Is “Negro” a Slur?

During the Monique Davis incident, atheist Rob Sherman had made this comment on his website:

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.

Mike Estes, who knows quite a bit about African American history (and the history of Freethinking in that culture), was gracious enough to share his opinion on the matter.

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?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://blog.lib.umn.edu/fole0091/epistaxis/ Epistaxis

    His choice of word is tone-deaf at best, but did anyone other than Mike Estes happen to read the rest of the sentence? How is the following not seriously problematic, in context or out?

    Now that African-Americans 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.

  • http://ichthyologistbright.blogspot.com Laurie Soule

    Like Sherman, you didn’t think it was a bad word at all.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I never said I didn’t think it was a bad word. I said I didn’t KNOW it was a bad word. Huge difference. Now I know. Not that I would have used it anyway, as I DID know that the African American is the current preferred usage (it still is, isn’t it?) and if I have to designate someone by race, I would normally use that one. Which is probably why I didn’t know it was the new N-word. If I had used it, I probably would have gotten some immediate negative feedback.

    I do think – and I haven’t commented on this part before – that Sherman should never have brought up the fact that Monique Davis was African American in the first place, because it was completely irrelevant, and once he found out that the word was considered offensive, he should have apologized immediately.

  • http://wherewemakeourstand.wordpress.com jjberg

    I agree with Laurie, he should have apologized immediately.

    The thing is though, I think there is a point to make about humanity in general here. The point is that just because one has faced discrimination doesn’t mean they are immune from discriminating against others, because anyone who discriminates unjustly against another doesn’t believe they are doing it unjustly, they believe they are right in their characterization of the people they are discriminating against. Certainly “Negroes,” or African-Americans rather, are just as capable of discriminating against others as anyone else. Just as Rob Sherman, facing frequent discrimination for being an atheist, is likely quite capable of discriminating against some other group of people, just like all the rest of us. It’s simply human nature, likely driven by evolutionary forces over the last few thousand years. I think that is the point that should be taken from Sherman’s statement. It’s just a shame he made himself a perfect example of it by making that very statement.

  • oh how the tides have turned

    It takes a representative yelling and blatantly insulting someone to get a tiny, belated, dare-I-say half-assed apology but someone accidentally says one of, how many?, politically correct terms[over the years] for a group and it’s the end of the world.

    It was one word and an accident, can we drop it? It’s not the word used but the intent behind it. It’s pretty clear that he was trying to state the irony of someone who is among a group that has historically, and to this day, been oppressed and discriminated against has no problem doing the same to someone else for, perhaps the same reason it was done to them, a lack of understanding.

  • Anon

    I agree that injecting her race into the discussion is quite odd and potentially offensive, considering it’s primarily a religious discussion. However, I think the outrage of the usage of Negro hints at the absurdity, hypersensitivity, and hypocrisy of minority groups, especially blacks.

    Black people, including high profile athletes and celebrities, commonly refer to white people in a derogatory manner, using pejoratives like ‘cracker’, ‘white boy’, or simply remarking on the “whiteness” of an individual. The black community seems to be encourage the sentiment that whiteness is not only an acceptable target for condemnation, but also a trait that is acceptably belittled in a public setting (schools, rap music, etc…).

    I’m not condoning the injection of race into this dialogue, but I find a black person’s indignation to be quite ironic.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    Meh, I don’t think the passage of time is enough to truly make words bad. They have to have an actual negative meaning inherent in their etymology. So then, what is the origin of the word Negro? (I really don’t know.) BTW, the passage of time is enough to turn a word bad if it gains new meanings that are negative, but I don’t think “negro” has done that. I don’t see anything negative about that term. But maybe I’m missing something.

    I don’t know, this is all seems just so stupid and politically correct. It smells of bullshit. I’m going with George Carlin on this one (at least until somebody let’s me know the etymology of “negro”).

  • http://tinyurl.com/rotht Heathen Dan

    I use the word negro and its cognates all my life, and I’m afraid it’s a hard habit to break. I’m not white and my native language has hundreds of loan-words from Spanish (including negro). The first thing my cousin told me when I visited the US some years ago is to never to use that word. I’ve been able to curtail its usage ever since, but never truly removed it from my vocabulary entirely.

  • http://www.meritboundalley.net Joe M

    When I worked for my previous company, I elected to go to a cultural training encounter group. When the topic of homosexuality came up, there was a young African American girl who was in management at my company who said she would absolutely pass over a gay man or woman for a raise or promotion because she believed that homosexuality was a sin.

    When we broke up into small groups, I happened to be with this young woman, and I admit I was incensed at her views. I remember saying to her (paraphrased), “It pisses me off that someone who comes from a history of persecution and inequality has no problem targeting another group with the same!”

    I believe that Sherman was using the same context that I was. In fact, that’s pretty clear just from the paragraph that was removed from his blog. Because of that, Mike Estes’ claim that there was no context to even bring up race does not hold water. Add that to the fact that he said that context makes the difference in using words like “negro” or “colored” (i.e. United Negro College Fund), then I’m not sure how “Negro” is worse in Sherman’s post that “African American” would be. Mike Estes’ quote up there does nothing to clear that up but clouds the issue for me.

    All things considered, what I know now is the same as what I knew before I read Mike Estes’ opinion, which is disappointing. I still would not use the word “Negro” to refer to someone, but now because I now have knowledge that I didn’t before, but because it’s no longer culturally in use, and it gives me that little pang of discomfort when I hear/read it.

    In other words, I still don’t think Sherman should have used that term, but despite Estes’ commentary, I still don’t know why.

  • http://t3knomanser.livejournal.com t3knomanser

    Personally, I don’t care what the “appropriate” term is. So long as we have the “National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons”, I can use any archaic term, up to and including the n-word*.

    The issue here isn’t really the word used. It’s the entire tone. The word he really meant wasn’t Negro, it was they. “Now that they have political power, these others that are not like us.” It’s not the word itself, it’s the exclusionary language.

    *I’m not spelling out the n-word because it’s your blog, and I think you’d dislike it. But I reserve the use of the terms “cracker”, “redneck”, “hick”, “honkey” and n*, not because of latent racism, but because no matter what race we’re talking about, there is a sub-group that is utter trash. White trash or black trash. It’s a cultural thing, and partially a class thing. Calling a woman a bitch isn’t inherently sexist; the same goes for the use of other group-linked pejoratives.

  • Kate

    Maybe Sherman missed kindergarten, or at least they day where they explained that TWO WRONGS DO NOT MAKE A RIGHT. Just because she was nasty, doesn’t mean you have to pull out racial slurs. And hm, I wonder why he chose to attack her race instead of her gender.

    Maybe he decided that his time in the limelight wasn’t quite done…or that atheists don’t have enough bad PR as it is, and that we need some more. Thanks, buddy.

    I wanted to stand up and applaud to everything that Mike Estes said, but I’m alone…oh well, I’ll stand up and applaud anyway. RIGHT ON.

  • Renacier

    Some people seem confused as to why “negro” is worse than “African-American” in Sherman’s quote. The simple fact is: Neither is acceptable. He had no call to bring race into the picture.

    Discrimination against a race is fundamentally different from discrimination against a philosophy. This country’s aversion to atheists is nothing like the subjugation of blacks that occurred in the past and continues to this day. There was no analogy he could have drawn between the two. It would be like comparing Matchbox cars to real stock racers. The similarities are superficial at best, and all he did was lose any credibility his case could have had.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    “Negro” is used to bring back visions of the 1950s. It is definitely a slur. Anyone who doesn’t think so must have been living in a hole for the past several decades. Or they are so old and stuck in their ways that they have become irrelevant and should go and live in a hole for the rest of their lives.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Laurie Soule: “Which is probably why I didn’t know it was the new N-word.”

    IIRC, it’s not the new N-word so much as an outdated term for African-Americans, much the same way that “Colored” is.

    John Pritzlaff: “So then, what is the origin of the word Negro?”

    Judging from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it’s from Spanish and Portuguese. I know that in Spanish, “negro” is the word for the color black, so one could describe, say, charcoal or soot as being “negro.” Etymology doesn’t have a whole lot to do with offensiveness, though. “Jap” is short for “Japanese,” yet it is a slur while “Japanese” is not.

  • Ron in Houston

    Well, what Davis said was very bigoted. Sherman was trying to point out the irony of a person concerned about being discriminated against being a horrible bigot.

    I didn’t know that negro was offensive but until recently I didn’t know that “Canadian” can be a racially loaded term either.

    I wonder if there is an internet dictionary of political correctness?

  • http://journals.aol.ca/plittle/AuroraWalkingVacation/ paul

    It doesn’t matter what word he chose to use. The fact is, he attributed a set of actions, beliefs or characteristics to a group of people that does not universally apply to them. That’s called stereotyping. His bigotry is just as bad as hers.

    When I initially read the comment, I immediately assumed he had done it on purpose, to call attention to the double standard that exists in the US about discrimination against atheists vs, any other minority group. However, now I am not sure. I do disagree very strongly with those who claim there is some kind of difference between bigotry towards black people, and bigotry towards atheists. Bigotry is bigotry. We will not truly be civilised until we can look at another person and see just that person, not any perceived group he or she may belong to.

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    It doesn’t strike me as particularly racist or inappropriate, but it does certainly have the effect of dating the user. It it something my grandfather would have said (or John McCain), and it seems odd for a younger person to use it.

  • K

    “black folks”
    WHOA! I thought using, “black,” was out too. Is it in again?

  • Ron in Houston

    I guess I’d better be careful ordering black coffee at the local taqueria.

