Use of ‘Negro’ and ‘redskin’ seen as offensive

William JordanUS Elections Editor
May 16, 2014, 1:59 PM GMT+0

Most Americans think it is offensive to call someone a "Negro" – but even more think so about "redskin"

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, whose dispute with the federal government over cattle grazing fees had won him the support of several prominent media figures and Republican politicians, found himself in the middle of a whole different firestorm when the New York Times reported on his musings about “the Negro”. While much of the criticism of his comments focused on the substance of his comments – including the suggestion that African Americans were “better off as slaves” than “on government subsidy” – some also noted the rancher’s use of the word "Negro" itself.

Once common throughout the country, the term is now largely considered taboo, as new YouGov research can show: 52% of Americans say it is offensive to use "Negro" to describe a person’s ethnic or racial heritage.

However, a significant minority (30%) say that use of the term is acceptable. This includes nearly half of Americans over 65, many of whom would have still been alive when "Negro" was commonly used by white and black Americans (the New York Times and the Associated Press, for instance, used "Negro" word until the 1970s). Only 16% of 18-29 year olds agree that "Negro" is acceptable.

Still, the word is used by only a small minority of Americans (6%) and only 10% of over-65s. And despite the term's racial significance, there is almost no difference in opinions about its offensiveness between whites (51% offensive to 30% acceptable) and blacks (52%-35%).

Another racially-charged term that the majority of Americans find offensive is "redskin", which was once commonly used to describe Native Americans.

Americans judge use of "redskin" more harshly than "Negro": only 15% of Americans find the word acceptable, and 64% say it is offensive to use when talking about someone’s race or ethnicity.

In this case, views vary hardly at all according to age. "Redskin" faded from common usage in the 1960s, though it was first used with a negative connotation in the late 1800s.

More recently the term has been at the center of a controversy over the name of Washington DC-based football team, the Washington Redskins. Critics have called the name offensive, and even President Obama has suggested they think about changing it. Yet Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has said he will "never" change the name

Interestingly, Americans evidently distinguish the use of "redskin" to describe a person from its use when talking about a sports team. A YouGov survey taken last September found that 61% of Americans thought the Redskins should not change their name – and only 16% thought it was offensive “that there is an NFL team called the ‘Redskins’”.

See the full topline results here and full demographic breakdowns here

Image: Getty