I realize the N-word is a racial epithet. Even when I lived in the Deep South as a child, I was never comfortable with others who derided blacks as “n*****s”.
On the other hand, it was always my understanding that “negro” was a technical reference to blacks, and not a racial slur. In elementary school, that was the term by which we referred to blacks. My third-grade teacher in Ohio–who was black–taught that way. My fifth-grade teacher in Florida–who was black–taught that way. We all, I am sure, heard of the United Negro College Fund.
For many years, I referred to blacks as negroes, because it was my understanding that this was more technical. In high school, a black person told me, “Chill, Amir. You can call us “blacks”; it’s not offensive.” From then on, I always referred to blacks using that term.
I’ve never accepted the term “African-American” as a legitimate means of referring to blacks, as (a) most American blacks are from America, not from Africa, (b) the term excludes American blacks who are from Central America, and (c) the term excludes non-American blacks.
Referring to blacks as “coloreds” was not as widely used, although most of the blacks I knew back then didn’t take offense at it. We’ve all heard of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Now, it seems, the standard for what constitutes an epithet is getting even wider, as “negro” is now a racial slur (emphasis mine):
Al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader used a racial epithet to insult Barack Obama in a message posted Wednesday, describing the president-elect in demeaning terms that imply he does the bidding of whites.
The message appeared chiefly aimed at persuading Muslims and Arabs that Obama does not represent a change in U.S. policies. Ayman al-Zawahri said in the message, which appeared on militant Web sites, that Obama is “the direct opposite of honorable black Americans” like Malcolm X, the 1960s African-American rights leader.
In al-Qaida’s first response to Obama’s victory, al-Zawahri also called the president-elect — along with secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice — “house negroes.”
While I have no affections for al-Zawahiri–I would love to see our military kill him before Bush’s term ends–I would also take exception to the assertion that he used a racial epithet. Negro is a technical term. “House negro” would be a polite way of referring to the “house [n-word]“, which is what Harry Belafonte called Colin Powell.
So why is it a “racial epithet” when directed at a President elect, while it is perfectly ok that liberals use a much stronger term on Republican administration officials, who happen to be black?
So, for anyone who is more knowledgeable on race issues: when did “negro” become a racial slur and not a more technical, even if lesser-used, reference?