Was the U.S. Census Right to Stop Asking People If They're "Negro"?


It really took us some time to write about the topic of the U.S. Census Bureau deleting the word "negro" from its surveys. By now the news is probably old, but the more we thought about it, it was something that needed to be addressed. From people around us, we have heard: "It’s about time" to "What does it matter, the United Negro College Fund uses the word negro in its title."

All of us at Kennedy Blue Communications took a step back and asked ourselves, "What is the Census really communicating?"

After a long discussion, we decided that the Census is communicating that it is growing and better understanding its target market which includes all U.S. citizens. The Census has justified using the word negro in its previous household surveys because they said there were some people who still identified racially as "negro." Although negro was at one time a term used to identify and describe blacks, it is not currently a term used in common part of everyday American English speech. For many African-Americans it is a demeaning term and a term that should not be used by a government agency.

The word negro first appeared in the Census surveys in 1900 and has been used ever since. In his Director’s Blog, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves explained the use of the term in Census data and ultimately the need to make every American citizen feel counted regardless of race:

"African-Americans need to be fully counted in the 2010 Census, and I hope this controversy doesn’t reduce their participation."

So, our deduction seems to be correct. The Census is communicating that it cares about its target audience and it is showing that it is changing with the times. When an organization reflects the ideals of its target audience and edits its message to cater to that audience they will see an increase in brand trust among its target audience. Unfortunately, it took the Census Bureau over a century to realize this.

What do you think about the Census Bureau’s decision? Please let us know in the comments.

This is a piece that originally appeared on the Kennedy Blue Communications blog. You can read the original post here.