Middle Passage Descendants: Negro?

Afro-American? BIPOC?

Negro“What Should You Call Middle Passage Descendants?” That’s the title of a recent article that Peter Feinman wrote in The Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education, which I receive regularly.

After an annoying, all-caps defense of his use of “HISTORICALLY ACCURATE TERMINOLOGY WHICH MAY BE OFFENSIVE TO READERS…” he discusses the historic use of the word Negro. This is not the first time he has tackled the subject.

He quotes Marc Lacey, the National Editor of The New York Times. “Everyone in this country who traces their ancestors back to Africa has experienced a panoply of racial identifiers over their lives, with some terms imposed and others embraced. In the course of a single day in 2020, I might be called black, African-American, or a person of color. I’m also labeled, in a way that makes my brown skin crawl, as diverse, ethnic, or a minority.”

Feinman’s primary point is clear. “The constantly changing name for Middle Passage people poses a dilemma for historians and museums… Do you use the historically accurate name from the time period of the people you are discussing – meaning the name they used themselves for self-identification – or do you use the name from the present and impose it on the past?”

With a capital N

Booker T. Washington called the Greenwood District of Tulsa, OK “the Negro Wall Street of America.”

In “What Thurgood Marshall Taught Me” by Stephen L. Carter, Yale School of Law (NYT 7/2021), he notes the first black SCOTUS justice “would answer that he’d spent his life fighting for the capital N in ‘Negro’ and wasn’t going to let a ‘bunch of kids’… tell him what he should call himself. Today we scarcely recall the titanic struggle over [the] capitalizing [of] ‘Negro.'” I had read about this, and it was indeed a BFD at the time.

Feinman quotes John McWhorter at length. “Yes, the word [Negro] should not be used to refer to Middle Passage descendants today, that would be ‘tacky.’ However, it is a historically-valid name that is not a slur.”

I was watching the PBS/Ken Burns series about Muhammad Ali. The boxer in fact did use the word Negro as an insult towards Floyd Patterson and other black boxing opponents that marketed themselves as the “real Americans”, presumably Christan. They would take down Cassius Clay, using a name the champ, who had joined the Nation of Islam, had by then rejected.

McWhorter wonders “What purpose does it serve to generate this new lexical grievance?… Does Black America … need yet another word to take umbrage at and police the usage of? Do we, in Black America, need fellow travelers — sorry, allies — to join us in this new quest, eager to assist in the surveillance out of some misguided sense that this is ‘doing the work’?”

Yes, we don’t need to change the names of the United Negro College Fund or Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Of course, we ought not to change the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. from “Negro” to whatever term is more “current.”

My take on present usage

When I was growing up, one of my siblings used to nag my maternal grandmother every time she’d talk about “colored people.” “What color ARE they, grandma?” “Black.”

I grew up with the term “Negro” which got stretched to silly comments about how my knee grows to more, er, problematic uses. So I was cool with black, even though, FOR YEARS, people would, unsolicited, say that I wasn’t really BLACK, but more a BROWN, and white people were more a shade of PINK… Please stop.

I remember being corrected over a sociology paper in college that I should use Black rather than black, the logic being that it’s replacing Negro. OK, if I’m using White, I’ll use Black. But if I’m writing white, I’m also writing black.


I know that African-American resonates with a lot of people. When I worked the 1990 Census as an enumerator, one choice was “Negro or black.” More than one respondent replied, almost defiantly, “African-American!” That’s fine. But the word, as well as the briefly popular Afro-American, never resonated with me. Over the last half-century, it’s been even more problematic.

1. It is a very narrow term. We’re talking about black people from sub-Saharan Africa who are Americans. So it doesn’t mean Charlize Theron, who is a white South African actress and a naturalized American citizen. Or the black terrorist during the Charlie Hebo incident, described initially by CNN as an African-American, when he was Afro-French. Or a number of black people in the US who aren’t Americans at all.

