The word Negro is used in the English-speaking world to refer to a person of black ancestry or appearance, whether of African descent or not. The word negro means 'black' in Spanish and Portuguese, from the Latin niger, 'black', probably from a Proto-Indo-European root *nekw-, 'to be dark', akin to *nokw- 'night'.[1][2]

The usage was accepted as normal, even by people classified as Negroes, until the later Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s. One well-known example is the identification by Martin Luther King, Jr. of his own race as 'Negro' in his famous 1963 speech I Have a Dream.

During the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, some African-American leaders in the United States, notably Malcolm X, objected to the word, preferring Black,[3] because they associated the word Negro with the long history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination that treated African Americans as second class citizens, or worse.

The term "Negro" is still used in some historical contexts, such as in the name of the United Negro College Fund[4][5] and the Negro league in sports.

"Negro" superseded "colored" as the most polite terminology, at a time when "black" was more offensive.[6]

Since the late 1960s, various other roughly similar terms have been in popular usage. The latter include Black, Black African, Afro-American (in use from the late 1960s to 1990) and African American (used in the United States to refer to Black Americans, peoples often referred to in the past as American Negroes).[7]

The United States Census Bureau announced that "Negro" would be included on the 2010 United States Census, alongside "Black" and "African-American" because some older Black Americans nevertheless self-identify with the term.[8][9][10]


In English

Around 1442 the Portuguese first arrived in sub-Saharan Africa while trying to find a sea route to India. The term negro, literally meaning "black", was used by the Spanish and Portuguese as a simple description to refer to people. From the 18th century to the late 1960s, "negro" (later capitalized) was considered to be the proper English-language term for certain people of sub-Saharan African origin.

The word "Negro" fell out of favor by the early 1970s in the United States after the Civil Rights movement. However, older African Americans from the earlier period of American life (when "Negro" was widely considered to be acceptable) initially found the term "Black" more offensive than "Negro." Evidence for the acceptability of "Negro" is in the continued use the word by historical African-American organizations and institutions such as the United Negro College Fund. In current English language usage, "Negro" is generally considered to be acceptable in a historical context, such as baseball's Negro Leagues of the early and mid-20th century, or in the name of older organizations, as in Negro spirituals, the United Negro College Fund or the Journal of Negro Education. The U.S. Census now uses the grouping "Black, African-American or Negro." The term "Negro" is used in efforts to include older African Americans who more closely associate with the term.[11]

A specifically female form of the word—Negress (sometimes capitalized) —was sometimes used; but, like "Jewess", it has all but completely fallen from use. (An exception is its unusual use in the titles of paintings, drawings [2] and sculptures,[3] largely as an allusion to the formerly common occurrence of the word in such titles, but such usage has dropped off dramatically.) Both terms are considered to be racist and sexist although, as with other racial, ethnic, and sexual words that are seen as pejorative, some people have tried to reclaim the words, for example, the artist Kara Walker. [4]

The related word Negroid was used by 19th and 20th century racial anthropologists. The suffix -oid means "similar to". "Negroid" as a noun was used to designate a wider or more generalized category than "Negro"; as an adjective it qualified a noun as in, for example, "negroid features".[12]

In other languages

In Portuguese, negro is an adjective for the color black, although preto is the most common antonym of branco (white). In Brazil and Portugal, negro is the most respectful way to address people of Black African descent, with preto sometimes being considered politically incorrect or a racial slur.

In Spain, Mexico and almost all of Latin-America, negro (note that ethnonyms, names of nationalities, etc. are generally not capitalized in Romance languages) means "black person" in colloquial situations, but it can be considered to be derogatory in other situations (as in English, "black" is often used to mean irregular or undesirable, as in "black market/mercado negro"). However, in Spanish-speaking countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay where there are few people of African origin and appearance, negro (negra for females) is commonly used to refer to partners, close friends[13] or people in general independent of skin color. In Venezuela the word negro is similarly used, despite its large African descent population.

