awe-droppers are forbidden to say cockasian).  Darkies is
>> not so bad.  It's even in my FL state song. .
>> (Unless he was being ironic here.)  But I personally don't feel
>> sufficiently competent to speak up.
SSM: I think others have aptly and sufficiently commented on the ethnic
insensitivity of the top part of his comments, and your own comments are
right to the point. He actually used the term "colorful," which I find
more offensive. It reminded me of a scholar complaining (my term!) in
her book about "colorful characters" that have been questioning some of
the established positions about the emergence of creoles. I have always
thought that there were academically more important things to worry
about than such derision (especially when the "characters" happen to be
"persons of color"), which the evaluators of the manuscript or the
series editor do not seem to have found objectionable.

> Joel

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