The U.S. Bureau of Census is adding such Internet tools as Twitter and Facebook this year to get the word out to Americans who will fill out the census in April.
But the 2010 census forms mailed out last week still include the term "Negro" as an option for respondents to choose for their ethnic identity, which some contend is outdated and could be confusing or offensive.
Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid apologized for a quotation attributed to him in a new book on the 2008 campaign. In the quote, he said people like Barack Obama because he had "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
Dr. Bernie Miller, pastor of the New Covenant Fellowship Church in Chattanooga and chairman the U.S. Census Bureau's African American Advisory Committee, said the use of the "Negro" term hearkens back to an earlier, more segregated time in America.
Census Bureau Statement on 2010 Census Race Question
A test embedded in the 2010 Census will measure the effect of removing the term "Negro" on reports about a person's racial identity. The results will be used to inform design changes for future surveys and the 2020 Census. In the 2000 Census, more than 50,000 persons chose to write down explicitly that they identified themselves as "Negro."
The Census Bureau included the term "Negro" because testing prior to Census 2000 indicated that numbers of respondents self-identified with this term. Census 2000 data showed that 56,175 respondents wrote in the term "Negro" in response to the question on race, even though the term was included in the category label for a checkbox. This does not include the unknown numbers of respondents who may have checked the box "Black, African Am., or Negro" because of the presence of the "Negro" identifier.
Research in the 2000s did not include studies of the effect of dropping "Negro" from the list "Black, African Am., or Negro" on responses. Such research is important to avoid unanticipated consequences of changing question wording on the outcome of a census. As stated above, this research will be conducted as part of the 2010 decennial census.
What the census form asks
* Question 9 of the 2010 census form asks persons to self identify their race
* Among the 14 check boxes respondents may select are "black, African-American or Negro."
"To me, the term 'Negro' carries negative connotations because it is so closely related to the 'N' word that I dare not utter," he said. "Negro does remind me of the Jim Crow era, but my main concern is a complete count of every "black, Caribbean, Haitian, Negro, African and African-American" in the upcoming census."
Census officials say they are simply trying to make sure they get the best count and not exclude blacks who might not identify with the term "black" or "African-American," which are also listed as ethnic choices on the census form.
In the last census count a decade ago, 56,175 respondents wrote in the term "Negro" in response to the question of race, even though the term was included in the category label for a check box, according to Census Bureau spokeswoman Catherine Crusan.
State Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, a 75-year-old retired University of Tennessee at Chattanooga professor who is a member of the Tennessee Legislative Black Caucus, said she witnessed first hand the evolution of her racial identity from "colored" to "Negro" to "black" to "African-American."
"I'm not that sensitive about the term 'Negro' that it offends me," she said. "I'm more interested in removing any thing that would hinder an accurate counting of our black population in the 2010 census. That is what we need to most concerned about."
The U.S. Office of Management and Budget defines the racial category of black or African-American as "a person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa," and further stipulates that terms such as "Haitian" or "Negro" can be used in addition to "black or African-American."
At the urging of Dr. Miller's advisory committee, the census bureau began a test this month with a new questionnaire that doesn't use the term "Negro."
"We're glad that they are at least looking at some changes," Dr. Miller said.
The results of the test on racial identity, which also are testing different options for Hispanic persons to identify their race, will be used to inform design changes for future surveys and the 2020 census, Ms. Crusan said.