It is similar to the use of the word "nigga" in urban communities in the United States. For example, one might say to a friend, "Negro ¿Como andas? (literally "Hey, black one, how are you doing?"). In this case, the diminutive negrito is used, as a term of endearment meaning "pal", "buddy" or "friend". Negrito has come to be used to refer to a person of any ethnicity or color, and also can have a sentimental or romantic connotation similar to "sweetheart," or "dear" in English (in the Philippines, negrito was used for a local dark-skinned short person, living in the Negros islands among other places).

In other Spanish-speaking South American countries, the word negro can also be employed in a roughly equivalent form, though it is not usually considered to be as widespread as in Argentina or Uruguay (except perhaps in a limited regional and/or social context).

Moreno[14] can be used as a euphemism but it also means just "tanned" or brunette.

In Haitian Creole, the word nèg, derived from the French "nègre", refers to a dark-skinned man; it can also be used for any man, regardless of skin color, roughly like "guy" or "dude" in American English.

The Dutch word, "neger" is generally (but not universally) considered to be a neutral one, or at least less negative than "zwarte" (black one).[citation needed]

In German, Neger was considered to be a neutral term for black people, but gradually fell out of fashion since the 1970s. Neger is now mostly thought to be derogatory or racist. The terms Schwarzer (black person), Farbiger (colored person) or Afrikaner/Afro-Amerikaner (African/Afro-American) are commonly used, and the obsolete Mohr (from Latin morus, black) survives in advertising. There is also a kind of sweet traditionally referred to as "Negerkuss" (literally "negro kiss").

In Hungarian, néger (possibly originates in its German equivalent) is still considered to be the most neutral term (together with afro-amerikai which is rarely used), while other words such as fekete (black person) or színesbőrű (colored person) are somewhat offensive. However, the term nigger is widely considered to be extremely pejorative.[15]

In Russia, the term "негр" (negr) was commonly used in the Soviet period without any negative connotation, and its use continues in this neutral sense. In modern Russian media, the word is used somewhat less frequently - "африканцы" ("Africans") or "афро-американцы" ("Afro-Americans") are used instead, depending on the situation), but is still common in oral speech. The word "black" (чёрный) as a noun used as a form of address is pejorative, although it is primarily used with respect to peoples of the Caucasus, natives of Central Asia, and not black people. The word "black" (чёрный) as an adjective is also used in a neutral sense and means the same as "негр" (negr), e.g. "чёрные американцы" (black Americans), "чёрное население" (the black population), etc. Other alternatives to "негр" are темнокожий (temnokozhiy - "dark-skinned"), чернокожий (chernokozhiy - "black-skinned"). These two are used as both nouns and adjectives.

In the Italian language, negro was used as a neutral term until the end of the 60's. Nowadays the word is considered offensive in some contexts; if used with a clear offensive intention it may be punished by law. Joking, non offensive words are: moretto, moretta. Neutral words to define a black or dark-skinned person are nero (literally "black") or di colore (coloured - or literally 'of colour').[citation needed]

In Swedish, neger used to be considered a neutral term for black people, but the term has gradually fallen out of favour through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Today the neutral term to define a black person is svart ("black"). There is a Swedish pastry traditionally called negerboll (literally "negro ball"). Due to its possible offensive character, the name has fallen out of favor in for example new cooking books, being replaced by "Chokladboll" (Chocolate Ball), though it is still used colloquially.

In Denmark, "Neger" is still considered a neutral word that most of the population use when describing a person of African descent.

In the Finnish language the word neekeri (negro) was considered a neutral term for black people.[16] Very few — if literally any — black people lived in Finland before the 1980s. In 2002 neekeri's definition was changed from perceived as derogatory by some to generally derogatory in line with ryssä (Ruskie) and hurri (Swedish-speaking Finn) in Kielitoimiston sanakirja.[16] Also, there was a popular Finnish pastry called Neekerinsuukko (lit. "negro's kiss"). The manufacturer changed the name to Brunbergin suukko ("Brunberg's kiss") in 2001.[16] Today, neutral terms to define a black person include musta ("black"), tumma (lit. "dark-shaded"), tummaihoinen ("dark-skinned") and mustaihoinen ("black-skinned"). A study conducted among native Finns found that 90 % of research subjects considered the terms ”neekeri”, ”ryssä” ja ”manne” (term referring to Finnish Roma) most derogatory names for ethnic minorities.[17]

In the French language, the positive concept of negritude was developed by the Senegalese politician Léopold Sédar Senghor.

