Debate This: Is Negro a “bad” word?

Here’s a comment we  received yesterday:

62 years old; grandma; white…

Something has me troubled. This seems like the perfect place to collect some input on it:

In a conversation with my daughter and son-in-law the other day I used the word “negro.” They were aghast and horrified. I was not being disrespectful and, frankly, I have long found the word to be rather elegant.

I’d like an African-American’s point-of-view on that.



Well, African-Americans…What do you think?  Is “negro” a bad word?  Should this 62 year old grandmother refrain from using it.

I will say, for her generation Negro was far more dignified than Ni**er.  Now if she’d referred to black folk as “Colored”…then I could understand her daughter and son-in-law’s  reaction.  In her prime years, the term “African-American” didn’t even exist and being “Black” was new.  My dad said,  When he was a kid some people would get made if you called them “Black” (as in “Blackey” or “You ole black so-in-so!”).

Over the last few years of doing this blog we’ve received several comments from people who feel that the name of this blog is offensive.  Someone even wrote that Negro was equal to the other N-word.  “Negro” is used everyday in Spanish speaking countries.  Caucasian would be the white equivalent…no one is calling for a ban on that.  We don’t see any thing wrong with the word, however we would suggest that when referring to African-Americans one use “African-American” or “Black”.   Very PC.


Filed under african american, black, blogs, culture, hello negro, n-word, negro, opinion, race, racism, society, white folks

31 Responses to Debate This: Is Negro a “bad” word?

  1. I really want to hear what y’all have to say on this. I’m an Australian now living in the Southern US (the real dirty south too).

    I always thought that both N-words were offensive. I used to say Afro-American or African-American, but I was told by a friend whose ancestry is Haitian that he prefers “black” because it doesn’t assume African descent for all darker skinned people, so I use that now, if I need to.

    • ramkissoon

      I am a Trinidadian. My ancestors are from India. People refer to folks like me as Indian. I have no problem with it. I find negro is a beautiful word to remember and pay tribute to the slaves and all of the Africans who represent another colour ( a beautiful one too, of God’s reportire. The word NEGRO did not originate as a noun but as an adjective to describe the folks as black. If I am black, I am black and I am proud to be black, People who don’t know my name call me Tallman- no problem- I am tall. Rejoice my brothers and sisters for you have no control over the colour of your skin. That is God’s work and when people call you Negro see it as a tribute to God.

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  3. I’m AfAm, Afro-American, African-American, and Black or black (depending on if I’m using white in the same sentence but not when adding Latino, which the computer decides needs capitalizing…). When writing on matters of the past, history papers, I’ll use Negro (or negro) and sometimes colored, depending on what I’m citing.
    I like the variety and African-American is too long to type sometimes. And it makes me feel obligated to hypenate other people. Thus more typing.

  4. Skywalker

    Considering the era in which she grew up – then no its not that bad. Off a little and shows that Grandma is not with the transition of the times but its okay.

    I wouldn’t be offended but don’t be mad if I did a intake of breath for a sec then went on my way.

  5. Matt

    Always call people what they want to be called – not what you grew up calling them.

  6. RACERX403

    “I was told by a friend whose ancestry is Haitian that he prefers “black” because it doesn’t assume African descent for all darker skinned people, so I use that now, if I need to.”

    That is funny. A black Haitian is still descendant from Africans just like those that consider themselves Creole. Outside of aborigines from Australia, we dark skinned, Negroid featured folks are all still descendants from Africans here in the Americas. Besides does your friend seriously think that minor distinction really matters. You are whatever it is people see and treat you as. I am sure those people that could and would feel quite okay calling either of us a nigger would do so without a second thought, so go figure. That is like a person of mixed decent that has dominant African/Negroid features, they will be treated according to how the outside world identifies them. That is they will be treated as black no matter what they may think of themselves or want. One has no control over that and in most cases this is the larger issue in terms of racial identification. People treat you in the manner that they identify you.

