Why Were Black People Called Negros

Written by   (author of Obvious Conclusions)

I came across a question today that many people ask:  “Why were black people called negros?”  I am going to research the history of this term, but my guess is that the term comes from the Spanish word for black, which is negro.

It turns out that the term negro actually originated with the Portuguese (whose language is very similar to Spanish).  Around 1442,  the Portuguese were trying to find a sea-route to India and discovered sub-Saharan Africa in the process.  There, they discovered black people and referred to them as negro, their word for the color black.

At the time, this word had no derogatory intention.  However, during the Civil Rights movement of the 70’s, this term became associated with the oppression of black people and its use diminished.  Unless referring to events of history, liked the Negro Baseball Leagues, the term Negro was not used.  The politically correct terms became Black or African American.

The term negro is still frequently used in non-English speaking countries.  They use the term negro to refer to a black person just as they would use the term rubia to refer to a blonde-haired women. 

The Term Negro:  Other Links and Notes

When searching the Internet for related terms, one sees immediately the intense debate surrounding this word and its derivatives.  I have included some of these sources below:

  • There is an entire book dedicated to this term entitled:  The Name “Negro”,Its Origin and Evil Use
  • Kennith Dinkins writes about the history and use of this term in “The N word” found on his blog, The Kenneth Dinkins Experience.  He researches the work back to its Greek origins and wonders why his black contemporaries would continue using this word today.
  • American publishers would not allow author Lawrence Hill to publish his book with the original title:  The Book of Negroes.  Read his response in Why I’m not allowed my book title?
  • Jesse Jackson, in thinking he was off-camera, recently used the n-word when referring to Barack Obama.  He claimed… “Barack..he’s talking down to black people… telling ‘n-word’ how to behave.”  Read more about Jesse Jackson’s use of the n-word.
  • In Ignatius Sancho’s Weblog, we find a post entitled Why I’m a negro – and proud of it.  The author takes pride in the term negro as it differentiates him from others with whom he might be falsely associated, like rappers or white-Africans.
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Richard Cummings

Richard Cummings is writer, traveler, and web content developer.

Get your copy of his latest book entitled Obvious Conclusions, stories of a Midwestern emigrant influenced and corrupted by many years living in San Francisco and abroad. It just received its first outstanding review "...reminiscent of David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs" on Amazon UK.
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