The word for a black man in the Irish language is fear gorm, which literally means "blue man".[18][19]

See also


  1. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2000. p. 2039. ISBN 0395825172. 
  2. ^ Mann, Stuart E. (1984). An Indo-European Comparative Dictionary. Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag. p. 858. ISBN 3871185507. 
  3. ^ Smith, Tom W. (1992) "Changing racial labels: from 'Colored' to 'Negro' to 'Black' to 'African American'." Public Opinion Quarterly 56(4):496-514
  4. ^ UNCF New Brand
  5. ^ Quenqua, Douglas (17 January 2008). "Revising a Name, but Not a Familiar Slogan". New York Times. 
  6. ^ Nguyen, Elizabeth. "Origins of Black History Month," Spartan Daily, Campus News. San Jose State University. 24 February 2004. Accessed 12 April 2008.
  7. ^ Christopher H. Foreman, The African-American predicament, Brookings Institution Press, 1999, p.99.
  8. ^ U.S. Census Bureau interactive form, Question 9. Accessed 7 January 2010.
  9. ^ CBS New York Local News. Accessed 7 January 2010.[dead link]
  10. ^ "Census Bureau defends 'negro' addition". UPI. 2010-01-06. Retrieved 7 January 2010. 
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ Queen Charlotte of Britain
  13. ^ negro in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
  14. ^ moreno in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
  15. ^ See the relevant Hungarian Wikipedia article
  16. ^ a b c Rastas, Anna (in fi) (PDF). Neutraalisti rasistinen? Erään sanan politiikkaa. Tampere: Tampere University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-951-44-6946-6. Retrieved February 2009. 
  17. ^ Raittila, Pentti (in fi) (PDF). Etnisyys ja rasismi journalismissa. Tampere: Tampere University Press,. pp. 25–26. ISBN 951-44-5486-3. Retrieved May 2010. 
  18. ^ Dictionary of Irish Terms (fear gorm). Irish National Terminology Database. Retrieved: 2010-12-28.
  19. ^ Dictionary of Irish Terms (gorm). Irish National Terminology Database. Retrieved: 2010-12-28.

Further reading

  • P. A. Bruce, The Plantation Negro as a Freeman, (New York, 1889)
  • Edward Ingle, The Negro in the District of Columbia, (Baltimore, 1893)
  • W. E. B. Du Bois, The Negroes of the Black Belt, (Washington, 1899)
  • B. T. Washington, The Future of the American Negro, (Boston, 1899)
  • Claude Bernard-Aubert, My Baby Is Black!, (Hollywood, 1965)
  • Montgomery Conference Proceedings, (Montgomery, 1900)
  • J. A. Tillinghast, The Negro in Africa and America, (New York, 1902)
  • T. N. Page, The Negro: The Southerner's Problem, (New York, 1904)
  • Library of Congress, List of Discussions of Negro Suffrage, (Washington, 1906)
  • W. E. Fleming, Slavery and the Race Problem in the South, (Boston, 1907)
  • Jackson and Davis, Industrial History of the Negro Race in America, (Richmond, 1908)
  • A. H. Stone, Studies in the American Race Problem, (New York, 1908)
  • W. P. Pickett, The Negro Problem, ISBN 0-8371-2200-7 (New York, 1909)
  • E. G. Murphy, The Basis of Ascendency, (New York, 1909)
  • Stevenson, Race Distinctions in American Law, (New York, 1910)
  • A. B. Hart, The Southern South, (New York, 1910)
  • W. P. Livingstone, The Race Conflict, (London, 1911)
  • B. G. Brawley, A Short History of the American Negro, (New York, 1913)
  • The Negro Year Book, (Nashville, et. seq.)
  • "Negroes in the United States," in Bulletin of the United States Census Bureau, (Washington, 1915)
  • A. D. Mayo, Third Estate of the South, (Boston, 1890)
  • J. L. M. Curry, Education of the Negro since 1860, (Baltimore, 1894)
  • J. L. M. Curry, A Brief Sketch of George Peabody and a History of the Peabody Education Fund through Thirty Years, (Cambridge, 1898)
  • W. H. Thomas, The American Negro, (New York, 1901)
  • Sadler, "The Education of the Colored Race", in Special Reports of Great Britain Education Board, volume xi, (London, 1902)
  • Kate Brousseau, L'Education des nègres aux Etats-Unis, (Paris, 1904)
  • B. T. Washington, Education of the Negro, (new edition, New York, 1904)
  • W. E. B. Du Bois, "A Select Bibliography of the American Negro for General Readers," in Atlantic University Publications, (Atlanta, 1901)
  • C. B. Davenport Heredity of Skin-Color in Negro-White Crosses, Carnegie Institution Publication Number 188 (1913)
  • C. H. Vail Socialism and the Negro Problem (1903)

