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In the English language, negro is a term historically used to denote persons considered to be of Black African heritage. The word negro means the color black in both Spanish and in Portuguese, where English took it from.[1] The term can be construed as offensive, inoffensive, or completely neutral, largely depending on the region or country where it is used, as well as the context in which it is applied. It has various equivalents in other languages of Europe.


Around 1442, the Portuguese first arrived in Southern Africa while trying to find a sea route to India.[2][3] The term negro, literally meaning 'black', was used by the Spanish and Portuguese as a simple description to refer to the Bantu peoples that they encountered. Negro denotes 'black' in Spanish and Portuguese, derived from the Latin word niger, meaning 'black', which itself is probably from a Proto-Indo-European root *nekw-, "to be dark", akin to *nokw-, 'night'.[4][5] Negro was also used of the peoples of West Africa in old maps labelled Negroland, an area stretching along the Niger River.

From the 18th century to the late 1960s, negro (later capitalized) was considered to be the proper English-language term for people of black African origin. According to Oxford Dictionaries, use of the word "now seems out of date or even offensive in both British and US English".[1]

Negroid was used within physical anthropology to denote one of the three purported races of humankind, alongside Caucasoid and Mongoloid. 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".[6]

Negro superseded colored as the most polite word for African Americans at a time when black was considered more offensive.[8][better source needed][failed verification] In 17th-century colonial America, the term Negro had been also, according to one historian, used to describe Native Americans.[9] John Belton O'Neall's The Negro Law of South Carolina (1848) stipulated that "the term negro is confined to slave Africans, (the ancient Berbers) and their descendants. It does not embrace the free inhabitants of Africa, such as the Egyptians, Moors, or the negro Asiatics, such as the Lascars."[10] The American Negro Academy was founded in 1897, to support liberal arts education. Marcus Garvey used the word in the names of black nationalist and pan-Africanist organizations such as the Universal Negro Improvement Association (founded 1914), the Negro World (1918), the Negro Factories Corporation (1919), and the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World (1920). W. E. B. Du Bois and Dr. Carter G. Woodson used it in the titles of their non-fiction books, The Negro (1915) and The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933) respectively. Du Bois also used in the titles of his books The Study of the Negro Problems (1898)The Philadelphia Negro (1899). Negro was accepted as normal, both as exonym and endonym, until the late 1960s, after the later Civil Rights Movement. One example is Martin Luther King Jr. self-identification as Negro in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech of 1963.

In Spanish, negro (feminine negra) is most commonly used for the color black, but it can also be used to describe people with dark-colored skin. In Spain, Mexico, and almost all of Latin America, negro (lower-cased, as ethnonyms are generally not capitalized in Romance languages) means just 'black colour' and does not refer by itself to any ethnic or race unless further context is provided. As in English, this Spanish word is often used figuratively and negatively, to mean 'irregular' or 'undesirable', as in mercado negro ('black market'). However, in most Spanish-speaking countries, negro and negra are commonly as a form of endearment, when used to refer partners or close friends.[25]

In the Philippines, which historically had almost no contact with the Atlantic slave trade, the Spanish-derived term negro (feminine negra) is still commonly used to refer to black people, as well as to people with dark-colored skin (both native and foreign). Like in Spanish usage, it has no negative connotations when referring to black people. However, it can be mildly pejorative when referring to the skin color of other native Filipinos due to traditional beauty standards. The use of the term for the color black is restricted to Spanish phrases or nouns.[26][27]

In Italian, negro was the archaic form of the adjective nero; as such, the previous form can still be found in literary texts or in surnames (cfr. the English-language surname Black), while the latter form is the only one currently used today. However, the word could also be used as a noun and at a certain point it was commonly used as term equivalent to English negro, but without its offensive connotation. However, under influence from English-speaking cultures, by the 1970s it had been replaced with nero and di colore. Nero was considered a better translation of the English word black, while di colore is a loan translation of the English word colored.[32]

In Italian law, Act No. 654 of 13 October 1975 (known as the "Reale Act"), as amended by Act No. 205 of 25 June 1993 (known as the "Mancino Act") and Act No. 85 of 24 February 2006, criminalizes incitement to and racial discrimination itself, incitement to and racial violence itself, the promotion of ideas based on racial superiority or ethnic or racist hatred and the setting up or running of, participation in or support to any organisation, association, movement or group whose purpose is the instigation of racial discrimination or violence.[37][38] As the Council of Europe noted in its 2016 report, "the wording of the Reale Act does not include language as ground of discrimination, nor is [skin] color included as a ground of discrimination."[38] However, the Supreme Court, in affirming a lower-court decision, declared that the use of the term negro by itself, if it has a clearly offensive intention, may be punishable by law,[39] and is considered an aggravating factor in a criminal prosecution.[40]

In the French language, the existential concept of negritude ('blackness') was developed by the Senegalese politician Léopold Sédar Senghor. The word can still be used as a synonym of sweetheart in some traditional Louisiana French creole songs.[41] The word nègre as a racial term fell out of favor around the same time as its English equivalent negro. Its usage in French today (nègre littéraire) has shifted completely, to refer to a ghostwriter (écrivain fantôme), i.e. one who writes a book on behalf of its nominal author, usually a non-literary celebrity. However, French Ministry of Culture guidelines (as well as other official entities of Francophone regions[42]) recommend the usage of alternative terms.

In Denmark, usage of neger is up for debate. Linguists and others argue that the word has a historical racist legacy that makes it unsuitable for use today. Mainly older people use the word neger with the notion that it is a neutral word paralleling negro. Relatively few young people use it, other than for provocative purposes in recognition that the word's acceptability has declined.[47]

In the Finnish language the word neekeri (cognate with negro) was long considered a neutral equivalent for negro.[50] In 2002, neekeri's usage notes in the Kielitoimiston sanakirja shifted from "perceived as derogatory by some" to "generally derogatory".[50] The name of a popular Finnish brand of chocolate-coated marshmallow treats was changed by the manufacturers from Neekerinsuukko (lit. 'negro's kiss', like the German version) to Brunbergin suukko ('Brunberg's kiss') in 2001.[50] A study conducted among native Finns found that 90% of research subjects considered the terms neekeri and ryssä among the most derogatory epithets for ethnic minorities.[51]

"That the dislike and avoidance of the word negro among members of the African race is disappearing seems to be implied by current usage as indicated in the title of such books as Mr. W. E. B. Du Bois's 'The Philadelphia Negro,' and Mr. Booker T. Washington's 'The Future of the American Negro' [sic]." 041b061a72

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