  • Mriana

    I tol my sons about this insane discussion and my sons (both 1/2 Black) say Negro is not a slur. Now they also take into account generational differences too, as I did. It is outdated though.

    Black (which is suppose to be capitalized when speaking of people) is not a slur either and is used frequently in modern literature. This I know without a doubt because I have taken an African-American lit class, as well as an African- American history class, both taught by Black profs.

    I also know when Negro is used in lit that was written before the ’70s, it is not a slur there either. As far as I can tell, and I’ve only asked an extremely small sample personally, the word is not today either. I will be asking my friends who are Black in the coming days to get their opinions. I go to those who know to find the answer and so far it is ‘no’.

  • http://blackskeptic.wordpress.com blackskeptic

    I’m glad that this is being discussed because apparently some people are clueless. But at the same time I’m confused that this is being discussed b/c it seems like such a big no brainer. How do you not know that the word negro is a GIANT HELLO NO? What kind of rock was he living under. Did he seriously not know? I find that impossible to wrap my mind around esp. in this day in age.

    And I agree with Mike Estes. Race was completely irrelevant in this discussion. And even if it wasn’t, the word negro is still inappropriate. Also, I’m a minority in this country. I’m a minority as an atheist. I don’t want to have to worry about racism in the atheist community. I’m hoping that we’re more rational and progressive than that.

  • http://woofkitty.blogspot.com SAMIZDAT

    “especially when said by a white person”. So a word is inherently more offensive when said by a particular person on basis of race? It’s just a word, and I stand by that. As long as it was not meant offensively, that’s all that matters. That any word used in a racist context immediately becomes inherently racist seems silly, especially when this leads to the condemnation of people who utter it unknowingly. Until this story I had no idea it was considered racist. This is in the same league as blacks calling each other ‘nigger’ in certain circumstances. I bet that some of you even gasped at the word ‘blacks’…but I don’t take offence at ‘whites’, ‘whitey’, ‘paleface’, etc. etc., even when used in a deliberately negative or offensive way. It seems to me that in certain circumstances people are just looking for some reason to take the ‘moral highground’ on racism…

    He’s apologised and admitted his naivete…that’s good enough for me. Although, yes, the whole bit after the word ‘negro’ where he generalises and says they don’t mind others being discriminated against is a bit of an uncalled-for generalisation, and is the bit you should be making an issue of.

  • Stephen

    Well, it’s news to me that there’s anything wrong with the word “negro”. It was certainly a normal, neutral word where I grew up in the 1970′s. On the other hand there were people in the 1970′s who tried to make out that “black” was a negative word and discourage its use (I have a book published in 1980 which at one point pokes fun at the people doing just this.)

    We’re just dealing with fashions which differ from decade to decade and from place to place. Doubtless in ten years time there will be someone complaining that “African-American” is insulting. It seems to me that anyone who gets upset over the use of “black” or “negro” is being oversensitive. Obviously matters are different with words that, at least within living memory, have only ever had negative connotations, and I can’t take Mike Estes very seriously when he implies that usage of “negro” is equivalent to these.

    Indeed I get pretty fed up with people declaring perfectly good words to be no longer acceptable. Every decade we are supposed to use a new euphemism for ‘old people’ or ‘mentally handicapped’ because the previous euphemism is no longer considered sufficiently euphemistic.

    But, having said all that, I agree with Epistaxis that there was a real problem with Sherman’s remarks, and that was the extension of Davis’ tirade to negros in general. It was, to put it in the most favourable light, very careless.

  • Vincent

    I think Estes makes a badly flawed argument on many levels, not the least his admission of personal bias near the end when he said it was inappropriate to point out the similarities between discrimination based on race and discrimination based on religion. Similarities exist. Pointing them out is valid, no matter what Mr. Estes thinks.

    His first flaw is giving no evidence to back up his assertion that negro is offensive in Chicago. He clearly assumes all Black Americans believe the word is offensive, but that’s obviously not true even just from this thread. I do believe where you live is a factor, but not merely because of the number of Black Americans living there. I grew up in Oklahoma City which has a rich Civil Rights history (the first lunch counter sit in known in the USA was 3 blocks from my home). There’s a large Black population yet I never knew negro was considered offensive. I now live in the DC area, also a large black population, but still never knew negro was offensive.
    So what evidence does he have that it’s offensive in Chicago?

    Now clearly it’s not the preferred term. Whenever referring to a group of people it’s good form to use whatever term they use for themselves if there is one. It was a bad choice on Sherman’s part to use a different word. The fact that it is similar to its clearly offensive derivative makes it an even poorer choice, but there’s no reason to assume he knew it would be offensive.

    Next Mr. Estes throws up a straw man. He points out that discrimination by race still exists and even gives Chicago as an example. Well Mr. Sherman never said racial discrimination doesn’t exist. That is ridiculous and Mr. Estes should be ashamed for taking a cheap shot.

    I will say one more thing contrary to Mr. Estes: Race was relevant.
    It was ironic that a Black woman who no doubt is familiar with racial discrimination, would be so comfortable discriminating against someone else based on religion. I wish Sherman had said that, instead of maligning the whole African American community. (oh, and I hate the term African American because it is incredibly arrogant and misleading. Many Black Americans have no more ties to Africa than anyone else, and if all it takes is having ancestors from Africa, then every American is an African American, and every human being can claim to be African)

    p.s. I have capitalized Black when referring to a people, as a previous poster pointed out is the accepted method. I will mention though that Mr. Estes did not.

  • cautious

    his admission of personal bias near the end when he said it was inappropriate to point out the similarities between discrimination based on race and discrimination based on religion. Similarities exist.

    On an intellectual level, yes, similarities exist between the discrimination that the religious minority of Atheists have faced and the discrimination that the racial minority of black Americans have faced.

    But, in reality, is the amount of discrimination that atheists face comparable to the discrimination that black Americans have faced/continue to face?

    Who got sprayed with hydrants? Who got attacked by dogs? Who was brought here in chains? Who was treated as a farm tool for 200 years? Who was lynched? Who were the Jim Crow laws established for? Who did The Bell Curve insult? Who was treated as subhuman in the aftermath of Katrina?

    Every minority group, or, to be more accurate, every group that interprets itself as being persecuted, has to compare itself to another group that has been historically persecuted. Pro-life people compare abortion to the Holocaust, even though the two of them have absolutely nothing in common. Is that personal bias for me to say that it is an inappropriate comparison, or is it my unwillingness to compare apples with oranges?

    In the end, this discussion is much bigger than the words that Mr. Sherman used to refer to Ms. Davis. This discussion is about the hijacking of the terminology and emotions of the black civil rights movement by a religious minority who has, on the worst of days, not been treated as horrifically as black Americans.

    As an atheist, I would never compare my “struggle” to that of people who actually had to struggle. I don’t have the chutzpah to pretend that being an atheist is in any manner comparable to being not white.

  • http://www.saintgasoline.com Saint Gasoline

    I don’t recall that Davis made any reference to anyone’s race during her tirade, so why did Sherman mention “Negroes” at all?

    Sherman brought up race in order to emphasize the absurdity and hypocrisy of her position. As an African American, she is no doubt familiar with oppression and discrimination, and Sherman used language rooted in a context of oppression and discrimination to get the point across more forcefully. With that said, it becomes clear that the purpose of Sherman’s use of the word was not to insult Davis through that term, but to add force to his comparison. Incidentally, Sherman may not have known that the term really was offensive, but may have just been trying to call to people’s mind a time period where racial problems were much more heightened by using language he saw as “historical”, and that probably explains why he didn’t know it was offensive.

    Now, a lot of people are bringing up the fact that he “should have known” it was offensive. However, there are two pat rebuttals to that:
    1. Believe it or not, a LOT of people don’t know that “negro” is no longer an acceptable term. The fact that the term is heard every so often by black people addressing each other only adds to the confusion.
    2. No word is objectively offensive, but is instead made offensive by the context in which it is being used, and so appealing to the fact that he “should have known” the word is offensive is based on a misunderstanding on how language functions.

    For instance, it is certainly true that the word “asshole” is generally considered offensive, but if I were to go up to a friend at a bar, pat him on the back, smile, and say, “Can I buy you a drink, you asshole?” in a friendly tone, then it’d be pretty ridiculous for him to respond with offense or anger. My intent is obviously to use the word in a different sense, and thankfully our language has devices like sarcasm and such to add dimensions to our use of language. Anyone who would get offended at such a remark, in my opinion, doesn’t really understand language, and in turn is actually becoming an “asshole” in the negative sense by refusing to even consider the speaker’s intentions, which is the context that matters most, if you ask me.

    And that, in essence, is the crux of the matter. Context. And Estes doesn’t seem to be capable of seeing the FULL context, which is the problem with his argument. He says, for instance:

    Using the word “Negro” in the context of an organization’s name does not make it okay to use in all contexts.

    This is true. If I say the word “Negro” while yelling obscenities and burning a cross in someone’s yard, then it’s safe to say the context is one of hatred, and the word is being used negatively. However, if I use the word “negro” only to call to mind a period of oppression and discrimination faced by African Americans in order to juxtapose it with current hardships faced by atheists, then it is rather [i]obvious[/i] that the intent is not the same as that mentioned previously, and that it is not meant to be seen as a viscious slur of her race, but instead a comparison that happens to use forceful language to better evoke it’s point. Sort of like how I will add forceful language to heighten the “power” of my point: It’s fucking absurd to think his usage of the word is offensive.

