The word Negro is used in the English-speaking world to refer to a person of black ancestry or appearance, whether of African descent or not, prior to the shift in the lexicon of American and worldwide classification of race and ethnicity in the late 1960s. The word "negro" means "black" in Spanish and Portuguese, from the Latin niger ("black") and Greek Νέγρος Négros ("black").
The usage was accepted as normal, even by people classified as Negroes, until the Civil Rights movement. One well-known example is the identification by Martin Luther King, Jr. of his own race as 'Negro' in his famous speech I Have a Dream.
During the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, some African American leaders in the United States objected to the word, preferring Black,because they associated the word Negro with the long history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination that treated African Americans as second class citizens, or worse.
The term "Negro" is now widely considered to be obsolete, and it is not commonly used. It is still used in some historical contexts, such as in the name of the United Negro College Fund. and the Negro league in sports.
Modern language uses: Black; additionally, Black African for people native to the African continent, and African American for people in U.S.A..
"Negro" superseded "colored" as the most polite terminology, at a time when "black" was more offensive.
The United States Census Bureau announced that Negro would be included on the 2010 United States Census, alongside "Black" and "African-American," because some older Black Americans nevertheless self-identify with the term.
Around 1442 the Portuguese first arrived in sub-Saharan Africa while trying to find a sea route to India. The term negro, literally meaning "black", was used by the Spanish and Portuguese as a simple description to refer to people. From the 18th century to the late 1960s, "negro" (later capitalized) was considered to be the proper English-language term for certain people of sub-Saharan African origin.
The word "Negro" fell out of favor by the early 1970s in the United States after the Civil Rights movement. However, older African Americans from the older period of American life when "Negro" was widely considered to be acceptable, initially found the term "Black" more offensive than "Negro". Evidence for the acceptability of "Negro" is in the continued use the word by historical African-American organizations and institutions such as the United Negro College Fund. In current English language usage, "Negro" is generally considered to be acceptable in a historical context, such as baseball's Negro Leagues of the early and mid-20th century, or in the name of older organizations, as in Negro spirituals, the United Negro College Fund or the Journal of Negro Education. The U.S. Census now uses the grouping "Black, African-American or Negro." The term "negro" is used in efforts to include older African Americans who more closely associate with the term.
A specifically female form of the word—negress (sometimes capitalized) —was sometimes used; but, like "Jewess", it has all but completely fallen from use. (An exception is its extremely unusual use in the titles of paintings, drawings and sculptures, largely as an allusion to the formerly common occurrence of the word in such titles, but such usage has dropped off dramatically.) Both terms are considered to be racist and sexist although, as with other racial, ethnic, and sexual words that are seen as pejorative, some people have tried to reclaim the words, for example, the artist Kara Walker.
The related word Negroid was used by 19th and 20th century racial anthropologists. The suffix -oid means "similar to". "Negroid" as a noun was used to designate a wider or more generalized category than "Negro"; as an adjective it qualified a noun as in, for example, "negroid features".
In other languages
In Portuguese, negro is an adjective for the color black, although preto is the most common antonym of branco (white). In Brazil and Portugal negro is the most respectful way to address the African ethnicity, with preto sometimes being considered politically incorrect or a racial slur.
In Spain, Mexico and almost all of Latin-America, negro (note that ethnonyms, names of nationalities, etc. are generally not capitalized in Romance languages) means "black person" in colloquial situations, but it can be considered to be derogatory in other situations (as in English, "black" is often used to mean irregular or undesirable, as in "black market/mercado negro"). However, in Spanish-speaking countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay where there are few people of African origin and appearance, negro (negra for females) is commonly used to refer to partners, close friends or people in general independent of skin color. In Venezuela the word negro is similarly used, despite its large African descent population.