    Back on topic. For me it does not matter really. Grandma can use whatever term she would like as long as her tone is respectful. She is a product of her time and the word Negro is not derogatory nor does it offend me. Although I will admit I am not an Afro-American as an Afro is a hairstyle in my book. Just saying.

  7. Rafo

    First I think people should be called by their names. But if I’m in a situation where I have to describe somebody and this person is black, I say black because he/she might not be Afro-American descendant, could be from somewhere else like Haiti as mentioned before…About the word negro, in spanish we use it all the time to describe a person who is black, same with preto for portuguese…but I prefer to say black because I don’t like the spanglish thing they do in USA. In my case I rather be categorized as Hispanic or South American but not Latino, because Latino includes not only spanish descendants but also italians,french and portuguese.

  8. caratime2

    Great topic.

    Personally, I consider the term ‘Negro’ simply old-fashioned. A counterpart to ‘Caucasian’. It’s not a term I prefer, but it’s also not something that I consider an insult, esp. coming – as it did in this case – from someone in their 60’s. Having said that, I would probably make a point of stating my personal preference: black.

    @RACERX403, who said “You are whatever it is people see and treat you as.” I have to heartily disagree with that statement! You are whatever YOU see yourself as. Though you obviously can’t totally ignore how other people see you, you only weaken your sense of self (as an individual and as a community) if you voluntarily hand over the important step of self-definition to someone else. Talk about disempowerment!

    And while all black people ultimately descend from Africa (‘duh’), many have most of their cultural roots where they lived now/migrated from recently. Hence, I think “black American” is a much better descriptor of who I am than “African-American”. (And – as a side note – why I have my slight problems with the term Afro-German to describe my children, who – like me – are one half black American, not African.)

    Great blog, btw!

  9. My name is Dani Atkins and I am one of 4 surviving children of Ronald Edward Atkins and Clancyna Marie Atkins. On January 26, 2008 my father was killed in a tragic car accident that took place only 2 minutes away from my home. My parents had been married for 30 years at the time of the accident without separation. As I have been assisting my mother with putting together various lawsuits and claims against several different persons, insurance companies, and even the Los Angeles Police Department regarding several acts of negligence and dishonor surrounding my fathers death, I have come across a disturbing piece of information that I, being a 24 year old African American person am appauled. My father having been born on April 9, 1955, has a birth certificate that identifies his color and race as being “NEGRO.” My grandmother, Eloise Marie Harrison having been born on April 4, 1933 has a birth certificate that identifies her color and race as being “NEGRO”. My mother, who is still alive, Clancyna Marie Atkins born on September 4, 1956 has a birth certificate that identifies her color and race as being “NEGRO” as well. And I am quite sure there are thousands if not milliions of other African American people dead or alive who have been identified on paper at birth as being “NEGRO” I am absolutely disgusted that the United States of America even in 2009 have not made an attempt to make right this defamation of character in administering all new birth certificates to those who have died as well as those still living to identify these HUMAN PEOPLE with dignity and respect. I am passionately committed to make my fathers name wholly reflect the honorable father, husband, and man that he was and the fact that his life was not even given an opportunity to start before he was branded on United States of America paper as being a “NEGRO” is a disgrace and a shame on America.


    If you have any questions e- mail me at:

    Thank You,

  10. I use Negro depending on who I’m talking to. It’s my sub word for ‘N-ga’. But, I’m usually talking to close friends of the same color when using the word. I never want to give others (read: non-black) the impression that they can co-sign on it also.

  11. Negro is an outdated word for sure, but its not technically ‘bad’.

  12. actually, the word is “bad” because of the root of its intent. The fact still remains, that the word “negro” stemmed from the ill- intended word “nigger” and to embrace the term/ look at it as not being “bad” is not right. Bad seed cannot bring about good fruit, and everything about the word negro was “bad” from the beginning and so cannot, and will never be good or acceptable.