    Frankly, I think our society faces a problem in the fact that people get offended by language way too easily without even bothering to try to understand how the language is being used. Perhaps the word “negro” has historical negative connotations, but the context is not the 1950′s with a cross burning on the lawn, but 2008 with a man facing discrimination as an atheist trying to make an obvious comparison. To call to mind the former context and ignore the latter is ignorance of the greatest sort, and defaming and characterizing someone as a bigot without any real warrant to do so is a LOT worse, in my opinion. And yes, in this context, the connotations of bigotry are certainly not good!

  • Jakanapes

    interesting discussion. I probably wouldn’t use the word negro, not because I think it’s offensive, but because it seems overly formal and dated. I have to say that I was surprised to find out that anyone would find it offensive at all.

  • http://journals.aol.ca/plittle/AuroraWalkingVacation/ paul

    But, in reality, is the amount of discrimination that atheists face comparable to the discrimination that black Americans have faced/continue to face?

    What does quantity have to do with it? Discrimination is wrong. Discrimination against Negroes/Blacks/People of Color/African Americans was wrong in the past, and continues to be wrong today. Discrimination against Jews/Muslims/Christians/[insert your religion here] is wrong. Discrimination against Homosexuals is wrong. Discrimination against Atheists is wrong. Arguing over which one is wronger is just stupid. Instead, let’s all try and take positive action to reduce and eliminate discrimination in the world around us.

  • http://atheistokie.wordpress.com/ Atheist Okie

    I think it’s all BS and I am so tired of all the “Word Wars”. One week we can say “Colored”, the next “African American”, the next “Black”, and then repeat. But those aren’t the only words. Some people get angry if you call them “white”. No, they are Caucasian (what the hell is that anyways), and then it’s European American….like all “white” people come from Europe (and apparently since I am white it’s okay to point it out, otherwise, I’d be racist). Everybody is so freakin’ hypersensitive over words.

    Even we “atheists” have jumped on the bandwagon. One week we like atheists, then freethinkers, then non-theists, and back again….and on, and on, and on.

    It’s all utter BS. I am even pissed over the big deal over [insert dramatic music] “cuss words”. What makes one word more “educated” than another? And if I wasn’t sure Hemant might get a little bent out of shape about it, I’d love to give it all a big hearty F U.

  • Masao

    Ok I’ve read through some of this and now I’m going to give you the opinion of a Black man. IMHO Black is an odd yet appropriate description, Negro/ Negroid is an archaic and scientifically acceptable description, and African-American really is only appropiarte for African immigrants. Now “Nigger” is one of my more favorite triggers. I let my friends call me “Nigger”, yes even the White ones. People I don’t know I won’t let. There needs to be a level of respecct before you say it. Otherwise they’re just words and it depends on what the receiver wants to make of it. That’s my piece.

  • cautious

    Paul,

    What does quantity have to do with it? Discrimination is wrong.

    Yes, discrimination is wrong, whether it’s in the form of dragging someone behind their truck until they are dead and pieces of them disintegrate off their body, or putting the Ten Commandments in a public, government-owned space.

    Arguing over which one is wronger is just stupid.

    I’d say that the discrimination which leads to the most vile and violent response is “wronger”, but…I’m not arguing over which one is wronger.

    I’ll repeat myself. Is the amount of discrimination that atheists face comparable to the discrimination that black Americans have faced/continue to face?

    Your answer is apparently yes, under some understanding that all discrimination is equally wrong. While I agree that all discrimination is equally wrong, I can not agree with your conclusion, because not all discrimination has resulted in equal amounts of wrong-doing.

  • Miko

    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.

    St. G said it better than I’m going to, but nonetheless:

    How so? Isn’t providing a comparison for people who are unfamiliar with what it means to be an atheist a good way to build common understanding?

    Kate:
    And hm, I wonder why he chose to attack her race instead of her gender.

    Er… “attack?”

  • http://www.saintgasoline.com Saint Gasoline

    Also, to anyone who thinks racial slurs and other similar words are “always” offensive, I highly recommend you read the book Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. Honestly, I don’t see how anyone can maintain that a word is inherently offensive, even in the face of the historical fact that these words have been documented to go from popular, even benign, use to becoming taboo. In reality, words are just strings of letters, and meanings can be pulled from them in a variety of ways, but we have to be judicious in how we do that. If I’m reading a work from earlier in the 19th century and the author uses the word “negro” in a tract about abolishing slavery, it would be absurd for me to argue that he is racist or bigoted based solely upon his use of that word, and nothing else. To appeal to the historical fact that the word later became a slur is irrelevant to how the author is actually using the word. As another example, if someone uses the word “gay”, and I infer that he is talking about a bunch of “happy” people based upon the historical contexts in which that word was used in the past, I’d rightly be be thought foolish.

    Appealing to the fact that the majority of people will get offended by a statement is a moot point, if you ask me, because the majority can often be wrong. In the case where a man lost his job for using the word “niggardly”, for example, it wouldn’t matter how many people thought this word offensive–they’d be wrong in trying to pin bigoted or racist connotations to the original use of the word.

    Then again, I’m one of those people who thinks the whole concept of “taboo” words to be inherently silly. It’s rather arbitrary that we consider “fuck” taboo while “sex” is acceptable and find “negro” offensive, while African American or black is okay. In essence, constructing taboos just gives society the power to condemn, judge, and criticize needlessly, as well as foster a sort of moral elitism through the creation of these useless norms. If we reduce “racism” to the use of a word like negro, ignoring how an individual acts and feels about racial issues, then we are guilty of trivializing racism. It would be as if we one day decided to find the word “murder” offensive, and anyone who subsequently used it would be considered a murderer, even if, you know, they didn’t actually perform any physical act or even think about murdering anyone. This would quite obviously trivialize the concept of being a “murderer” for a large fraction of society, whereas the other fraction would disproportionately fret over the use of the word murder as if it is on par with murder itself. We’ve got the same problem with these taboo words that refer to identity, and I’ll be happy to see the day when we rid ourselves of this linguistic nonsense.

  • cautious

    Miko said:

    Isn’t providing a comparison for people who are unfamiliar with what it means to be an atheist a good way to build common understanding?

    Mr. Sherman was writing on his website, the intended audience of which are people who are familiar with his work as a supporter of the church/state wall. I think most people who read his words are somewhat familiar with what it means to be an atheist… well, unless they are opponents of Mr. Sherman who like reading his website just to know what the latest challenges to theocracy are.

    If Mr. Sherman had said “I can’t believe you’re discriminating against me because of my religion. You should know what it’s like to be discriminated against, you’re a Negro woman” to Ms. Davis, then maybe his comments would have been more …on-topic?

    I agree with previous posters here that there is no such thing as individual civil rights movements for particular groups, there is instead one cohesive civil rights movement for all humans, wherein we must always work together to ensure that all people are all treated equally. Building common understanding is muy importante for this process.

    BUT at the same time, if atheists are trying to build up common understanding by comparing our struggle with that of black Americans, we seriously risk either verbally exaggerating our struggle, or verbally diminishing theirs. Which leads to misunderstanding, which leads to this thread…

  • http://www.bolingbrookbabbler.com William

    Rob Sherman has always struck me as a man who likes to say anything, no matter how outrageous, to get attention. He has worked on good causes, but I never thought he was a good spokesperson for atheism. This “negro” statement is just the latest example.

  • Karen

    How do you not know that the word negro is a GIANT HELLO NO? What kind of rock was he living under. Did he seriously not know? I find that impossible to wrap my mind around esp. in this day in age.

    Well, wrap your mind around it. This thread shows that many of us apparently did not get the latest memo and have not been informed that Negro is now a huge, nasty, blatant insult. Is the word outmoded and out-of-touch? Sure, but it’s probably not all that surprising from a white guy who grew up when it was the norm and who probably hasn’t been involved in discussing race relations because he’s been too busy fighting the church and state separation battle for all the rest of us here.

    Let’s cut the man some slack. If we who interact online regularly in all sorts of forums did not view it as a deliberate pejorative, I don’t see why Sherman would have, whether he lives in Chicago or Antarctica. And the fact that he immediately removed the reference when he was informed of his blunder shows that he is open to constructive criticism.

  • Cade

    I think that the choice of words was fairly inoffensive compared to the rest of the sentence. Generalizing African-Americans with political power is a bigger no-no than using a certain word.

  • Claire

    There was so much bull in this column and its comments, it was hard to pick a place to start. I’ll start with Mr. Estes:

    it would take considerable effort to avoid enough exposure to black folks to not know that “Negro” is a no-no

    That, right there, has my vote for biggest piece of bull. Since when do we ever TALK about race face-to-face with people who are of different races? In this country, we don’t, so his claim to ignorance seems completely valid to me, no matter where he lives. And WHY don’t we talk about race? Because too many people, like Mr. Estes, will go completely berserk over one single word. As long as people insist on looking at the word and not the context and the intent, we will never be able to have enough of a conversation about this so that everyone know what is and isn’t offensive.

    especially when said by a white person

    Really? Try this statement on for size: so, as a white person, I am not allowed to use the language brought by my ancestors to this country is a way that seems correct to me? What gives you the right to tell me how to use my language?

    In my book, all those statements are outrageously wrong. It’s our COMMON language, what one person can use we should all be able to use. There should be no double standard. If Mr. Estes, or anyone else, doesn’t want a word to be in the common vocabulary, then they need to stop using it and make it clear that that word is just plain offensive and not ok for anyone to use.

    An argument was made in the comments that, since “Negro” refers to a black person, it’s okay to use it.

