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Census data not just black and white

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By Nafari Vanaski
Thursday, March 14, 2013, 11:29 a.m.

The Census Bureau has joined the 21st century.

The organization decided that its next survey will not use the word “Negro” to classify a race.

Welcome to post-slavery America. Nice of you to join the rest of us.

Negro is certainly better than other options. The first survey had three categories: “free white”; “all other free persons”; and “slave.” When the bureau switched to Negro in 1900, it took a step in a better direction.

The bureau said it hesitated to remove the term as recently as the early 2000s because some black people identify with it, especially in the South.

That seems hard to believe. Of course, Mississippi officially abolished slavery just last week after state officials realized it never officially ratified the 13th Amendment.

We all know it's the paperwork that gets you. It was probably just a mistake that the document ended up in a heating duct at the state House building.

If the Census Bureau wanted to keep “Negro” because a certain group of blacks identified with it, then we might have to put other terms on there. I don't think we want that.

That narrows the Census choices for folks like me to “Black” or “African-American.”

Yes, the bureau is sticking with the politically correct African-American. But what's so correct about this? Why assume that a dark-skinned person is from Africa? There are other options, you know.

For example, the last few generations of my family as far back as I can trace are from Barbados. My mother tells me that a distant relative is from Ireland.

It's probably too much to ask for more detailed racial classification options, so maybe we could just follow the example of the “White” classification and leave it at “Black.”

The Census Bureau change might lead some organizations to consider changing their names. The United Negro College Fund is an organization that funds scholarships for all students, although most beneficiaries are black. UNCF's slogan: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has since 1909 fought for racial equality.

Both are definitely noble causes, but what's with the organizations' names? If the Census Bureau can let go (slowly) of the past, then why not a group such as the NAACP that's supposed to benefit minorities? Will UNCF change its name?

Doubtful, though hard to say. Members of the UNCF press office apparently didn't want to touch that question.

I did talk to Constance Parker, president of the NAACP Pittsburgh branch, who says there is no plan to change the organization's name, and she isn't particularly offended by the word “Negro.”

“We've switched titles so many times over the years,” she said. “It's a personal type of preference. As long as they don't use the other ‘N' word. That infuriates me.”

Nafari Vanaski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8669, at or on Twitter at @NafariTrib.

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