    • Dani: I’m sorry but the word “negro” is far older than the term “nigger”. The spanish were using the word long before Americans held slaves. The N-word comes out of the American slavery tradition.

  13. Actually, the term negro was a term to describe the black race. people assume that “negro” just means black, but actually, it referred to the black race. It never was a term of endearment it has always been something that was used to degrade black people. The word comes from the term negroid which is a term used to describe characteristics associated with being black; such as tight curly hair, wide noses, dark skin etc. It wasn’t a compliment it was meant to offend and oppress. Slavery was around well before the “American slavery tradition” and unfortunately that is not something that is taught in schools, people look at slavery as if it is something of recent times and it is NOT. Now, it is unfortunate that it is has continued for so long, and continues still until this day, however, again, bad seed cannot bring forth good fruit. The term “negro,” “nigger,” etc. was founded with ill intent, and so will continue to withold its same evil rooted meaning yesterday, today and forever!

    • Dani, the etymological root of the words negro, nigger, negroid, Niger, Nigeria… is the Latin word niger, which simply means black. That is the root. Niger and negro are very old terms. You have to take history into account.

      You site the term negroid…that’s a new term from a language stand point. The concept originated with the typological method of racial classification. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, anthropologists used a typological model to divide people from different ethnic regions into races, (e.g. the Negroid race, the Caucasoid race, the Mongoloid race, the Australoid race, and the Capoid race which was the racial classification system as defined in 1962 by Carleton S. Coon) Basically this “scientist” came up with the term “negroid”. There is a whole lot of racism mixed up in that whole classification model…I won’t go into it.

      I don’t think it’s necessary to demonize a term that was not originally used in a negative way. Negro was the color black…like red or blue. Like the word “ebony” in French. It’s the context of history and the usage by oppressive forces that have given this simple word a bad name. Be it negro, black, dark…all of these words have been used against African people, Indian people, and the continent of Africa (“Dark Continent”, Heart of Darkness).

  14. Flying V

    The term “negro” was better than “black” in the old days because black was synonymous with “evil”. Being born in the 50’s the term “negro” gave the black man some self respect. After the civil rights movement of the 60’s came around being “black” meant you were proud of your race and shunned the term “negro”. In the “70’s” the beginning of “political correctness” being black put fear in whites so “African-American” became vogue. After the “80’s” drug exploitation we lost our souls and the word “nigger” became the only way we described ourselves to the world. I think who and what you want to be called is a personal thing influenced by the times. Peace

    • Flying V: I agree with you. That’s why I was surprised (well, only mildly after running this blog for years) to see the comment below on the “About Hello, Negro” page today. I guess I’ll chalk this one up to generational differences. It’s called freedom of expression.

      K. Lynn wrote: To the author: I’m a baby boomer, born in the 50’s, survived the 60’s, fought racism through the 70’s up to this very day. When I came upon this site, I was shocked to see the name Hello, Negro (like Hello, Kitty). It’s a shame that having been born to who you say you were born to, you think so little of the black race that you can publicly disrespect it for all the world to see. This is one reason white folks just can’t understand us. If one of them said “Negro”, we’d start looking for Al Sharpton’s phone number. After all of the lynchings, murders, spitting, etc. that our people had to endure, do you still not understand that we don’t want to be called Negro? Do you think this is a joke? Was there no other name available for you to use? When was the last time you had a talk with your parents? I’m sure they don’t honestly approve, being who you say they are. No, I don’t call this Freedom of Expression, I call it Youthful Disrespect.

  15. Flying V

    Hi K Lynn,

    I’m an old schooler and never heard whites yell, “get that negro” as they chased us out of their neighorhoods as a kid. When I was growing up the word “negro” never brought pain to my heart but call me a “nigger” and I fought even if I knew I was outnumbered.

    Maybe we blacks in America need to get out of the clubs, welfare lines,jails and focus on our place in this country’s future. Instead of doing “buck dances for the white man” in the 21st century; let us show what we can really do by getting back to our original struggle for real equality.

  16. Ms Jo

    Hi there.

    I’m in the middle of writing a paper, and I’m unsure if it’s okay to use Negro. What’s ironic is that the paper deals with multicultural issues, and will (probably) be read by White, and other non-Black people.
    I don’t want to use the terms “White” or “Black” (seems less professional/scholarly, in my opinion).

    I personally identify as Black, and also have BIG issue with being called “African-American”. I (like others mention) am from Haitian descent, and my culture is very different from Black Americans, and Africans.

    Granted, Haiti’s ancestors were from Africa, but Haitian culture is too removed from African culture to be categorized as “African” (honestly, so is American and Black American culture – that term is just grossly inaccurate).
    To force other Black people into an “African” category is completely culturally insensitive (and a tad bit ignorant).

    To Haitians, and many other Black people, being mis-categorized as African is FAR from a “minor” distinction. Perhaps in America, all Black people are seen as and treated similarly, but that’s not so elsewhere. Also, in other Black countries, Black people respect the cultural differences between different Black cultures. And those who are not Black American are REALLY clear that there is a big difference.

    Acknowledging and respecting difference doesn’t affect working in unity (less like a melting pot and more like a tossed salad).
    And, just for the record, Haitians do NOT consider themselves “Creole”. That’s a WHOLE different culture.
    The (now official) language of Haiti is Kreyol (although many have been educated in French).

    Since I wasn’t involved in the debate, consideration, input, or term creation (of African-American), I don’t fight against its usage or argue much about it -I just don’t use it to describe myself or anyone else who isn’t Black and clearly American.

    Many people (especially those who are not of American origin) have a clear and firm identification with their cultures. Even though I was raised in American, I am very clear and rooted in my Haitian culture. I was never confused, lost, or looking for a culture connection. I never looked to Africa for a cultural connection. Wearing Kente feels as foreign to me as wearing a Sari (not that I can’t work it, now). When I visit Africa, I will be considered as much of a tourist and a foreigner to Africans, as much as any other American (I will be considered “American”). Skin color isn’t necessarily a unifying thing.

    Now, I understand, this is probably more of a discussion about race than culture (race and culture are often muddled in discussions). Still, African- American would seem less worthy of a race title (maybe African used solo), than Black (I actually like “Brown” better).

    We would probably be better off if completely different terms were created to define race (completely devoid of culture and nationality descriptions); that is, if race is still considered a valid determination of categorization (but that’s a whole other debate).

    As far as Grandma, I wouldn’t be offended if she said Negro (I wouldn’t even be offended if she said: “Colored”), because, although those terms may be outdated, they’re not demeaning or offensive (especially if the context in which she said it wasn’t degrading).

    There’s no need to be fanatical about every single term, all of the time.
    I’d personally prefer that people (all people) were more fanatical about being respectful, patient, and were more diligent about their perspectives, intent, tone, “perceptions”, assumptions, and stereotype usage.

    I’m honestly more offended by “Flying V’s” comments – I’m not (nor are the people in my circles) part of the group described there (talk about stereotypes!), and wouldn’t want those labels put on my race (or culture).

    I think some education is in order (thanks to those who provided accurate etymologies) regarding how Negro is confused with the extremely derogatory term. Also, removing “Negro” from the dictionary, and abolishing its use won’t alter the history of slavery of derogatory treatment that Black people received, or the racism and oppression that still exists today. Loading it with all of meaning of the ‘other’ term doesn’t make it equally liable.

    When someone calls me the ‘other’ term, I am VERY clear on the intent. When someone refers to be as Negro, my assumption is that they’re referring to my race.

    A racist person using a politically correct term doesn’t make him or his intent any less racist. You can’t hide, sugar coat, or positively reframe racism or distain for another human being – it clearly shines through past the words.