    If you think my characterization above of Mr. Estes as “berserk” was over the top or inaccurate, I offer as evidence that he was so thrown by the word that he failed to pay attention to what he was reading, because his summation of what he found in those comments is completely wrong.

    That argument was not made in general: the closest thing I can find to it is statements made by someone in Brazil and about Brazil, and that has no bearing on what we say in this country.

    Another commenter said that the word “Negro” is used in “United Negro College Fund,” hence that provides justification for using it elsewhere.

    Ditto – that was not said, nor was that argument made. It was merely mentioned as evidence that not everyone considers the word offensive in all contexts. Once again: use of a single word so made someone who was hypersensitive to it completely unable to read and understand what was actually written.

    If we can’t get past this, things will never change.

    PS: Thanks to Vincent for tackling the straw man in Mr. Estes writing, saves me the effort.

    PPS Note to those of Nordic descent: if you find the word ‘berserk’ offensive, sorry, but there was a reason. The word I would normally have used is ‘apeshit’, but think where that would have gone: at least one person out there would read it as “Did you see that? She called him an ape because he’s black! That’s so totally racist!” and the whole vicious cycle would have started up again. So I chose to use berserk. Thank Roget for alternatives…

  • Logical Hare

    I find it odd that dozens of people on this atheist blog, most of whom are presumably atheists, really do not see any parallels here.

    Sherman makes a perfectly legitimate point, albeit in an uncouth and politically stupid fashion. You would think that a person such as Rep. Davis who, as an African American woman, has no doubt felt the sting of both racism and misogyny in her life, would know better than to go around making comments about how certain groups of people are “dangerous” and should be kept away from children, for fear of “infecting” them with their ideology. While there is a difference between the unalterable characteristics of race and the ideological position that is atheism, it should be obvious to all the readers of this blog that Davis is exercising the same type of snap judgment and stereotyping that racists use.

    It is further worth pointing out that really, the only thing offensive about this statement is his politically idiotic word choice. Most of the controversy here wouldn’t exist if Sherman had been smart enough to use the phrase “African-Americans”.

  • Aj

    What say you now?

    Mike Estes doesn’t defend the charge that the word is in itself offensive, because he cannot. I find the view that certain identities “own” words to be discrimination, and as bad as the problem I had with Sherman’s comment, invoking the “race” of Davis when the matter was personal. To charge Sherman with using the word in a derogatory manner is paranoid and unreasonable.

    It’s idiotic to flap about at using a word when what Sherman was saying independent of the word was attacking a “race” for something. I dispair that such focus is put onto stupid word policing when such a larger problem was so obvious.

    cautious,

    But, in reality, is the amount of discrimination that atheists face comparable to the discrimination that black Americans have faced/continue to face?

    I was under the impression for much of history being an atheist meant instant death. The big difference is that atheists can pretend to be theists. I don’t much personally feel wronged by what my contemporaries and ancestors had to put up with, neither do I blame current religious people for past horrors, so the past doesn’t concern me. Today, atheists are very much hated in certain parts of the world, but it’s still the case that we can hide who we are.

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  • Josh Spinks

    Monique Davis only said some words, and words are arbitrary sounds with no inherent meaning. “Table” could refer to chairs if we wanted it to. Why should atheists be upset about arbitrary sounds?

    See how absurd that is? The fact that “negro” doesn’t have to be offensive or wasn’t always offensive does not mean that it isn’t offensive.

    Now it’s certaily possible that some people didn’t know it is offensive to many, but claiming that it shouldn’t be is ridiculous. “Negro” acquires connotations like any other word; if you reject this, you must reject that any word can mean anything at all (so why bother typing here?).

  • Slut

    I didn’t know it was a “bad” word either, and I live in California. I think the statement itself seems more bigoted than the choice of noun.

    Frankly the whole PC thing when it comes to words like “black vs. Negro vs. colored vs. people of color” seems kind of overblown to me. Call me an infidel, godless, an unbeliever, a heathen, an “athiest” – it’s all one to me. Call me a kraut, a Nazi, “Fritz”, a Yank, a cracker, a honky, or whatever you want. What do I care?

  • http://www.xanga.com/drew85 Drew

    How silly to think that experiencing racism should make you less racist. Ever read “Maus?” There’s a great line, I wish I could remember it exactly– the author’s father survived the holocaust, and is also extremely racist, and at some point the author muses that there was nothing in those gas chambers that taught sensitivy or tolerance.

    In the same way, I fail to see how having family members lynched or growing up in poverty should make you more understanding towards people who don’t believe in God.

    As far as words, let’s all be reasonable humans about it. Pick a term that generally doesn’t offend people. Personally, I say black. (And I think it’s downright pointless to capitalize the B, whose idea was that?) If someone finds it offensive, as judged by their change in tone, body language, or direct communication, use a more formal word or ask what to use. Then go on like two adults.

    Easy, huh?

  • Aj

    Josh Spinks,

    Monique Davis only said some words, and words are arbitrary sounds with no inherent meaning. “Table” could refer to chairs if we wanted it to. Why should atheists be upset about arbitrary sounds?

    See how absurd that is? The fact that “negro” doesn’t have to be offensive or wasn’t always offensive does not mean that it isn’t offensive.

    Now it’s certaily possible that some people didn’t know it is offensive to many, but claiming that it shouldn’t be is ridiculous. “Negro” acquires connotations like any other word; if you reject this, you must reject that any word can mean anything at all (so why bother typing here?).

    Equivocation, no one complained about Davis’s words, or sounds, they were complaining about the meaning. The sounds don’t have an inherent meaning, that’s ridiculous, those sounds could mean something else, for instance, different languages. People aren’t offended by the words, they’re offended by what they percieve to be the meaning. The author of the word has explained he didn’t mean it in a derogatory way, and it wasn’t suggested in his sentence.

    So what if it means something offensive to many? He says he didn’t know that, and to many people it doesn’t mean something offensive. People get offended all the time, it’s their right, but it’s not Sherman’s fault, it’s there’s, especially when they’re the ones who haven’t made an effort to understand him, writing on his own website.

  • Josh Spinks

    From Hemant’s other post, Eric Zorn says

    Sherman replied to my note:

    [”Negroes” is] what the group was called when they were being discriminated against, but now that this same group has political power, discrimination is OK, as long as it’s not them that’s being discriminated against. That’s the reason for the use of the term.

    So he acknowledges he did know it was offensive (“… when they were being discriminated against”). If he understood the word’s connection to a history oppression, it was irresponsible for him to use it.

  • Claire

    Josh Spinks said;

    So he acknowledges he did know it was offensive

    No, he didn’t. He said that’s what they were called at that time, and it was. That was what polite people called them, so as NOT to offend. Those doing the discriminating called them other things.

  • http://blackskeptic.wordpress.com blackskeptic

    okay, i’ll cut sherman some slack. perhaps he really was unaware to “negro” not being appropriate. i’m more surprised by the reaction of annoyance and anger that “negro” is no longer acceptable.

    and to the people making the snarky comments about how they didn’t get the latest memo that “negro” was a bad word – well, i’ve got news for you. that memo was over 10 years ago. i guess i’m surprised by how many people on this forum probably don’t have any black friends and live in a vacuum. if you do have any black friend, have you ever called them a negro? what was their reaction? and the meaning behind words change all the time. i’m sure that there are some words for white people that were acceptable back in the 50s,60s,70s that are no longer acceptable now. things are not static. culture is not static.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negro

    to a certain degree, i can understand your frustrations, but i am surprised at how cultuarlly insensitive some people are and how they fail to accept what a weighty and sensitive word that is to black america.

  • http://woofkitty.blogspot.com SAMIZDAT

    Monique Davis only said some words, and words are arbitrary sounds with no inherent meaning. “Table” could refer to chairs if we wanted it to. Why should atheists be upset about arbitrary sounds?

    See how absurd that is? The fact that “negro” doesn’t have to be offensive or wasn’t always offensive does not mean that it isn’t offensive.

    Now it’s certaily possible that some people didn’t know it is offensive to many, but claiming that it shouldn’t be is ridiculous. “Negro” acquires connotations like any other word; if you reject this, you must reject that any word can mean anything at all (so why bother typing here?).

    It doesn’t have to have an offensive meaning. It once did not have. It doesn’t mean some people don’t find it offensive. However the real question is: why should they find it offensive when not used in an overtly offensive context? Why latch onto the word rather than the statement attached to it? Of course by now we know that he didn’t mean the word and the sentiment was merely clumsily worded. He wasn’t trying to be offensive, so it shouldn’t have been offensive, or should have ceased to be offensive when the statement was withdrawn and it was made clear that wasn’t his intention. In this case I believe him that it wasn’t.

    In the case of Monique Davis I think it absolutely was meant, and I find her apology worthless.

    There is a distinction here and anyone who fails to see it is being petty.

    The buck stops here, chaps.

  • http://www.saintgasoline.com Saint Gasoline

    Josh Spinks wrote:

    Monique Davis only said some words, and words are arbitrary sounds with no inherent meaning. “Table” could refer to chairs if we wanted it to. Why should atheists be upset about arbitrary sounds?

    No one is arguing that words can mean anything at all. What we are arguing is that language is too fluid to cohere with the idea of an “objectively” offensive word, but no one has said it is so fluid to such a degree that anything could mean anything to anyone.

    As an example, if I am in a windowless room, point to an open door, and say, “Close the window,” you’d probably know exactly what I mean, in spite of the fact that there really isn’t any precedent for using “window” as a synonym for “door”. If you were to ignore the context of my utterance and search fruitlessly for a window to close, it would be obvious that you are a poor judge of what the word “window” actually means in that sentence, given my intentions in using it and the context.

