Calling A Black Soldier "Negro" Is Just Fine, The U.S. Army Rules

Here's something you never wanted to know about the military: the U.S. Army can use the term "Negro" in reference to "black or African American" personnel, according to the "Army Command Policy" regulations document. Ironically, the policy is in a section about racism and equal opportunities in the armed forces. Not-so-ironically? That document was updated only two weeks ago.

The chapter, entitled "Equal Opportunity Policies," opens by saying that "the U.S. Army will provide EO and fair treatment for military personnel and Family members without regard to race, color, gender, religion, national origin." Good stuff. But then it goes into a section on "definitions." Under Black or African American, it reads:

A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Terms such as ‘Haitian’ or ‘Negro’ can be used in addition to ‘Black’ or ‘African American’.

Again, ironically, this definition comes only a few paragraphs below a section on "Disparaging term, which reads:

Terms used to degrade or connote negative statements pertaining to race, color, gender, national origin, or religion. Such terms may be expressed as verbal statements, printed material, visual material, signs,symbols, posters, or insignia. The use of these terms constitutes unlawful discrimination.
Richard Ellis/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The term "Negro" is, of course, considered the only-slightly-less-offensive cousin of the n-word. That's why there was such a huge backlash when Sen. Harry Reid referred to President Obama as speaking without a “Negro dialect;” it's also why the U.S. Supreme Court hasn't used the word "Negro" without quotation marks since 1986.

But the word hasn't always been the offensively racist, in fact, it only really became taboo in the 1970s. Slate points out that in 1968, two-thirds of black Americans preferred "Negro" to black, that only changed in 1974. What started out as Negro History Week in 1926 became Black History Month in 1976. And it was only in that decade that major publications decided to oust that word from their magazines. As Erin Aubry Kaplan wrote in the L.A. Times in 2010:

This controversy may be new, but the angst about what to call ourselves is ancient. Over the last 40 years, we have self-identified as "black," "Afro-American" and "African American" in an attempt get out from under the subjugation represented by "Negro" and, before that, "colored." But the history of all this is hardly a straight line. "Black" is associated with '60s pride and power, but it was once considered derogatory and far less appropriate than "Negro," which evolved after emancipation into a relatively respectable term.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The term's evolution might go some way in explaining why it was in the Army regulations to begin with, but it doesn't account for what the word is doing there still. On Wednesday, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, a black Republican, said he planned to ask the Army that very question.

In a statement, the US army said the language used in the policy document was "outdated, currently under review, and will be updated shortly,” adding:

The Army takes pride in sustaining a culture where all personnel are treated with dignity and respect and not discriminated against based on race, colour, religion, gender and national origin.

Considering that it took until 2011 for the army to allow openly gay men and women to serve in the army (and let's not forge their far-from-okay transgender policies), well, just excuse me while I facepalm. Images: Getty Images (3)