This past Monday, Raeana Roberson was not prepared for what she called an offensive and disgusting experience when she reported for jury duty.
The info card for prospective jurors included a race category that included, “Black, African-American, or Negro.”
Looking around the room in disbelief, Roberson thought to herself, “Are you kidding me? What year is this?” Unfortunately, she seemed to be the only one in the room that was concerned with the offensive terminology.
Completely taken aback by what she was seeing, Roberson crossed out the word “Negro” and wrote next to it, “offensive! It’s 2014!” and then snapped a photo of the form to post to her Facebook page.
Curiously, not everyone can see why the term would offend Roberson.
“I don’t think it was malicious,” said Jeffrey Sammons, a professor of history at New York University, going on to explain that “negro” originated in the late 1900s all the way to the Harlem Renaissance and was even used to describe educated and empowered African-Americans.
But Sammons did concede that it could be an issue if the term appeared on the form by itself.
In a 2010 blog post by then director of the U.S. Census Bureau, Robert Groves, the word “Negro” was used in the 2000 census as a result of research that showed approximately 56,000 people entered the word “Negro” under the “some other race” category.
But in a 2010 census, many found the use of the word offensive, according to a press release by the bureau.
Groves quickly apologized.
“I am confident that the intent of my colleagues in using the same wording as Census 2000 was to make sure as many people as possible saw words that matched their self-identities. Full inclusiveness was the goal,” Groves wrote.
After the negative backlash, the Census Bureau conducted a study on race and Hispanic origin using what it called the “Alternative Questionnaire Experiment.” The study found that removing the term “Negro” did not negatively impact data quality, subsequently removing the term for future data collection.
The Census Bureau discontinued use of the word “Negro” at the beginning of 2014, along with the New York courts which will be following suit.
“Collecting demographic data is really important; however, they may have had a technical hiccup in their choice of language,” said Greg Hurley an analyst at the National Center for State Courts.