    Now, this does not mean you could assume the phrase “Close the window” meant “Rape a puppy.” There is no context or evidence of any sort, linguistic or otherwise, that would lead us to think that is what is meant. No one is arguing for the sort of linguistic nihilism you are portraying the position as. Our side of the spectrum simply realizes that the word “window” can sometimes mean “door” depending on the context of the utterance, like the speaker’s intentions–but this doesn’t mean it could mean anything, and that context clues can be ignored to fabricate whatever meaning we want.

    So the point isn’t that words can necessarily mean anything. The point is that we can determine meaning that may differ from ordinary usage based on context cues. Even though using the word “Negro” may usually be said with an intent to degrade African Americans, in the context involving Sherman, the evidence seems to show otherwise. To ignore this evidence is folly.

  • http://journals.aol.ca/plittle/AuroraWalkingVacation/ paul

    Cautious said:

    I’ll repeat myself. Is the amount of discrimination that atheists face comparable to the discrimination that black Americans have faced/continue to face?

    Your answer is apparently yes, under some understanding that all discrimination is equally wrong. While I agree that all discrimination is equally wrong, I can not agree with your conclusion, because not all discrimination has resulted in equal amounts of wrong-doing.

    Cautious, your reasoning is fallacious. In response let me ask you a question. Is anti-semitism more wrong now than it was before the holocaust occurred? Before the Nazis killed a million Jews, was it OK to hate them (the Jews)?

    Just because atheists have not, to date, been rounded up in large numbers and gassed, or dragged from their homes and sold into slavery across the sea, or hung from trees by people wearing pillowcases on their heads, does not mean those things could not happen. In fact will happen if people like Representative Davis have their way. Discrimination is wrong both before and after it gets out of hand.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    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.

    I’m amongst those who think Sherman was really dumb here and needs to apologize, but this is a pretty lousy argument. His point was that African Americans, having faced discrimination in their history and own lives, should be inherently more sympathetic to other groups who are discriminated and insulted. In this case, race is relevant, and its not racist to cite it. It’s actually much more commonly pointed out in gay rights issues, given that homophobia seems to have a much stronger hold in the African American community than in other places.

  • Aj

    blackskeptic,

    i’m more surprised by the reaction of annoyance and anger that “negro” is no longer acceptable.

    It’s petty and stupid, that’s annoying.

    …but i am surprised at how cultuarlly insensitive some people are and how they fail to accept what a weighty and sensitive word that is to black america.

    Who is being culturally insensitive here? Surely it’s the ones that are whining about being offended.

  • Claire

    blackskeptic said:

    i’m more surprised by the reaction of annoyance and anger that “negro” is no longer acceptable.

    You completely mistake our reaction in this regard. The annoyance and anger are not about the status of the word at all, but about some people’s attitudes (including yours) that if we somehow don’t instinctively know that the word is offensive, we are completely ignorant and probably a closet racist. I am neither, and I resent the implication.

    well, i’ve got news for you. that memo was over 10 years ago.

    Feel free to tell us when and how it was sent, as I didn’t get it either.

    I never use the word because it’s passe. I have friends and also coworkers who are black, and like most americans, we don’t discuss race frankly or often. So if I don’t use it, and they never told me, exactly how the hell was I supposed to know?

    As for your wikipedia reference, I already discussed those in a post above. Those citations don’t make the case that the word is generally offensive to all, only sometimes offensive to some, so there’s another place where it isn’t clear.

  • Josh Spinks

    Claire said,

    No, he didn’t. He said that’s what they were called at that time, and it was. That was what polite people called them, so as NOT to offend. Those doing the discriminating called them other things.

    He said “[”Negroes” is] what the group was called when they were being discriminated against”. To me, this sounds like he knows the word was used in a discriminatory sense. You’re suggesting he meant that at the time black people were being discriminated against (as opposed to now when they’re not?), people who weren’t discriminating used the term “negro”. I think it’s a more sensible reading that “when they were being discriminated against” means the people doing the discriminating were using the term. This ties in with the purported reason for his usage of the word – to refer to past discrimination.

    Considering that the word is tied to a history of oppresion, and is almost never used nowadays except to demean people, I think it’s reasonable to assume that’s why it’s being used when it is. We can forgive instances that seem to be honest mistakes, but that doesn’t mean the word is acceptable. What if I call you a pedophile and inisist it just means “friend of children”. I can put together an etymological argument that that is what it means, and I can point out that just because it’s usually used in to mean something undesirable, that doesn’t mean it always has to be. So if I called someone a pedophile, no one who likes any child should care, right? Of course, you would object that “pedophile” has a definite meaning and I’m just making things up to use the word in a different context, but then, why not accept that “negro” has offensive implications and shouldn’t be used? This all sounds to me like, “I want to call black people negros and I’ll be damned if anyone tells me I can’t.”

    Incidentally, there are arguments over at Pharyngula that defining Jews as people who reject Jesus as the messiah is not racist. Of course, if the discussion is, “What makes Judaism and Christianity different?”, then there is no problem. If, however, someone make a special point to describe Jews in such a way when it is not pertinent to the topic, given the history of the “Christ-killer” claim, it is reasonable to interpret it as a slur on Jews. Claiming it’s just an accurate description is willfully obtuse. The motivation is almost always pejorative, and so, in most case, is the motivation for choosing “negro” over alternatives.

  • cautious

    paul, since you asked:

    Is antisemitism more wrong now than it was before the holocaust occurred?

    First, I’ll ask: Are you saying that hating the Jews before 1940 was the same, intellectually, historically, emotionally, and ethically, as hating the Jews after 1945? Is discrimination a blind force that ignores history and sociopolitical change? Is it somehow outside of culture?

    Second, I’ll answer. YES, it went from bad to worse. Getting genocided automatically makes discrimination against your group all the more loathsome, since history has already shown where that discrimination leads.

    I …guess we can find a common ground in this because you think that, one day, atheists too can get genocided. (Which, by the way, congratulations, you are more pessimistic about the world than I am.) I think I follow your reasoning: all discrimination is equally bad because everyone has been, is going to be, or is capable of being genocided.

    Aj, you responded greatly, by pointing out the one major difference between being a religious minority and a racial minority: we can pretend to be part of the religious majority, and until the thoughtpolice become a real thing, no one will know any better. You didn’t really …answer my question, but ok, at least you made a valid point.

    everyone, I realize that I’m in the intellectual minority on this topic. I have been since a week ago when I was the only person in the initial thread on this Davis v. Sherman incident who mentioned Davis’s Negroes comment.

    Let’s make this clear: Davis said that black Americans are totally cool with discrimination as long as they get to do it. That’s fucked up, because it was stereotypical, and wrong, and compared atheism with America’s (second) original sin of black-white relations.

    I’m saddened by where this conversation has gone and it sucks that we are so bent out of shape over what words were used, when the problem is the thoughts that Davis, and now we, are trying to convey.

    I am of the opinion that our movement’s attempt to gain equal socio-political footing with religious folks can be acquired without comparing our struggle to the struggle of black Americans. I believe that attempting to do so either marginalizes their struggle or inflates ours, and is entirely unnecessary and inappropriate, unless and until we have been forced to walk a path through history that is equivalent to the path that they have been forced to walk.

    Everyone else here who’s speaking up either disagrees with this opinion or doesn’t care. So I’ll shut up about it on here, but invite more take downs of my fallacious arguments here on the forums.

    (sits back down to enjoy the conversation on whether words mean things)

  • Claire

    Josh Spinks said:

    You’re suggesting he meant that at the time black people were being discriminated against (as opposed to now when they’re not?), people who weren’t discriminating used the term “negro”. I think it’s a more sensible reading that “when they were being discriminated against” means the people doing the discriminating were using the term.

    That’s exactly what I’m saying. If you disagree, then tell me – at the time when black people were being openly discriminated against (which is how I should have phrased it), let’s say the 1950′s, what did polite people call them? That was the nice word at the time, and this was an honest if stupid miscalculation.

    We can forgive instances that seem to be honest mistakes, but that doesn’t mean the word is acceptable. What if I call you a pedophile and inisist it just means “friend of children”.

    This all sounds to me like, “I want to call black people negros and I’ll be damned if anyone tells me I can’t.”

    Those are classic straw man arguments, again, and I’m getting really tired of it.

    NO ONE here is saying that the word is completely acceptable, so get over it.

    What we are saying is that while some people find it completely unacceptable, many others had thought it was an ok if outdated word, and are getting just a little pissed off that the word and/or thought police are giving us all grief for not absolutely knowing something that isn’t an established fact but merely a matter of debatable common usage.

  • Aj

    cautious,

    Second, I’ll answer. YES, it went from bad to worse. Getting genocided automatically makes discrimination against your group all the more loathsome, since history has already shown where that discrimination leads.

    I’d like to see you logically justify such rubbish. What are you talking about? Also, you’re using the type of paranoid hyperbole that you’re complaining about when people compare minor discrimination to Rosa Parks bus incident. Many people do this, for any type of descrimination, or anything, it’s a form of rhetoric.

    You didn’t really …answer my question, but ok, at least you made a valid point.

    It’s clear that they’re not comparable because atheists cannot be targetted because of what they look like. However, when they are found out it is certainly comparable discrimination. Also, the attacks on atheists in general are tolerated by a majority, where racism certainly isn’t.

    No one should inherit the sins or grievances of their ancestors. Where haven’t the people been conquered, slaves, and oppressed? We’re all human afterall, these things existed at many times in many places.