2. It has too many syllables, 7 (or 5) versus 1. Black History Month flows a lot easier than African-American…

That said, I prefer it to the newish, labored term BIPOC. In addition to sounding ugly, it works so hard to distinguish the Black experience of Middle Passage Descendants from the Indigenous experience of being pushed off their land, from People Of Color, who are Hispanics or East Asians or South Asians et al., as though THEIR experiences are all the same. Meh.

Me and the Pledge of Allegiance

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

pledge of allegianceSometimes, you need to tell a story so you can tell another story. This is one of those times.

Back in the fall of 1968 (I believe), I was a sophomore at Binghamton (NY) Central High School. This was, of course, a period of a good deal of strife across the country. The war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement were prominently on my mind in the months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April. I read a lot of King after his death, most notably his speeches in April 1967 opposing the Vietnam war. Also in 1967, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight boxing title for his refusal to be drafted into the armed service.

Both Ali and King evoked race in stating their positions. King asserted: “The war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home… We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.” Ali declared: “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America.”

I don’t recall whether the incident to be described was just before or very shortly after John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics.

For these and many other reasons that led to mass racial violence in America, the notion of “liberty and justice for all” in America rang hollow for me. Still, it was a circumstance that led me to act on it.

There were standardized tests being given throughout the school. As a result, the morning announcements on the intercom, including the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, were suspended for several days. I decided that perhaps if the pledge wasn’t all that vital to them, maybe I need not say it.

One morning, though, my homeroom teacher, Harvey Shriber, decided unilaterally that we ought to do the recitation. “Please rise for the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said. Everyone stood except me. He repeated his request, but I remained seated. Harvey got red-faced but said nothing.

The first period was math. The teacher was Joe Marino, who I learned later had the same birthday as I (March 7). He was a young teacher, in his first year, at least at BCHS. I was unsurprised when a burly man I had never seen before sat in the seat a couple of rows behind me.

After class, he asked me to go to his office. I asked where that was; it was the principal’s office. Ah, this was Joseph Kazlauskas, the new principal.

At lunchtime, I met with Dr. K, as he liked to be referred to. I remember that he asked me if I belonged to any religious organization that would prohibit me from participating in the pledge, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He cited the Supreme Court case West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), about which Justice Robert Jackson wrote: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

No, my opposition to reciting the Pledge of Allegiance did not come from a religious point of view, certainly not from my specific faith’s position. In any case, I agreed to stand when the pledge was offered, but I didn’t have to say it.

Present tense story to follow, sooner than later.

June rambling #1: love and math

Nation Wishes It Could Just Once Be Reminded Of Preciousness Of Life Without Mass Shooting.

Get Visual: On passing.

Everything Doesn’t Happen For A Reason.

NY Gov. Cuomo signs “unconstitutional, McCarthyite” pro-Israel exec. order punishing BDS boycott movement.

Chuck Miller: The Blackbird: 2006-2016.

John Oliver: Debt Buyers.

Dan Rather on a free press.

Dear Journalists: For the Love of God, Please Stop Calling Your Writing “Content”.

A Progressive Agenda to Cut Poverty and Expand Opportunity.

Meditations of an Anxious Baker.

Christine Baxter: We Are Singing For Our Lives. The sights of her experience at the United Methodist General Conference.

Love and math.

New Yorker: Frog and Toad: an amphibious celebration of same-sex love. “Arnold Lobel… was born in 1933 and raised in Schenectady, New York.”

A Long-Lost Manuscript Contains a Searing Eyewitness Account of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, a topic I wrote about here.

Arctic greening not a good thing; low-income assistance doesn’t make people lazy. And Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) is a schmuck.

Having It All Kinda Sucks. “Only women would sign up for this much crap.”

Jaquandor is dee-you-enn with the first draft of another book.

8 Important TV Shows That Were Lost Or Destroyed.

Bruce Dern, at 80, Reflects on His Career, Working With Clint Eastwood and Alfred Hitchcock.

