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US Army Reverses Its Decision to Allow the Use of the Word 'Negro'

The controversial word choice appeared in an Army regulation document that was published on October 22, in a section on "race and ethnic code definitions."

by Alice Speri
Nov 6 2014, 6:30pm

Photo via Flickr

The United States Army found itself under fire for the wording of a regulation it recently published after critics noted that it permits a black servicemember to be referred to as a "Negro" — a racial term that is today highly charged for the legacy of its use in the era of slavery and segregation.

The controversial word choice appeared in the Army Command Policy document — a regulation commonly referred to as AR 600-20 — that was published on October 22, in a section on "race and ethnic code definitions." The regulation stated that "terms such as 'Haitian' or 'Negro' can be used in addition to 'Black' or 'African-American' " to refer to "a person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa."

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A revision of the document was quietly published early on Thursday eliminating the references to "Haitian" and "Negro."

The term "Negro" was commonly used well into the 1960s, including by leaders of the civil rights movement. "African-American" and "black" have become more accepted since then, as "Negro" came to be associated with the country's history of racial discrimination — though some older blacks continued to use it. The US Census Bureau abandoned the term in 2013 after using it for more than 100 years.

When alerted to the inclusion of "Negro" in last month's regulation, an Army spokesman said that the racial definitions in that section were "outdated."

The definitions are "currently under review and will be updated shortly," Lt. Col. Justin Platt said in a statement on Wednesday. "The Army takes pride in sustaining a culture where all personnel are treated with dignity and respect and not discriminated against based on race, color, religion, gender and national origin."

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It remains unclear how the racial definition found its way into the Army Command Policy. When asked about it by CNN, the Army could not say when the word was added to the document. A review of previous publications found that the word was not included in versions published in the 1990s and much of the past decade until a June 2006 edition. It has appeared in subsequent revisions until it was recently pointed out.

An Army official familiar with the document told CNN it was possible that the word was introduced for soldiers identifying as "Negro" to self-report on forms — though an officer specializing in personnel issues for the Defense Department countered that the suggestion was "the dumbest thing I have ever heard."

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The Army's human resources command did not immediately respond to questions from VICE News about the regulation and its previous editions.

African-Americans made up 16.2 percent of active duty and reserve members of the military in 2012, and accounted for 13.5 percent of officers and 22.1 percent of enlisted members in the Army.

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter:@alicesperi

Image via Flickr