“While the term “Negro” has appeared in previous census forms, some young or first-time African-American census participants may find it offensive, which could present a problem for the 2010 census campaign, which has focused on inclusion.” – theGrio

I was watching the Rachel Maddow show last night on MSNBC and I couldn’t help but be intrigued by a young black man who seemed obviously intelligent discussing why having the option Negro on the census form was an insult to black people and how he thought the option should be abolished from those forms. The young man’s name was David A. Wilson, managing editor of theGrio.com. For those who don’t know “theGrio” is a news site launched by NBC to provide news content with an African-American slant. While I have not done extensive research on the site, I did find the argument against the census option confusing at best and naïve at worse.

The article and the young man argued that many younger African-Americans who may be participating in the census for the first time will be offended by having the option of Negro because it is a term that they have rarely if ever used. I understand the desire and the need for young people to help move the society away from past colloquialisms, however here is my problem with this and similar scenarios taking place in the black community. With so many enormous challenges facing the black community we continue to focus on issues like these which in the overall scheme of things are a matter of semantics at best.

As a neighborhood leader I am constantly confronted with this type of attitude in meetings ranging from school performance to the green economy. We continue to debate facts that are already in evidence and the effects of past problems as if to deny facts or to solve past injustices will remedy our current situation. A case in point is that in our school district we have a 50% drop-out rate for minority students, only 30% of our students are reading at grade level, and unemployment is at over 25%. Now rather than suing the school district for obvious under performance we have folks suing a property management company in our newly renovated downtown district because they have a dress-code that precludes sagging pants and white t-shirts. Now while I am not minimizing the importance of not allowing racially motivated policies to go unchallenged in public accommodations is that really the most pressing issue in our community? At a recent meeting discussing violence in our community the president of the school board when presented with the fact that the dress code for the schools was not being enforced in the schools by an officer who works with the schools, she stated that first the officer was incorrect and then followed that up with that the statement that the charter schools are having similar issues. Now these statements are from the head of our school board which to me is tantamount to the excuse that all the other kids are doing it and as all good parents know that excuse has never held water.

I have to confess that I use the term negro as a replacement for the widely used and accepted term in our community of “ni**a”. It seems odd to me that young African-Americans would have an issue with the term negro but don’t seem to show the same disdain for the term “ni**a”. It seems logical to me that if the Census folks were striving for inclusion that they would want to provide as many options to folks as they could since so often today everyone wants their own category or box to check. Have we become so sensitive that the term used on the census form has been elevated over more serious issues like health, unemployment, and education? I wish our bright young folks were spending more time articulating solutions to these issues than what term to use on a once every ten year form.

For my money if NBC wants to attract serious black readers they would focus more on the major issues facing our communities and not these types of red herrings. I would love to hear the editor’s opinion on what we must do as a community to combat the lawlessness and violence that is rocking so many of our communities or the lack of education being a priority for so many of our parents. We must begin to refocus our attention and our efforts on the issues that will make our young people more successful and prepared for the world that awaits them and not focus on an issue that will have little effect on their ability to graduate from college or become employable. We as a community have not done a very good job of preparing our young people for the world around them and it has resulted in the state that Dr. King feared most and that was that after all of the marching and dying that when the doors were finally opened there wouldn’t be folks ready to take advantage of all of the hard work of their ancestors (formerly known as Negroes).

There are many more wrong answers than right ones, and they are easier to find – Michael Friedlander

The Disputed Truth