AskDefine | Define Negro

Dictionary Definition

negro adj : relating to or characteristic of or being a member of the traditional racial division of mankind having brown to black pigmentation and tightly curled hair n : a person with dark skin who comes from Africa (or whose ancestors came from Africa) [syn: Black, Black person, blackamoor, Negroid] [also: negroes (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary

see negro


Alternative forms


  1. A person of sub-Saharan African descent.
    • Encyclopaedia Britannica, "negro," 11th ed., page 344,
      In certain of the characteristics . . . the negro would appear to stand on a lower evolutionary plane than the white man, and to be more closely related to the highest anthropoids. The characteristics are length of arm, prognathism, a heavy massive cranium with large zygomatic arches, flat nose depressed at base, &c.
  2. A person with black or dark brown skin.
    • 1963, Martin Luther King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail,
      Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained.

Derived terms


Extensive Definition

Negro is a term referring to people of Black African ancestry. Prior to the shift in the lexicon of American and worldwide classification of race and ethnicity in the late 1960s, the appellation was accepted as a normal neutral formal term both by those of African descent as well as non-African blacks. Now it is often considered an ethnic slur although the term is still used in some contexts for historical reasons such as in the name of the United Negro College Fund. "Negro" means "black" in Spanish and Portuguese, and the Italian "nero" is similar (Latin: niger = "black").
Modern synonyms in common use include:

In English

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 to refer to people. From the 18th century to the mid-20th century, "negro" (later capitalized) was considered the proper English term for all people of sub-Saharan African origin.
It fell out of favor by the 1970s in the United States after the Civil Rights movement. However, it is necessary to note that older African Americans from the period when "Negro" was considered acceptable, initially found the term "Black" more offensive than "Negro". Evidence for this is in historical African-American organizations and institutions' utilization of the term--such as the United Negro College Fund. In current English language usage, "Negro" is generally considered acceptable in a historical context 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 or African American."
A specifically female form of the word—negress (sometimes capitalized) —was sometimes used; but, like another gender-specific word "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 are considered racist and sexist, although as with other racial, ethnic, and sexual words that are seen as pejoratives, some individuals have tried "reclaiming" the word. An example of this is artist Kara Walker.
The related word Negroid was used by 19th and 20th century racial anthropologists. The suffix -oid means "similar to" and is meant to designate a wider or more generalized category than the original word.

In other languages

In Portuguese, negro is an adjective meaning the color black, as in 'black' person. However, preto is the most common antonym of branco (white), while negro can be condescending, since it is a word generally associated with higher registers. In Brazil the word is considered respectful and the appropriate manner to refer to the black race, though it is often considered impolite to take note of an individual's skin color in any context (which causes the word to be used only in reported speech or in third-person).
In Spain, negro (note that ethnonyms are generally not capitalized in Romance languages) means "black person" in colloquial situations, but it can be considered derogatory in other situations (for example, by French influence, negro is also the word for a ghost writer or people in general independent of skin color.
It is similar to the use of the word "nigga" in urban communities in the U.S. For example, one may 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", or "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).
The popular Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa is nicknamed "La Negra" by her fans, which in this case refers to the colour of her hair rather than of her skin.
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 "neger" is generally (but not universally) considered as neutral, or at least less negative than "zwarte" (black one).
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) 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.
In Italy the word "negro" is an ethnic slur, but sometimes some uneducated people can use it without offensive meaning. However the politically correct word to refer to a black people is "nero" (meaning black) or "di colore" (that mean "coloured").
The names of two African countries, Niger and Nigeria, are derived from the same etymological origin.


Further reading

  • P. A. Bruce, The Plantation Negro as a Freeman, (New York, 1889)
  • Edward Ingle, The Negro in the District of Columbia, (Baltimore, 1893)
  • W. E. B. DuBois, The Negroes of the Black Belt, (Washington, 1899)
  • B. T. Washington, The Future of the American Negro, (Boston, 1899)
  • Claude Bernard-Aubert, My Baby Is Black!, (Hollywood, 1965)
  • Montgomery Conference Proceedings, (Montgomery, 1900)
  • J. A. Tillinghast, The Negro in Africa and America, (New York, 1902)
  • T. N. Page, The Negro: The Southerner's Problem, (New York, 1904)
  • Library of Congress, List of Discussions of Negro Suffrage, (Washington, 1906)
  • W. E. Fleming, Slavery and the Race Problem in the South, (Boston, 1907)
  • Jackson and Davis, Industrial History of the Negro Race in America, (Richmond, 1908)
  • A. H. Stone, Studies in the American Race Problem, (New York, 1908)
  • W. P. Pickett, The Negro Problem, ISBN 0837122007 (New York, 1909)
  • E. G. Murphy, The Basis of Ascendency, (New York, 1909)
  • Stevenson, Race Distinctions in American Law, (New York, 1910)
  • A. B. Hart, The Southern South, (New York, 1910)
  • W. P. Livingstone, The Race Conflict, (London, 1911)
  • B. G. Brawley, A Short History of the American Negro, (New York, 1913)
  • The Negro Year Book, (Nashville, et. seq.)
  • "Negroes in the United States," in Bulletin of the United States Census Bureau, (Washington, 1915)
  • A. D. Mayo, Third Estate of the South, (Boston, 1890)
  • J. L. M. Curry, Education of the Negro since 1860, (Baltimore, 1894)
  • J. L. M. Curry, A Brief Sketch of George Peabody and a History of the Peabody Education Fund through Thirty Years, (Cambridge, 1898)
  • W. H. Thomas, The American Negro, (New York, 1901)
  • Sadler, "The Education of the Colored Race", in Special Reports of Great Britain Education Board, volume xi, (London, 1902)
  • Kate Brousseau, L'Education des nègres aux Etats-Unis, (Paris, 1904)
  • B. T. Washington, Education of the Negro, (new edition, New York, 1904)
  • W. E. B. DuBois, "A Select Bibliography of the American Negro for General Readers," in Atlantic University Publications, (Atlanta, 1901)
  • C. B. Davenport Heredity of Skin-Color in Negro-White Crosses, Carnegie Institution Publication Number 188 (1913)
  • C. H. Vail Socialism and the Negro Problem (1903)
Negro in Bulgarian: Негър
Negro in Danish: Neger
Negro in German: Neger
Negro in French: Nègre
Negro in Italian: Negro
Negro in Hungarian: Néger
Negro in Dutch: Neger
Negro in Norwegian: Neger
Negro in Norwegian Nynorsk: Neger
Negro in Russian: Негр
Negro in Finnish: Neekeri
Negro in Swedish: Neger
Negro in Ukrainian: Негри
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Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

American Indian, Amerind, Australian aborigine, Bushman, Caucasian, Indian, Malayan, Mister Charley, Mongolian, Negrillo, Negrito, Oriental, Red Indian, WASP, black, black man, blackfellow, boy, brown man, burrhead, colored person, coon, darky, gook, honky, jigaboo, jungle bunny, nigger, niggra, ofay, paleface, pygmy, red man, redskin, slant-eye, spade, the Man, white, white man, whitey, yellow man
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