  • Josh Spinks

    When a word acquires negative connotations, it’s continued, accepted use can have negative psychological effects of the population. People hear the word, and include its implicit meanings in their understanding of the statement. It is important that a word like “negro” not be used if it is severe negative connotation (which, I believe it does for a substantial portion of the population). I am bothered by the “it’s just a word” dismissals, saying we shouldn’t get bent out of shape. We should get bent out of shape about racism, even if it is systemic and not personal. So the use of “negro” is a problem, regardless of the intention of any individual user. It’s not being said in a vacuum; people will hear it and impute meanings intended or not.

    The fact that, as I pointed out, the journalist in Hemant’s previous post mentions talking to Sherman frequently and never noticing anything like this, and Sherman said he picked the word “negro” because it was the one being used to describe black people “when they were being discriminated against” suggest he deliberately chose that word to offend. Why would he say, “when they were being discriminated agaisnt”? if he didn’t mean “at the exact moment”. Does he imagine blacks are never discriminated against now? Was there a particular historical era when black were discriminated against and they were also called “negros” then, but now that’s over? Of course not. So the “when they were discriminated against” suggests the people discriminating were using the phrase during the process of discrimination. And again, the description by Zorn as being out of character indicates he chose that particular word to dredge up the feelings associated with that word, NOT because he uses it on a regular basis. I do not think that is acceptable, and I do think we should get bent out of shape about it.

    There have been plenty of psychological experiments showing that priming people certain words can alter their responses to whatever the subject of the experiment is. For intstance, Graham and Lowery published “Priming Unconscious Stereotypes About Adolescent Offenders” in the Journal of Law and Human behavior (vol 28, no.5). The study illustrates how police officers and juvenile probation offices primed with words related to the category “black”, then given a hypothetical scenario about a youth criminal, would recommend harsher punishments and judge the youth more harshly that offices primed with words neutral with respect to race. Words can have a detrimental effect on society, and for this reason, racial slurs should not be used. The fact that some people didn’t know “negro” is often derogatory is irrelevant. Once you know that it is perceived that way by many people, you shoul avoid using it unless you have a good reason to (which I don’t think Sherman did). The attempts to justify it’s use, or the complaints about objectors, are what I am concerned about, moreso than the one particular instance of use. We don’t consciously think through all the possible meaning and implications of every word we hear, we just accept a lot of it, connotations and all (because our time is limited). That is why it is important to get in the habit of not using racial slurs.

  • http://journals.aol.ca/plittle/AuroraWalkingVacation/ Paul

    I am simply appalled that anyone posting on this topic can possibly imply that one kind of discrimination is less wrong than another kind. To suggest that anti-semitism is a worse sin today than it was sixty years ago is infantile. To suggest that it’s less wrong to discriminate against atheists than against visible minorities should be criminal.

  • Claire

    Josh, why are you so determined to misinterpret Sherman’s explanation and make him the villain? Let’s not forget the vicious and unprovoked attack that was made by Rep. Davis and that Mr. Sherman was the target of it. Nothing he may have said afterwards changes that fact.

  • Aj

    Josh Spinks,

    That is why it is important to get in the habit of not using racial slurs.

    It’s not the word, it’s the meaning that’s the slur. If Negro has the same meaning as African America, and a culture has negative opinions, they deem inferior, any one they label of that “race”, any word that means that is going to gain that tarnish. So people who don’t have that, at least consciously, bias against certain “races”, are not going to consider any of these words as derogatory as they use them.

    As someone who doesn’t consider common race concepts as a reliable or accurate description of reality, a.k.a bad/pseudo science from the 19th century, I don’t think talking in terms of race is helpful at all.

    I also abhor nationalisms, which also tend to harbour in-group out-group discrimination and bias, that go along with the positive identity and pride.

    Yet despite this, I see your approach as “arse backwards”. The reason why these biases appear are not because of the loaded language, but that the cultural consciousness makes the language loaded. You do not change that with doublespeak euphemisms, marking terms as “unacceptable” and creating new ones.

    If people consider words derogatory, it reflects their experience. They’re going to attach meaning with the context when they see and hear the words. After questioning the author of the word, a reasonable explanation was given, but apparantly that wasn’t enough.

  • cautious

    Paul, your first comments here said

    I do disagree very strongly with those who claim there is some kind of difference between bigotry towards black people, and bigotry towards atheists.

    Since that time I have shown that I am one of these people you disagree very strongly with. I tried to argue that, in history and today, black Americans face much worse bigotry than atheist Americans. You argued that, no, bigotry is all equal, as if bigotry/fairness is a binary system. We argued on this point, since I’m a big believer that there is a spectrum of bigotry, from thinking ‘I don’t trust them’, to thinking ‘I wish someone would deport them’, to ‘I bought this gun and I am gon’ kill them’.

    We obviously didn’t agree, more angry words, and in the end you revealed that you think that my words should be criminal.

    You are obviously very, very firmly of the opinion that all bigotry is equal, so much so that you’d willingly throw away my freedom of expression when it disagrees with your opinion.

    …nothing else needs to be said here. You’ve more than proved your point, and the only thing you had to be willing to sacrifice to prove it was part of my civil rights. Bravo.

  • Mike Estes

    So, if I understand correctly some of the arguments made in this thread:

    Discrimination *against* black folks was/is no different than discrimination against anyone else, because discrimination is discrimination. However, discrimination *by* black folks *is* different than discrimination by anyone else, because, since they themselves have been discriminated against, black folks “should” know better.

    The former argument is used as a justification for invoking black folks and the civil rights movement as analogous to the victimization of atheists; the latter argument is used as a justification for injecting race into an incident where race did not previously exist.

    Interesting discussion. For the record, I did find Monique Davis’ tirade quite disturbing as well.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    I’ll say it again, I think he was wrong (and should apologize) for what he said (that all black people discriminate), but not for using the word negro. In my opinion, that word is not offensive. It’s the context that was.

    I almost said he was also wrong for bringing race into it, but then I remembered that he did so to highlight the hypocrisy of what she was saying, by paralleling discrimination against blacks with discrimination against atheists. I think this was justified.

  • Maria

    I agree with Estes

  • Cafeeine

    I’ll say it again, I think he was wrong (and should apologize) for what he said (that all black people discriminate), but not for using the word negro. In my opinion, that word is not offensive. It’s the context that was.

    I almost said he was also wrong for bringing race into it, but then I remembered that he did so to highlight the hypocrisy of what she was saying, by paralleling discrimination against blacks with discrimination against atheists. I think this was justified.

    I will also agree with this. I am looking at this issue somewhat detached, being a foreigner but to me ‘negro’ signified the unmarked term for african-americans in the 50s. How did it get from that to become a pejorative?

    I know better than to use the other “N” word, but I always felt that was because the word was part of the slave-owner mentality, a bastardization of negro with its own connotations. I can’t figure out why there is a change in the langauge, and I don’t understand the righteous indignation at Sherman for using it. In the age of interconnectedness I don’t feel that maintaining taboos on words is the best way to eradicate discrimination.

    I concur with Aj above, that people that foster prejudice will tarnish whatever word they use for it. Aggressive language policing makes about as much sense as mass preventive detention.

  • Josh Spinks

    If Sherman had called Davis a “nigger”, would you all make the same arguments? That it should not be a problem for him to use that word? And if not, why not? I am honestly unable to see the difference.

  • Cafeeine

    ‘Nigger’ was never used as anything but a pejorative to my understanding. That is not the case with ‘negro’.

    I have read of the controversy regarding ‘niggard’ and ‘niggardly’. Do you agree that their censure is also warranted? Furthermore I have read that at some point, even calling black people ‘black’ was considered a pejorative. Should we grab hold of that erstwhile negative connotation and hold it over the word?

    Meanings change and intentions change. Personally I hold that gratuitous offensiveness has run rampant and this is an example, although one of lesser degree.

    It has been said in this thread that ‘negro’ has been unacceptable for over a decade. I do not dispute this. Seeing that I don’t actually use the word, nor have I seen it used outside a historical perspective, it never came to my attention, and frankly I doubt I will use it outside of this conversation any time soon.

    My question is, was there a rash of usage of the word as a slur, e.g. to sidestep the use of ‘nigger’, or was it just deemed offensive as a near-homonym, like ‘niggardly’ was? If the former holds true, then I can see the point being made for this word. If the latter holds true, then I am totally opposed to this turn of events. I have never been a fan of political correctness as a pervasive ideology . In a society thats becoming global and multicultural, the lengths we will have to go to to keep from offending anyone will be ludicrous.

  • TXatheist

    I would never use the word Negro.

  • K

    Now, I skimmed, I admit it, but it looks to me like the actual black/colored/negro/African Americans/people of color (please pick what is PC this week) here are not offended by the word, “negro.” But the white/caucasian/ European Americans think it’s the most derogatory word possible. Um…white people? Maybe ya’ll are thinking of that OTHER n-word? Look at ya’ll, tripping over yourselves to appear un-racist by going on and on about how horrible the word is and blah, blah, blah? Finding offense where there is none just like those who want to make the Atheist look bad? Are they actually offended? Probably not. Did they find some way to take the Atheist down a peg? Oh yes, absolutely.

