A recently-updated US Army handbook has been found to include “Negro” as an approved term to use when describing black people.
The unclassified document outlines the military’s “Army Command Policy”, known as regulation AR 600-20, and features a set of racial “definitions” in a chapter on equal opportunities.
Sandwiched between descriptions of what “prejudice” and “racism” mean in the context of the armed forces, a paragraph on “black or African American” reads: “A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Terms such as ‘Haitian’ or ‘Negro’ can be used in addition to ‘Black’ or ‘African American’.
The US army has confirmed that the term remains in use in the document, which was revised and republished as recently as 22 October.
Trying to explain why a term that is outdated and widely regarded as offensive remains part of army policy, one unnamed military source told CNN it could be so a soldier could choose to “self-report” as “Negro” instead of “African American” or “black” – as is reported to be the case in the US census.
But a personnel official for the Pentagon told the broadcaster this explanation was “the dumbest thing I have ever heard”, adding that the US Defense Department does not feature the term in any of its demographics data.
Speaking to the New York Daily News, Bishop Leon McClain of the National Association for Black Veterans said he was classified as “Negro” when he joined the Army as a teen in 1954, not long before the term faded from use during the Civil Rights Movement.
“Didn’t bother me then, doesn’t bother me now,” he said. “I wasn’t always treated with respect, but you got to look forward, not back, and you can’t pay ignorance any mind.”
In a statement, the US army said the racial definitions in the policy document were “outdated, currently under review, and will be updated shortly”.
It added: “The Army takes pride in sustaining a culture where all personnel are treated with dignity and respect and not discriminated against based on race, colour, religion, gender and national origin.”
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