External links

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  • negro — negro, gra (Del lat. niger, nigri). 1. adj. Se dice del aspecto de un cuerpo cuya superficie no refleja ninguna radiación visible. 2. Se dice de la ausencia de todo color. U. m. c. s. m.) 3. Dicho de una persona: Cuya piel es de color negro. U. t …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • negro — negro, gra adjetivo 1. Que es más oscuro que otra cosa de su misma clase. café* negro. cerveza* negra. oro* negro. pan* integral / negro. pimienta* negra. tabaco* negro. uva* negra. 2. [Raza humana] que tiene la piel de color muy oscuro y algunos …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • Negro — steht für: Menschen schwarzer Hautfarbe, v.a. im spanischen US amerikanischen (veraltet) Sprachgebrauch Negro Spiritual, amerikanisches geistliches Lied Negro Leagues, afroamerikanische Baseballligen Mercado Negro, portugiesische Reggaeformation… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • négro — [ negro ] n. m. • 1888; de nègre ♦ Péj. (injure raciste) Personne de race noire. Les négros et les bicots. (REM. Ne se dit pas pour une femme.) ● négro nom masculin (espagnol negro) Populaire. Terme injurieux et raciste pour désigner un homme de… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Negro — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Negro est un mot espagnol et anglais qui veut dire couleur noire ou personne de couleur noire. Culture américaine Le negro spiritual est un type de… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Negro — Ne gro, a. Of or pertaining to negroes; black. [1913 Webster] {Negro bug} (Zo[ o]l.), a minute black bug common on the raspberry and blackberry. It produces a very disagreeable flavor. {negro corn}, the Indian millet or durra; so called in the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • negro — / negro/ (lett., ant. nigro) [lat. nĭger gra grum ]. ■ agg. 1. (ant., lett.) [di colore scuro: vedova, sconsolata, in vesta n. (F. Petrarca)] ▶◀ e [➨ nero agg. (2)]. 2. (antrop.) [che appartiene e si riferisce alle popolazioni nere, viventi per… …   Enciclopedia Italiana

  • Negro — (n.) member of a black skinned race of Africa, 1550s, from Sp. or Port. negro black, from L. nigrum (nom. niger) black, dark, sable, dusky, figuratively gloomy, unlucky, bad, wicked, of unknown origin (perhaps from PIE *nekw t night, Cf. Watkins) …   Etymology dictionary

  • Negro — UK [ˈniːɡrəʊ] / US [ˈnɪɡroʊ] or Negro UK / US noun [countable] Word forms negro : singular negro plural negroes offensive a black person. This word is now considered offensive but until the second half of the 20th century it was an accepted word …   English dictionary

  • negro — UK [ˈniːɡrəʊ] / US [ˈnɪɡroʊ] or Negro UK / US noun [countable] Word forms negro : singular negro plural negroes offensive a black person. This word is now considered offensive but until the second half of the 20th century it was an accepted word …   English dictionary

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