On Monday, when Raeana Roberson took the day off from work to report for jury selection, she was not prepared for what she called an offensive and disgusting experience.
The juror information card all prospective jurors have to fill out included a race category that included, “Black, African-American, or Negro.”
“Are you kidding me? What year is this?” Roberson thought when she read the form.
When Roberson looked around, no one else in the room was apparently concerned by this, she told CNN on Friday.
Since the words “Black, African-American, or Negro” appeared as a part of a single category, Roberson crossed out the word “Negro” and wrote next to it, “offensive! It’s 2014!”
She then snapped a picture of the form and posted it on her Facebook page.
Roberson returned the form to a court employee, hoping for some sort of reaction, but there was none, she said.
With grandparents from North Carolina who lived through the Jim Crow laws of racial segregation, Roberson said she is especially offended by the contemporary use of the word “Negro.”
It is outdated and has a negative connotation, Roberson said.
“I don’t think it was malicious,” said Jeffrey Sammons, a professor of history at New York University.
“Negro” has been used from the late 1900s all the way to the Harlem Renaissance and beyond, Sammons explained. There were times when the word was used to describe educated and empowered African-Americans, he said.
There have been various terms that have been embraced by different generations of African-Americans, Sammons said, and “Negro” was one of them.
The term lost popularity with the arrival of the baby boomers and the black pride movement, according to Sammons.
“I believe there are many black people who still prefer that term,” said Sammons. “It is a generational issue.”
It would be a problem if the word “Negro” appeared on the form by itself, he said Friday.
Race categories for New York courts come from the U.S. Census Bureau, according to Arlene Hackel, a spokeswoman for the New York State Office of Court Administration. The courts are required to collect demographic information about prospective jurors, per Judicial Statue Section 528.
As of September 13, 2010, every person who appears for jury service in any city in New York must complete a scannable data card, which includes specification of race, according to the statute. However, the statute only uses the word “black” when referring to blacks or African-Americans.
According to a 2010 blog post by then director of the U.S. Census Bureau, Robert Groves, the word “Negro” was used in the 2000 census as a result of research in the late 1990s that showed approximately 56,000 people wrote in the word “Negro” under the “some other race” category.
More than half of these individuals were under the age of 45 in 2000.
In the 2010 census, many respondents found the use of the word “Negro” outdated and offensive, according to a press release by the bureau.
Groves apologized to those who were offended.
“I am confident that the intent of my colleagues in using the same wording as Census 2000 was to make sure as many people as possible saw words that matched their self-identities. Full inclusiveness was the goal,” Groves wrote.
Following the negative feedback, the Census Bureau conducted research on race and Hispanic origin using what it called the Alternative Questionnaire Experiment, according to the press release. The study found that removing the term “Negro” does not have an impact on data quality and therefore recommended removing the term for future data collection.
The Census Bureau, which follows the Office of Management and Budget for definitions of race and ethnicity, discontinued use of the word “Negro” at the beginning of 2014, according to a press release.
New York courts will be following suit and discontinuing the use of the word soon, according to Hackel.
“Collecting demographic data is really important; however, they may have had a technical hiccup in their choice of language,” said analyst Greg Hurley of the National Center for State Courts.
Not all states collect demographic information fromprospective juror, Hurley told CNN. It is a good thing that New York courts do this in order to ensure a fair cross-section of the community, he explained.
The National Center for State Courts created its own form for prospective jurors, which does not include the word “Negro.”
According to Hackel, this is the first time officials have heard of anyone being offended as a result of the race categories on juror information cards.
By Haimy Assefa
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