In the Boles Blogs Network, we deal with a lot of sensitive issues and some of those burning embers have Racial issues glowering in their core.  We’ve discussed Nigger Toes, the historical implications of Darkness, and black labels and meaning:

We have used the word “Nigger” here in various forms and consequences and the most famous instance is my “Nigger Tax” article. We use real words with real — perhaps even unpopular — meanings here because those words are accurate and definite even if they stab and wound. Our intention is never to hurt.

We only wish to provide a forum for analysis and a community well for the discussion of unpopular and uncomfortable topics. So let’s do the right thing and crack open the Merriam-Webster dictionary to learn the truth of these words in context and their use in American colloquial speech. Let’s start with “Niggle:” …

Last week, I received this interesting email from an Urban Semiotic reader weighing in on the definition and colloquial usage of the word “Negro” in an Eastern European social context:

I am from Russia, and when I came to America I was very surprised that the word “Negro” or “Nigger” was offensive, and the proper way was to say “Black”. It was just the opposite in Russia and most Eastern Europe: It was and still is very offensive and racist to call people with darker skin “Black” – “Chiorniy”, just like to call people from Asia “yellow” , or Indians – “red-skinned”. The word “Negr” , “Negro” is used as a proper word for dark-skinned people, people from Africa – it is as non-offensive as Eskimos, or Chinese (from China), or Russian (from Russia)… Calling light-skinned people “white” – “beliy” has an offensive and racial meaning if used by not-white people. Picking on people’s skin color or any other physical qualities is considered offensive in Russia. If you are visiting this country be careful calling people “Chiorniy” – “Black”.

I was taught long ago “Negro” grew out of “Negr” — the Latin word for “Black” — which seems to suggest skin-as-a-color is actually part of the aggregate argument our Russian friend makes.

The Oxford Dictionary definition:

The word Negro was adopted from Spanish and Portuguese and first recorded from the mid 16th century. It remained the standard term throughout the 17th-19th centuries and was used by prominent black American campaigners such as W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington in the early 20th century. Since the Black Power movement of the 1960s, however, when the term black was favoured as the term to express racial pride, Negro (together with related words such as Negress) has dropped out of favour and now seems out of date or even offensive in both British and US English.

noun (plural Negroes) dated, often offensive
a member of a dark-skinned group of peoples originally native to Africa south of the Sahara.

adjective
dated, often offensive
relating to black people.

Origin:
via Spanish and Portuguese from Latin niger, nigr- ‘black’

Words are fascinating weapons and we must always be sensitive and wisely wield them. You know, you grow.

4 Comments

  1. I once had a conversation with a British friend who referred to someone as being ‘Colored’ and I thought I had misheard him but in fact that was the term he used. He said it was normal as far as he knew and I cautioned him not to use it in the States!