  • TXatheist

    K, I’m just going by my gut. My mom was actually told a few weeks ago not to use the word black and use African American by a coworker. I used hispanic with a coworker and he said Latino was more accurate(He’s Mexican) but the Mexican lady I use to work with said use hispanic so I understand your point but I do hear from different folks to use different words so I try to accommodate as requested. I agree with you on it being a simplistic way to knock down Rob Sherman(atheists). When they get defensive I ask them to call me European American and it usually sparks a very positive conversation because they understand it’s not easy to know what someone thinks the right phrase is

  • Mriana

    K said,

    April 14, 2008 at 9:11 am

    Now, I skimmed, I admit it, but it looks to me like the actual black/colored/negro/African Americans/people of color (please pick what is PC this week) here are not offended by the word, “negro.” But the white/caucasian/ European Americans think it’s the most derogatory word possible. Um…white people? Maybe ya’ll are thinking of that OTHER n-word? Look at ya’ll, tripping over yourselves to appear un-racist by going on and on about how horrible the word is and blah, blah, blah? Finding offense where there is none….

    Those were my thoughts too. BTW, Masao way back there, is my son. The thing is, I personally would not say the actual N-word, but then he has the best of both worlds and can choose what he wants.

  • Bleaker

    Using the word “Negro” makes the user sound old. I’d never thought to even use the word because its just so….archaic. Count me among the ranks of those who had no idea not only that “negro” is offensive, but that anyone was still using the word. Other than Ludacris of course. And apparently Mat Johnson, a graphic novelist.

    Additionally, I am unclear what “having black friends” would add to one’s racial sensitivity. I don’t frequently call my friends anything race-related in conversation with them. Why the heck would I? “Hey Latino-Polish friend Carlos, what do you think about Fallout 3? Are you as psyched as I am?” That would be absurd. Racial terms are only necessary in conversations about an absent third party. As in: “Don’t say that crap. My friend Carlos is a Latino. Jerk.”

    Just my two cents.

    Hoping for the day when we all get over this racist and racialist crap.

  • http://backstab.net Sam

    Negro is not a slur as long as the “United Negro College Fund” wastes a night on my television for a telethon thing..

  • Claire

    Josh Spinks said:

    I am honestly unable to see the difference.

    I begin to think that it’s only because of your intentional refusal to understand. It has been explained to you several times, right here on this thread. I don’t know what there is in your background that makes you unable or unwilling to perceive the difference, but if you haven’t got it by now, I doubt you are going to.

    You also insist on framing the debate wrong, as though people here were saying the two are equivalent, which they are not. I don’t know why you can’t see that, either.

    I have a suggestion – go find a black person, preferably one old enough to remember the civil rights movement, and refer to another black person as a ‘Negro’. If and when he or she objects, ask if you should have used the other ‘n’ word instead, only actually use the word. I’m sure the person you are talking to will explain it to you in a way that I can not.

  • Claire

    Cafeeine said:

    My question is, was there a rash of usage of the word as a slur, e.g. to sidestep the use of ‘nigger’, or was it just deemed offensive as a near-homonym, like ‘niggardly’ was? If the former holds true, then I can see the point being made for this word. If the latter holds true, then I am totally opposed to this turn of events.

    Now that’s a really interesting question and a really good point. I hope someone here has the answer to it.

  • Masao

    Count me among the ranks of those who had no idea not only that “negro” is offensive, but that anyone was still using the word.

    It is not offensive. Just archaic. :roll: I have no idea where y’all get the idea that it is offensive.

    Even my son came on here explained to you all that it is not offensive and he is part Black.

  • Mriana

    OY! I did it here too. :( We’re honestly family.

  • Mike Estes

    A final thought:

    I find it curious that my fellow atheists, who object to accusations by religious folks of “PC madness” for wanting to modify the Pledge of Allegiance and remove Christmas crèches and crosses from public areas, so easily accuse black folks of “PC madness.” That atheists, who object to accusations of being hypersensitive and angry, accuse black folks of being hypersensitive and angry. That atheists, who object to accusations of being unreasonably indignant over “just words” (like “under god,”) accuse black folks of being unreasonably indignant over “just words.” That atheists, who have perpetually wrangled over how to describe themselves (i.e., “atheist,” “agnostic,” bright,” “secular humanist,” “freethinker,” etc.) ridicule black folks who wrangle over the words *they* use to describe themselves.

    My broader point is that my fellow atheists here, who so easily accuse black folks of hypocrisy in expressing insensitivity despite experiencing victimization, apparently haven’t noticed their own hypocrisy in that their own victimization has not prevented them from expressing blatant insensitivity as well. The pot is calling the kettle……black.

    This hypocrisy can be extended to the outrage over Davis’ tirade. Is our outrage (very justified in this case) over just the style of her outburst? Or is it over the content as well? I say that because we atheists have cheered some remarks about religion expressed by Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens which, while much more politely expressed, are very similar in tone and substance. Food for thought.

    The black community has a long history of self-reflection and passionate internal dialogue over the issues we have discussed. We call it “checking ourselves,” and is a by-product of our legacy of oppression. Perhaps the freethought community should start doing the same. We’re all just fallible humans who need to understand each other (and ourselves) more.Thanks for taking time to respond to my remarks in this thread.

  • Mriana

    I didn’t accuse anyone of being hypersensitive. What I did do what get a fellow Black person (albeit 1/2 Black and 19) to make a commit and it was ignored as though he didn’t say anything. Guess that doesn’t mean much at all, coming from someone who is of that minority, to speak out and say “no, Negro is not a racial slur, but it is outdated”. Am I to assume my son is the minority of a minority with a different opinion OR he was the only Black person to say anything on this thread and was ignored? I have no clue, but I do know he obviously wasn’t preaching to the chior. Does a 1/2 Black 19 y.o.’s opinion not count? Does it not count because he was raised by a White woman, even though he has been part of the Black community and the White community all his life? Or is it because he’s 19?

    I also think it is funny that atheists would “discriminate” and ignore the opinion of a person who is part of the vary minority they are talking about. It maybe the first time he’s posted here, but he is not unaware of this blog and what is discussed here and he wanted to post on this topic bad enough that he did not take the time to switch screens. He was determined to have his opinion heard without having to find the site again on his own screen, esp since I already had it open on my screen.

  • Karen

    The black community has a long history of self-reflection and passionate internal dialogue over the issues we have discussed. We call it “checking ourselves,” and is a by-product of our legacy of oppression.

    Don’t you think that atheists are constantly engaged in passionate internal dialog and debate? I certainly do, not only here but at myriad other atheist and freethinker blogs.

    For my part, I never accused you or anyone else of being hypersensitive. I just think it was unfair to assume that Sherman was deliberately using a slur, when he could have just been out-of-touch and old-fashioned.

    When words are not considered derogatory in the past (MLK used “Negro” consistently) and then they change arbitrarily, I think it’s worth giving someone the benefit of the doubt when they blunder. And as Claire and others here have pointed out, not realizing that sensitivity to a word has changed is not always a factor of being culturally isolated – it can be because the subject of race is so tip-toed around in this country.

    None of my black friends and co-workers ever told me “negro” was an insult, though to be sure I recognized it as outmoded and would not use it myself, so there’s no reason it would ever have come up in conversation.

  • Aj

    Mike Estes,

    You couldn’t have mischaracterized something more if you tried.

    a) Equivocation, there’s a difference between deeming words taboo and the wanting government to be secular.

    b) No one complains that the word “God” is on money instead of “creator”, “deity”, “divine dictator”. People complain that government is blatently promoting a religious view.

    c) Last time I checked no one was saying any of the terms for atheism people use were “unacceptable” because some people think they mean something derogatory. After getting an explanation that it wasn’t used to mean anything derogatory reasonable people would accept that perhaps words can have different meanings to different people.

    d) Not many of us on this blog agreed with the content of Sherman statement, many of us didn’t agree with it at all, regardless of what term he could have used.

    e) Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens don’t advocate ignorance of religion because it’s “dangerous for children to even know about”.

    f) I disagreed with such stupid statements from Davis, they also weren’t relevant to the issue that was being debated, but what I found to be unacceptable was angrily shouting at a citizen saying he didn’t have the right to be in the assembly.

  • Claire

    I was one of the ones who used the word ‘hypersensitive’, and I used it specifically about Mr. Estes as that seemed to me the most likely explanation of his remarks. What Mr. Estes wrote at the top of this column was a complete mischaracterization of the discussion on the other thread, and now he has done it again with his newer comment.

    accuse black folks of being unreasonably indignant over “just words.”

    That’s not even close to what the discussion here has been about. It has been almost exclusively a discussion about what is and isn’t offensive, and never about whether black people should be offended or not.

    I thought it was because he was so thrown by the word used that he misread the whole comment section, but perhaps that wasn’t the reason. I won’t speculate this time on why he has chosen to hear what he has heard. I will leave it up to him to explain, if he cares to, why his summation of the conversation is so completely off the mark.

  • Josh Spinks

    I know plenty of black people who consider “negro” derogatory. It seems Mike Estes does as well, and he himself is black. If it’s just a word, why are you all so upset by the prospect of it’s not being acceptable to describe black people? When I first heard from a Romani that “gyp” was often considered offensive, I didn’t announce “I know a Gypsy who doesn’t care, so you can’t either!” I acknowledged that I understood the history of the term and why it would be upsetting and I made a note to avoid using it.

    The fact that not everyone knows the connotations that a particular word can have is irrelevant. In the broader culture, there are areas where “negro” carries negative connotations and defending it’s use benefits no one and harms the black community. Saying a word shouldn’t offend anyone doesn’t change the fact that, as I’ve mentioned, hearing certain words can effect, unconsciously, how we react to certain stimuli (this is why I referenced a particualr study upthread). If everyone had agreed they could understand why the word is problematic, I would have been ok with the claim of ignorance as to it’s somewhere offensive meanings, but it seems many want to defend it’s use even after being made of aware of the relevant issues.

