Does This Offend You? NY Juror Forms Ask Applicants To Identify As “African-American, Black, Or Negro”

January 13, 2014  |  

Raeana Roberson was appalled when she was asked to identify as “African-American, Black, or Negro” when filing out a juror form for a courthouse in Queens, NY. She scribbled out the word “Negro” and added “Offensive! It’s 2014!” The Huffington Post reports.

Roberson, a 25-year-old Black teacher, took a photo of the form and uploaded it on Facebook. The caption read “REALLY? ‘Negro’ … that I am not. Hello 2014? … jury duty..”

She even wondered if the form was an old application from the 1950s. Roberson then approached a Black court employee with the application, but she explained the worker was unmoved by her complaint.

“I felt shocked and upset and totally disrespected,” Roberson added. She looked around the room with 300 other prospective jurors and found that no one else seemed visibly unsettled by the form.

Roberson said she was taken aback by the term “Negro” because of its underlying connection to the “separate, but equal” times in American history. “My grandfather is from South Carolina. He grew up in the Jim Crow South,” she noted. “The history of ‘Negro,’ and the context in which the word has been used in the past, makes it offensive,” she said.

“I don’t think it was malicious,” said Jeffrey Sammons, a professor of history at New York University. There were times, according to Sammons, that the word “Negro” was used to describe high-achieving, skilled African-Americans. “Negro” was embraced by the Black community, he said, until the term lost popularity during the black pride movement.

“I believe there are many black people who still prefer that term,” said Sammons. “It is a generational issue.”

Roberson concedes that there was probably no offensive intent behind the form. “If a white person wanted to insult you in 1965, they had a much wider variety of choices to pick besides ‘Negro.,’HuffPo reports.

Still, the term has resurfaced and even appeared on Census forms in 2010. Following an uproar from the Black community, the bureau apologized and said that they would cease to use the term, effective in 2014. New York State, HuffPo says, follows the Census Bureau for race categories and has not yet followed the Census’ footsteps in eradicating the term.

“We are aware that it is an outdated term and we will be changing it as they change it,” explained Hackel, a rep for the New York State office of court administration. “I can’t give you a specific date, but I know that we have plans to make that change.”

Meanwhile, after waiting nearly three hours, Roberson was not selected to become juror at the courthouse.

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