Now that Negroes like Representative Monique Davis have political power, it seems that they have no problem at all with discrimination, just as long as it isn’t them who are being discriminated against.
Sherman said he didn’t realize some people would take offense to the word “Negroes” — he certainly didn’t mean to imply anything negative by it — but when he found out that was the case with some prodding by Chicago Tribune reporter Eric Zorn, he took that paragraph out of a posting on his website.
Like a few others, I was surprised at his choice of words. Of course, context matters, but to me, Negro is no longer a politically correct word to use. Is it as bad as some other words? No. But I flinch when I hear it. How could anyone not feel the same?!
A lot of you who commented had a very different opinion on this. Like Sherman, you didn’t think it was a bad word at all.
As always, he is informative and spot-on:
After reading the Rob Sherman thread, and the comments, I feel compelled to comment as a bona-fide African-American (which may or may not be relevant to the reader).
If Rob Sherman lived in Vermont or Utah, where exposure to black folks is very limited, his protestations of innocence/ignorance would be more credible. However, he lives in Chicago, where, last time I checked, a substantial black population exists; it would take considerable effort to avoid enough exposure to black folks to not know that “Negro” is a no-no, especially when said by a white person. So Sherman’s contention that he was unaware that use of the word “Negro” was (at best) insensitive, strains credulity, and makes it possible for a reasonable person to conclude that his use of the word was intentionally pejorative. Such silly statements he makes as “they [‘Negroes’] have no problem at all with discrimination, just as long as it isn’t them who are being discriminated against” make such a conclusion even easier. (Note to Mr. Sherman: there’s plenty of empirical evidence that shows black folks still face plenty of discrimination. The residential segregation that currently exists in Chicago is an example)
Which brings me to my next point: why did Sherman invoke race in the first place? I don’t recall that Davis made any reference to anyone’s race during her tirade, so why did Sherman mention “Negroes” at all? Davis’ race was irrelevant to the issue, but the mere fact that she happened to be black apparently was enough for Sherman to bring it up. Not good. Consider this: would Sherman have mentioned “Negroes” at all if the situation was exactly the same as it is now, except that Davis was white? Why give up the moral high ground with such remarks?
An argument was made in the comments that, since “Negro” refers to a black person, it’s okay to use it. Well, such pejorative words as “jigaboo” and “coon” also referred to black folks, and were in common usage at one time or another. Why not use them as well? For that matter, why not use “queers” in reference to gays, “dykes” for lesbians, and “chicks” or “broads” for women? I’ve heard all these folks refer to themselves using these words; does that in turn give me, a straight man, license to use these same words in polite company and in print? I would hope we are sophisticated enough to know not to do this.
Another commenter said that the word “Negro” is used in “United Negro College Fund,” hence that provides justification for using it elsewhere. Well then, using that reasoning, why not use “colored” as well, since it’s used in “National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” At the time those organizations were founded, those words were the cultural norm; the norm has since changed, but the organizational titles were maintained for purposes of continuity, and historical connection.
There is one common thread in all of this…and that is context. The context in which a word is used is very important. Using the word “Negro” in the context of an organization’s name does not make it okay to use in all contexts. Part of dealing with any culture involves understanding the contexts which apply to it. For example, I’ve been told that in some cultures, sitting with the sole of your shoe facing someone is insulting; in other cultures, making a “peace sign” with the back of your hand facing out is akin to “giving the finger.” In the Jim Crow South, a black man who smiled at a white woman, looked a white man in the eye for too long, or was merely in the wrong town (or part of town) after dark could (and would) get lynched. In 1955, 14-year-old Emmitt Till, visiting Mississippi from Chicago (!), was brutally murdered simply for saying “bye, baby” to a white woman. Understanding cultural contexts keeps you out of trouble.
So it may behoove Mr. Sherman and the freethought community to become more familiar with the contexts inherent to current black culture, especially if freethinkers continue to invoke black folks and the civil rights movement as analogous to their own victimization (a practice that I believe is not appropriate). If that does not seem worth the effort, or seems ridiculous to you, then I hope that gives some insight into the amount of work black folks have had to (and still must) put in to understand the often very ridiculous, and sometimes dangerous, cultural contexts of the dominant American white culture, and the legacy of white supremacy upon which they are based.
What say you now?