Monday, December 5, 2011

Swimming with Jim Crow in Negro Creek

I think I posted on something like this a while back. We have a similarly re-named canyon at the edge of my town, but you can't swim in the two-rut road that goes up it. You can haul some black ass on it on a bike though! Heh.


It's the tale about the laudable efforts of a local property owner -- who happens to be a county employee -- with an offensively named creek on her land to drag Nevada County government kicking and screaming into the 21st century by renaming it on current maps -- like the Assessors parcel maps (APN maps). Emphasis on the word current.

For now, the name Negro Creek will remain on federal maps since it was the federal government that removed the word Nigger on all its maps in 1964 and replaced it with Negro. In 1983 (during the Reagan administration) the Board of Names enacted the following: "The Board will not adopt a name proposal that includes the word "Jap" or the word "Nigger" whether or not it is in current local usage and regardless of by whom proposed." That directive, signed by the Secretary of the Interior, whizzed right by Nevada County.

Not hard to do. Hell, the Twentieth Century never caught on all that big around here either.

Nevada County's conservative Republican majority on the BOS is famous for declaring its disdain for government in general and its preference for local control over state or federal mandates. OK, so how does that work in this case? Let's see...

Yeah, Nigger Creek'd be fine with them.

What the BOS fails to acknowledge is that the word "Negro" – while hardly as odious as the word "nigger" -- is perceived by many people today of all races as offensive, and not just "outmoded" -- to use Supervisor Weston's inane adjective. "Outmoded" is a word more appropriate for describing unfashionable hairdos and clothing styles like mullets and go-go boots, not to describe what an entire generation of the biggest racial minority in the United States chooses to name itself in view of past discrimination. The term "Negro" is "outmoded" today precisely because it is offensive to many since it is reminiscent of the Jim Crow period. And, it is used by racists today as a replacement for the now "outmoded" term "nigger." Bottom line, the word "Negro" is still used today by people who don't have the guts to use the word "nigger." Does anybody remember the song "Barack The Magic Negro" played ad nauseam on the Rush Limbaugh show during the last presidential campaign? Had he used the word "nigger" on the air, he would have lost his job. He was safe using "Negro," but we all heard the dog whistle.

There's more and please read it, but here are my questions:

Is the word "Negro" really offensive, or is it just outmoded, or is it one or the other simply out of political correctness? Or is it just the way it's used to convey positive, neutral, or negative meanings depending on the speaker?

I had occasion the other day to post a song on Facebook by an outstanding Old Time String Band called "The Carolina Chocolate Drops". The album name is "Genuine Negro Jig". I suspect a little tongue-in-cheek poking fun at us white devils, so is it OK for some folks to use the word and some not?

Here's the first Google entry for "Negro". There are 478,999,999 others. So much for research...

Opinions, please.


CAFKIA said...

I have always tried to listen for context and intent before taking offense at something said. I do not typically get upset at the usage of "Negro" as that is pretty much just "black" in Spanish and "Black" is the descriptor I prefer if one must be used.

In the case of geography or things it gets a little more complex. If I had a loved one lost in the wilderness, I would hate for the search team to go the wrong way because of political correctness vis-a-vis the place name. I want you to tell them what they understand. OTOH, I agree that the more offensive names should be changed. I would probably suggest that the names NOT be upgraded. Rather than going from "nigger" creek to "negro" creek, what say we try rattlesnake creek or sassafras creek or some other name that describes the creek in some unique way. I have enough grandneices and grandnephews that are 'multicultural' that I believe I can see the handwriting on the wall. There may still be those who self identify as one thing or another in 50 years but, you will have to come up with another way to describe those kids to folks trying to pick them out of a crowd.

Gordon said...

Thanks, C.

Gordon said...

You're probably right, although the truly descriptive "Black Guy Got His Ass Bit By A Rattlesnake Creek" might be a bit bulky for a small-scale map. :-)

DeanK said...

"Is the word "Negro" really offensive, or is it just outmoded, or is it one or the other simply out of political correctness?"

A word is outmoded when it loses popularity due to an updating of the language. A word is offensive when it offends. Language, being a living thing, can go from acceptable to unacceptable. In this case, "Negro" has become unacceptable and offensive. Time to change the name.

Civic Center said...

When I hear Negro, I think Sidney Poitier. His career was the period for that word, but once Sidney stopped making movies or even before that, I just moved on to Black. It's a neutral and simple word, signifying cultural difference but nothing more than that. I tend to use White the same way.

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