The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #18902   Message #2348566
Posted By: Azizi
25-May-08 - 12:23 AM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: My Pretty Quadroon
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: My Pretty Quadroon
Somewhat off-topic:

Perhaps readers of this thread may be interested in information [based on my experiences as an African American, and also based on my readings]regarding the contemporary use or non-use of group referents such as "negro" spelled with a small 'n', and "quadroon", "octoroon", and "mulatto". I'm writing this as a means of sharing information, and not to post any criticism.

We African Americans have used a number of different group names as referents for ourselves. Prior to the change in the formal referent for Black Americans to "African American" in the mid to late 1960s, in the twentieth century, the formal referent which was most often used was "Negro".

Prior to the mid to late 1950s, the referent "Negro" was commonly printed with a small 'n' by White persons in the mainsteam media and other White people. A number of Black people also followed this practice. However, in the mid to late 1950s, a number of efforts were mounted by "Negroes" to have that group referent spelled in a standard manner with a capitol 'N'. This would have meant that Negro would be spelled in accordance with the practice that was used for the spelling of other formal group names of racial, ethnic, national, and religiousd populations [for instance-English, Irish, Polish, Indian, German, Jews, Russian, Chinese, Japanese]. The reasoning behind these efforts was that because all the other populations had their formal group referents spelled with a capitol letter* to spell Negro with a small 'n' suggested that Negroes were "less than", not equal to other groups of human beings, and therefore not worthy of the respect shown them by the act of capitolizing their formal group name.

Those efforts were largely successful. At least by the mid 1960s, [that is to say, prior to the change over to the formal referent "African American", the 'n' in the word Negro was almost always capitolized [unless people were quoting 19th century songs or historical text that had that racial name written with a small 'n']. Note that the first letters of the words "African" and "American" are always capitolized.

Among African American writers [and perhaps non-African American writers], a person might use the referent 'Negro' as a contemptuous name for a contemporary Black man or a contemporary Black woman who is abjectly servile and deferential to White people. A contemporary Black man or Black woman who is referred to as a Negro also does or says things that are against the best interest of himself {herself} and/or other Black people. "Uncle Tom" or "Tom" are other terms for such a Black man, and [the less often used] "Aunt Jemima" is another term for such a Black man {"Jemima is not used without the title 'Aunt']. In other words, it is a grave insult for an African American to call another African American a "Negro". That insult is heightened [deepened] when the word "Negro" is spelled with a small 'n'.

* In the United States, it's also acceptable to use "Black" as an informal referent for "African Americans". In addition, in the United States, "Black" is an accepable informal referent for other people who have some Black African ancestry.

Some African Americans and non-African Americans capitolize the word 'Black' [such as I do] when it is used as a group referent. For consistency's sake, those that capitolize the referent "Black" usually also capitolize the group referent "White". However, it's also acceptable to use a small "b" for "black" when that word is used as a group referent. Indeed, spelling 'black' with a small 'b' appears to be the norm-especially in the mainstream media, and elsewhere, and particularly among White people. Spelling the group referent 'black' with a small 'b' is probably so common because the group referent 'white' is usually spelled with a small 'w'. That said, I believe that more Black people than White people capitolize the group referent "Black". This may be for the same reasons that I indicated for capitolizing the word Negro.

It might also be of interest to persons reading this thread to know that the term "quadroon", and "octoroon" has not been formally or informally used in the USA since at least the early 1950s, and maybe earlier than that. The term "mulatto" lasted in formal use longer than those other terms. But mulatto has also given way to the imprecise "formal" terms "mixed", "multiracial", and "biracial". Informally, you will still hear African Americans and other people [including those with this ancestry] refer to people with a Black birth parent and a non-Black birth parent as 'half and half'. I personally do not like that term. Also, I've read examples of more White people than Black people using the term "zebra" as a referent for people who have one Black and one White birth parent. I personally really don't like that term. As I noted in my earlier comments, I believe that racism and the desire to maintain a fictional pure White race is the reason for the tradition of categorizing as Black people of mixed racial ancestry when one of the birth parents is Black. Theoretically, my view is that those people with ancestry should be able to choose to belong to either and both of the races that their birth parents belong to. Gowever, we live in the real world. And in todays real world of the USA, and most other nations, regardless of their physical appearance, persons of mixed Black/non-Black ancestry are considered to be Black, even if they call themselves 'biracial'. In that regard, 'biracial' is a sub-set of African American. Of course, this may change-in time. But, in my opinion, and in my experience, that's the way it is now.