‘Back when we were Negroes’
By Charles E. Richardson

(Posted on Sun, Jul. 31, 2011 in the Macon Telegraph, Macon , GA.)

There was a time until the early 1960s when the terms to describe those of African
descent, like me — African-American or Black or Afro-American —-were  almost
unheard of.

I remember a distinct conversation with a friend discussing descriptive terms for
ourselves in 1963 or ’64.  The term “black” was just coming into vogue and he didn’t
like it one bit.  “Call me a Negro,” he said, “but don’t call me black.”
Now, the word “Negro” (publications used a lower case “n”) has almost become a
pejorative, so I was a little surprised when my pastor, the Rev. Willie Reid, used it
during Thursday’s revival.  “Back when we were Negroes,” he said, and listed  several
things that were different about black life in America back then.

That got me to thinking.  Back when we were Negroes in the 1950s, “only 9 percent
of black families with children were headed by a single parent,” according to
“The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies” by Kay Hymowitz.  “Black children had a 52 percent
chance of living with both their biological parents until age 17.  In 1959, “only 2 percent
of black children were reared in households in which the mother never married.”
But now that we’re African-Americans, according to Hymowitz, those odds of living with
both parents had “dwindled to a mere 6 percent” by the mid-1980s.  And check this, in
Bibb County, more than 70 percent of the  births in the African-American community are
to single mothers.

Back when we were Negroes and still fighting in many parts of the country for the right
to vote, we couldn’t wait for the polls to open.  We knew our friends, family and
acquaintances had died getting us the ballot.  Dogs and fire hoses were used to keep
us away and still we came.  But now that we’re African-Americans, in a city of 47,000
registered — predominately black voters — more than 30,000 didn’t show up at the
polls July 19.

Back when we were Negroes,  we had names like Joshua, Aaron, Paul, Esther, Melba,
Cynthia and Ida.  Now that we are African Americans, our names are bastardized
versions of alcohol from Chivas to Tequila to C(S)hardonney.  And chances are,
the names have an unusual spelling.

Back when we were Negroes, according to the Trust For America’s Health’s “F as in Fat,”
report, “only four states had diabetes rates above 6 percent. … The hypertension rates
in 37 states about 20 years ago were more than 20 percent.”

Now that we’re African-Americans, that report  shows, “every state has a hypertension
rate of more than 20 percent, with nine more than 30 percent.  Forty-three states have
diabetes rates of more than 7 percent, and 32 have rates above 8 percent.  Adult obesity
rates for blacks topped 40 percent in 15 states, 35 percent in 35 states and 30 percent in
42 states and Washington , D.C.

Back when we were Negroes, the one-room church was the community center that
everyone used.  Now that we’re African-Americans, our churches have lavish — compared
to back-in-the-day churches — community centers that usually sit empty because the last
thing the new church wants to do is invite the community in.

Back when we were Negroes, we didn’t have to be convinced that education was the key
that opened the lock of success, but now that we’re African-Americans, more than 50
percent of our children fail to graduate high school.  In Bibb County last year, the system
had a dropout rate of 53.4 percent.

Back when we were Negroes, the last thing a young woman wanted to look like was
a harlot and a young man a thug, but now that we’re African-Americans, many of our
young girls dress like hootchie mamas and our young boys imitate penitentiary custom
and wear their pants below the butt line.

If I could reverse all of the above by trading the term “African-American” for “Negro,”
what do you think I’d do?

(Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor.)

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas