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

Ann Burlingham ann at BURLINGHAMBOOKS.COM
Fri Jan 22 16:25:47 UTC 2010

On Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 7:38 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:

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> 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"]
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> At 1/21/2010 02:54 PM, Ann Burlingham wrote:
> >I heard it while interviewing a prospective employee within the last year.
> I
> >don't think she was older that 20.
> I assume Ann is reporting merely use by a young person today of a
> term that has gone out of currency, or perhaps also out of
> acceptability, rather than associating the use with any racism.  In
> any case, I might put this down to a young person's uncertainty as to
> what term or terms are acceptable today to (and I must choose some
> term here) African-Americans.  A young person today might have a
> favorable view of the NAACP, which as Jon Lighter noted has not
> changed from "colored" to something else.

It depends on what you mean by "racism", doesn't it? I don't believe anyone
needs to have an active hatred toward another group to partake of racism in
a racist society - accepting the defaults & stereotypes, and not taking the
trouble to pay attention to the issue/s, works just fine to perpetuate

My take on this young woman is that she lives here in rural western New
York, where I can routinely hear plenty of racist terms from some local
white people of all ages (and many terms were heard during and after the
election), but that most young people seem to have either been taught what
current polite usage is, or have figured it out from the people around them.
I would be extremely surprised if she heard "colored" from any of her
schoolteachers or schoolbooks or from television. Even if one's family uses
outdated terms exclusively, I'd expect a little paying attention to inform
anyone that it's not a current usage - or that it's a candidate for use only
among some people. (Of course, she may have assumed that my assistant
manager and I were in an appropriate group.)

By the way, I have a feeling I have heard white people in my neck of the
woods (rural western New York State) use "coloreds" as well.

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