It is similar to the use of the word "nigga" in urban communities in the United States. For example, one might say to a friend, "Negro ¿Como andas? (literally "Hey, black one, how are you doing?"). In this case, the diminutive negrito is used, as a term of endearment meaning "pal", "buddy" or "friend". Negrito has come to be used to refer to a person of any ethnicity or color, and also can have a sentimental or romantic connotation similar to "sweetheart," or "dear" in English (in the Philippines, negrito was used for a local dark-skinned short person, living in the Negros islands among other places).
In other Spanish-speaking South American countries, the word negro can also be employed in a roughly equivalent form, though it is not usually considered to be as widespread as in Argentina or Uruguay (except perhaps in a limited regional and/or social context).
Moreno can be used as a euphemism but it also means just "tanned" or brunette.
In Haitian Creole the word nèg, derived from the French "nègre", refers to a dark-skinned man; it can also be used for any man, regardless of skin color, roughly like "guy" or "dude" in American English.
The Dutch word "neger" is generally (but not universally) considered to be a neutral one, or at least less negative than "zwarte" (black one).
In German, Neger was considered to be a neutral term for black people, but it gradually fell out of fashion in the 1970s. Neger now is considered to be always derogatory or racist. The terms Schwarzer (black person) or Farbiger (colored person) are still used, the very old Mohr (from Latin morus, black) survives in advertising. There is also a kind of sweet traditionally referred to as "Negerkuss" (literally "negro kiss").
In Russia the term "негр" (negr) was commonly used in the Soviet period without any negative connotation, and its use continues in this neutral sense. In modern Russian media, the word is used somewhat less frequently - "африканцы" ("Africans") or "афро-американцы"("Afro-Americans") are used instead, depending on the situation), but is still common in oral speech. The word "black" (чёрный) as a noun used as a form of address is pejorative, although it is primarily used with respect to peoples of the Caucasus, natives of Central Asia, and not black people. The word "black" (чёрный) as an adjective is also used in a neutral sense and means the same as "негр" (negr), e.g. "чёрные американцы" (black Americans), "чёрное население" (the black population), etc. Other alternatives to "негр" are темнокожий (temnokozhiy - "dark-skinned"), чернокожий (chernokozhiy - "black-skinned"). These two are used as both nouns and adjectives.
In the Italian language, negro was used as a neutral term until the end of the 60's. Nowadays the word is considered offensive in some contexts; if used with a clear offensive intention it may be punished by law. Neutral words to define a black or dark-skinned person are nero (literally "black") or di colore (coloured - or literally 'of colour').
In Swedish neger used to be considered a neutral term for black people, but the term has gradually fallen out of favour through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Today the neutral term to define a black person is svart ("black"). There is a Swedish pastry traditionally called negerboll (literally "negro ball"). Due to its possible offensive character, the name has fallen out of favor in for example new cooking books, being replaced by "Chokladboll" (Chocolate Ball), though it is still used colloquially.
In Denmark "Neger" is still considered a neutral word that most of the population use when describing a person of African descent.
In the Finnish language the word neekeri (negro) was considered a neutral term for black people. Very few — if literally any — black people lived in Finland before the 1980s. In 2002 neekeri's definition was changed from perceived as derogatory by some to generally derogatory in line with ryssä (Ruskie) and hurri (Swedish-speaking Finn) in Kielitoimiston sanakirja. Also, there was a popular Finnish pastry called Neekerinsuukko (lit. "negro's kiss"). The manufacturer changed the name to Brunbergin suukko ("Brunberg's kiss") in 2001. Today, neutral terms to define a black person include musta ("black"), tumma (lit. "dark-shaded"), tummaihoinen ("dark-skinned") and mustaihoinen ("black-skinned"). A study conducted among native Finns found that 90 % of research subjects considered the terms ”neekeri”, ”ryssä” ja ”manne” (term referring to Finnish Roma) most derogatory names for ethnic minorities.
In the French language the positive concept of negritude was developed by the Senegalese politician Léopold Sédar Senghor.