  • Claire

    Josh Spinks said:

    If it’s just a word, why are you all so upset by the prospect of it’s not being acceptable to describe black people?

    Why do you persist in putting forth this lie, that anyone here is upset by that? That’s not what’s going on here, and you know it. Are you that enamored of your straw man that you can’t let it go?

  • Josh Spinks

    So what exactly is your position? That the word is not problematic, or that it is problematic, but we shouldn’t stop using it anyway? Words carry connotations which can be offensive, where I live, “negro” is never used in a non-derogatory way by white people, and blacks who have experienced this are being reasonable to assume that when the word is used it is meant to be pejorative. The fact that it isn’t in some place pejorative, or that some people may not know it is irrelevant, as I continue to say, once the problems with the word are made known, they should cease to use it. As I keep saying, because words can effect our thoughts subconsciously; they are not “just words”. Will you respond to this claim? This is what I am erecting my argument on – the social-psychological connotative power of language.

  • http://journals.aol.ca/plittle/AuroraWalkingVacation/ paul

    Cautious, you are completely misrepresenting my words. I didn’t say that some discrimination hasn’t been worse than other discrimination. Clearly, what Black people in America have gone through in the past, and continue to go through today is much more severe than anything experienced by atheists (in America, in the recent past – there have been times in the past when a declaration of atheism led to a rapid (and wholly legal) execution). I’m not saying that the discrimination experienced by the victims is all equal. I’m just saying that the sin (to blatantly steal a religious term) on the part of the opressor is equal.

    Discrimination is wrong. It doesn’t matter what the history of the group being discriminated against is. It doesn’t matter if the subject of the discrimination is visible as a minority or not. It doesn’t matter.

    If you can possibly hold in your head the idea that some discrimination is less wrong than others, then you are already one step along the road to becomming an oppressor yourself.

  • Josh Spinks

    The article “Black, Negro, or Afro-American?: The Differences Are Crucial!” in Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Sep., 1985), pp. 47-55 by Halford H. Fairchild indicates that the Afro-American identity lable elicit more positive descriptions and fewer negative descriptions (roughly equal neutral descriptions) than the other two terms. “Negro” fairs better than “Black”. The research is a bit outdated, but, barring new date I’m going to stick with “Afro-American” hereafter.

  • http://wherewemakeourstand.wordpress.com jjberg

    well, Olbermann just deemed Sherman “Worst Person in the World” for the night. Not sure he deserved the top designation, then again, it was a slow night in worsts. It’s a shame Sherman was such an idiot about this.

  • Cafeeine

    The fact that it isn’t in some place pejorative, or that some people may not know it is irrelevant, as I continue to say, once the problems with the word are made known, they should cease to use it. As I keep saying, because words can effect our thoughts subconsciously; they are not “just words”. Will you respond to this claim? This is what I am erecting my argument on – the social-psychological connotative power of language.

    This raises the question on whether we allow racist or discriminatory ideologies take over the language. If Johnny Racist makes it a practice to commandeer any word used by the black people (not all of which identify with Afro-American to begin with. What about Afro-Canadians or Caribbeans?) will we abandon each successive word, possibly each time opting for blander language to dissuade the perpetrator from using it? Should I stop shaving my head (a neutral look where I am at) if a group of racist skinheads comes to town? The same argument lies here. People, even discriminated people should exercise critical thinking and discern if a word is used in a racist fashion or not. To claim otherwise, to claim that a person cannot tell if a word is used pejoratively or not by the context is a gross insult to the people themselves.

    the social-psychological connotative power of anything cannot be overturned through suppression.

    If it’s just a word, why are you all so upset by the prospect of it’s not being acceptable to describe black people?

    I only have a problem with arbitrary assertions of things being deemed unacceptable.

    Here’s another example. When we refer to whether people are masculine or feminine and say we are talking about their ‘gender’ we are mistaken. Gender is a grammatical term and refers to words only. It is only through some people’s irrational offense by the proper word ‘sex’ that ‘gender’ has come to be a synonym by default. I find this a completely silly situation. I have a big problem with people telling me to change my language just because it makes them feel bad.

  • Josh Spinks

    Claire,

    That, right there, has my vote for biggest piece of bull. Since when do we ever TALK about race face-to-face with people who are of different races? In this country, we don’t, so his claim to ignorance seems completely valid to me, no matter where he lives. And WHY don’t we talk about race? Because too many people, like Mr. Estes, will go completely berserk over one single word. As long as people insist on looking at the word and not the context and the intent, we will never be able to have enough of a conversation about this so that everyone know what is and isn’t offensive.

    Here is the crux of the problem. There is a lot of tension about race, and it is difficult to discuss. That is why it is imperative that we be as sensitive as possible. And I think this statement is likely to come across to many people as saying, “You know what your problem is? You don’t let me call you negro.” (this is how I first read it) I can accept that this is just an expression of your own frustration at our troubles with race, but it isn’t going to be perceived that way by a lot of people. In my experience, there is a lot of suspicion about people of other races (from every group), and to earn someone’s trust, you have to demonstrate that you aren’t stereotyping them. Using a word that’s even potentially offensive is a bad way to do this.

  • Pingback: Friendly Atheist » Rob Sherman: The Worst Person in the World

  • Christian (My Name Only)

    All words, like all gods, are myths.

  • Christian (My Name Only)

    Also, I think, Mike Estes was silly when he said:

    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.

    If the UNCF can use Negro for the purpose of continuity and historical connection, why can’t Rob Sherman?

  • Christian (My Name Only)

    More about Mike Estes…While education takes no precedence over reason I find it hard to say he would know more than me on the issue.

    Mike has a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from San Diego State University, is an Air Force veteran, and is currently taking time off from his career as a Quality Assurance Software Engineer, in part to spend more time on issues related to freethought and church-state separation.

    Why you would quote his as a voice of knowledge on this matter I have no idea.

  • http://www.nicest-girl.com Nicest Girl

    I am mixed (half black and half white) and I didn’t know that “Negro” was a no-no, personally. I don’t use the word ever but… when I hear “Negro” I think of the word “Negroid” which is similar to “Caucasoid” and “Mongoloid” (the three main ‘races’ of people). I guess I learned something new. I also…. barely ever hear the word used so.. I suppose that is why I didn’t know it was against the rules.

  • Cafeeine

    Here is the crux of the problem. There is a lot of tension about race, and it is difficult to discuss. That is why it is imperative that we be as sensitive as possible. And I think this statement is likely to come across to many people as saying, “You know what your problem is? You don’t let me call you negro.” (this is how I first read it) I can accept that this is just an expression of your own frustration at our troubles with race, but it isn’t going to be perceived that way by a lot of people. In my experience, there is a lot of suspicion about people of other races (from every group), and to earn someone’s trust, you have to demonstrate that you aren’t stereotyping them. Using a word that’s even potentially offensive is a bad way to do this.

    (emphasis mine)
    It is imperative to be as sensitive as possible without abandoning our critical faculties or assuming the opposite number has abandoned theirs.

    Mindless censorship (even self-censorship) cannot promote a non-discriminatory environment in the long run.

  • valhar2000

    So, Sherman used a bad word while making a good argument, while Davis used a bad word while making a brutally bad argument. They both apologize for the word, but in the case of Sherman, it’s not enough, while in the case of Davis bigotry get’s a free pass, and she’s a good old dear.

    Very good, people, very good! I am glad to see that you all know what’s important! Hell, I’m sure that when black slaves were whipped years ago they didn’t mind that so much as being called “the N-word”; that really must have hurt their feelings, right, Estes?

    Yeah, Hemant, you are surrounding yourself with some bona-fide geniuses here!

  • Jason Foster

    I don’t think of negro as a slur. I’m a white American from Alabama. Furthermore, I talked to one of my black friends, also from Alabama, who is very active in his community. His opinion is that “black” is the correct term these days, “negro” isn’t a slur, and “African American” is incorrect, although not a slur either.

  • http://nimba.net Jim

    KneeGrow is a ointment you put on small knees, which ironically is a problem for many European Americans

  • john belway

    I have utilized the term “negro” unwittingly. I thought it was permissible, while the other “n” word was intolerable. I am embarrassed and will never use it again. I am an european-american who really does not have alot of contact or interaction with african-americans. I’m sorry if my ignorance hurt anyone. Yet, I have heard african-americans refer to one another as “niggars” and this seems odd and very ugly. I would never call my fellow europeans,”DP’s”, so it’s hard to understand.

  • mike

    It was good enough for Martin Luther King and for Samuel L. Jackson. When I was in school if I told someone they were “black” I would gotten my ass handed to me. “Negro” was the preferred term. Make up your minds already

  • Leo Mann

    People may want to take the time consider the context of the word as it is presented in the statement. Negro, or Negroid, is the anthropologically correct term for that particular race. Should I be offended by the use of the word Caucasian, or white? I have a white crayon and it is not the color of my skin. As for the Cherokee heritage I also have, I wonder if I should be offended by the term Native American when by definition it can apply to anyone born in the U.S.A. or to U.S. citizens abroad. Hell, I was OK with the word Indian. A great number of people refuse to see things in a logical manner because it would take away their reason to be indignant, which in many cases is the reason for which they exist. Where would Al Sharpton be without racism as a platform? Probably living as a pauper. Not enough time to go into the whole gay means happy and homosexual being shortened to homo like Corvette to ‘Vette. The car isn’t offended.


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