    Most of the time (if baggage isn’t in the way), tolerance and respect clearly shine through, too.

    Even if someone is ignorant (people learn what they’ve been taught and exposed to – like small children – or foreigners who’s only exposure to Black people has been American television), or using outdated terms WITHOUT ill intent (like Grandma), the receivers and the givers can be equally respectful and tolerant enough to consider the whole picture.

  17. MD Galarza

    GREAT TOPIC going on…

    I just moved to U.S.A. from Korea. I am learning English.

    My question to ALL of you. No offense or disrespect to anyone. I just want to learn. What is the correct word to use nowadays, African-American, Black, Negro, or colored people? when we are talking about people other than caucasian, Hispanic, foreign nationalities, ethnicities.

    Thanks for your response
    The studious.

  18. Nothing wrong with the word – so fed up with the USA losing our freedom of speech A negro is a negro. Not a bad word at all! Is this what our servicemen ane women are dying for – stupid stuff like this?

  19. humpty

    Words are just sounds. It is the intent behind them that really matters.
    As a kid we all called each other with non-PC labels. It was for fun, just labels
    for recognition. We were all friends. Who really wants to be called ‘colored’?
    AfAm? It’s too civilzed among friends. For stangers tho’, you have to be careful, there’s no telling what they were programmed to reject.

  20. wonderwolf

    Well,the word Negro refferts is spanish translation,to black,or negro in spanish and it is correct to say negro that reffers to a color

  21. Jimmy riddle

    How come no one ever takes issue with the following comment, which invariably appears on any thread concerning this sensitive issue:

    “It’s OK to use the term ***** but only if you are black” (insert pejorative term of choice here).

    Huh? It’s OK to use a particular word depending on the user being of a particular race? Surely that in itself is showing that the speaker actually advocates a racist point of view themselves. Either a word is acceptable to be used or its not. There are no exceptions, you can’t have it both ways.

  22. Norman smyth

    Very interesting discussion. I’m irish ,and although we have had our problems,as is well known , thankfully racism is relatively uncommon. I was always taught that negro was a respectful term. I must admit to being unsure just what is acceptable. I read an article by Lerone Bennett on the subject,and he seemed to suggest that opinions were divided,people of different ages and from different social backgrounds all having different views on how they would wish to refer to themselves.

  23. Peter R Crago-Goodman

    I got to this site due to wanting to know whether the word Negro was a racist comment, I personally never use the word, However the reasons i am checking this out is simply because I bought a Black Belt at my local Asda Store and spotted the label which reads with it`s colour information, Black/Negro.I was surprised to see this and that is why i question it.
    Asda is an American Company i think ?
    As i stated earlier the word is something i personally would refrain from using ,however there is so much change now from my childhood,(I am now 70) Things that we used to be able to say but no longer allowed, my reasons for questioning this. Regards Pete

  24. anonymous

    Martin Luther King used the term in his speech.

  25. Musician

    I just googled whether the word negro is politically correct or not and landed here. I am a part of a choir, and we were yesterday told that we will learn a “negro spiritual song”. As soon as I heard the definition “negro” I felt uncomfortable.

    I live in Greece, so racism is not as big of an issue as it has been in the USA, simply because we only got African immigration in the last 15 years, prior to the 90s there were hardly any black people living in the country, and still you can see black communities only in the bigger cities of the country. Obviously there is no painful history in regards to races here.

    Nevertheless, having lived for several years in the past in the UK, I grew accustomed with PC language, and I always thought that negro, just as the n-word, would be considered offensive.

    As a musician, I usually refer to African-American music as “black music” i.e. Jazz, Blues and the like.

    Spirituals are a distinctive musical idiom, that along with work songs and ring shouts form the origins of modern music. Often the term “negro” is attributed to these musical idioms.

    I have read a lot of responses here, and it is clear to me that some people find negro offensive, and others not, most find it outdated.

    What about when referred to musical styles?

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