What’s in a name? ‘Mixed,’ ‘biracial,’ ‘black’


Story highlights

Professor Martha Jones sparks debate about how we identify black Americans

"The language of race has always been a moving target," she writes

Jones: Listen to what people call themselves for guidance on how to address them

Editor’s Note: Martha S. Jones is a professor of history, law and Afro-American and African studies at the University of Michigan. She wrote a previous piece that explored her journey identifying as both biracial and black. Join her for a live Google Plus Hangout at 6 p.m. ET Monday about the evolving identity of African-Americans.

CNN —  

When the census listed Negro as a race option in 2010, a controversy erupted.

My students at the University of Michigan were eager to denounce the term’s use: “Negro? It has to go!”

Professor Martha Jones
Professor Martha Jones

To their ears, “Negro” was derogatory, too close in tone to the other, more infamous n-word. I played devil’s advocate, to test their thinking: “But some black elders still self-identify as Negroes.” “It’s preferable to its predecessor, colored.”

“Don’t some of you belong to the National Council of Negro Women chapter?”

I could not shake their thought.