Deconstructing Comics Podcast: #500 – Stephen Bissette: Comics, Movies, and Creator Credits.

Trouble with Comics #40: Party All the Time.

Bats In The Bedroom Can Spread Rabies Without An Obvious Bite, something I learned firsthand.

Your Ramadan beverage.

Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style.

Now I Know: Watching What You Say and Decipher This and The Land Down Under in the Land Down Under and How to Take Turns, International Treaty Edition.

Peter Shaffer Dies at 90; Playwright Won Tonys for ‘Equus’ and ‘Amadeus’. Pronounced SHAFF-er. Amadeus: Peter Shaffer’s Enduring Portrait of Genius (and Mediocrity).

Gordie Howe, hockey legend, R.I.P. at 88. Howe played more than 1,700 games in the NHL and scored more than 800 goals. He was widely known as “Mr. Hockey.”

Irv Benson, R.I.P. at 102.

SamuraiFrog answered a bunch of questions from me, including about the Cincinnati Zoo.

Muhammad ALI

Pentagon learned from the epic mistake of making a martyr of the world’s most gifted and famous athlete.
Cassius Clay sings Stand By Me.

Remembering Cleveland’s Muhammad Ali Summit, 1967. Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Lew Alcindor and others.

World Heavyweight Champion of Peace, Justice and Humanity.

Ali Understood the Racist Roots of War and Militarism. And he called them out fearlessly.

The Political Poet.

How Muhammad Ali helped Tavis Smiley heal a father-son rift.

The champ on That’s Incredible.

Man and Superman.

Muhammad Ali’s other big fight.

The 1996 Olympics.

When Muhammad Ali fought at the Washington Avenue Armory.

‘Ali! Ali!’: The Greatest is laid to rest in his hometown.

Pieces by Dustbury and Ken Levine.

A bunch of articles from Slate, including Billy Crystal’s Homage at the Champ’s Memorial. Plus Billy Crystal’s Muhammad Ali tribute – 15 Rounds (1979).

Muhammad Ali documentary ‘When We Were Kings’ to screen at Madison Theatre in Albany 6/23.


Big Daddy’s new video is a mash-up of “New York, New York” with classic Doo-Wop styles of the 1950s…most notably “Blue Moon” by The Marcels.

Marcia Howard: A voice from the past brings the past to The Voice.

Carpool Karaoke with James Corden, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jane Krakowski, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

Lin-Manuel Miranda Freestyles about RAMEN.

Classic guitar riffs.

Bobbie Gentry and other classic music photographs from the BBC archive.

Paul McCartney talks about the early days.

As Dustbury knows, this IS bad: Court Says Remastered Old Songs Get A Brand New Copyright.

Now I Know: Faking Fakin’ It.

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984.

MuhammadAli Muhammad Ali was born on January 17, 1942. When I was growing up, my grandfather McKinley told me that being the heavyweight champ in boxing was a most notable achievement.

This brash young man out of Louisville, KY, named Cassius Clay, who had won the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, and tossed his medal into the river, because being an Olympic champion, did not inure one from racism. (Or he just lost it.) He was an underdog against reigning champ Sonny Liston.

Most thought his pre-fight chatter that he would “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” was just talk. But he beat Liston on February 25, 1964, in Miami, becoming the youngest boxer to take the title from a reigning heavyweight champion. His new name was announced shortly after that fight.

Ali was stripped of his title in 1967 for his refusal to be drafted into the Army service. He was denied a boxing license, first in the state of New York, and eventually by every state. He was convicted on June 20 of that year of draft evasion. He was not allowed to “fight from March 1967 to October 1970—from ages 25 to almost 29—as his case worked its way through the appeal process. In 1971, the US Supreme Court overturned his conviction in a unanimous 8-0 ruling (Thurgood Marshall abstained from the case).”

After Losing three and a half years in boxing, Ali had his first fight against champ Joe Frazier, held at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971. Ali suffered his first professional defeat.

When he defeated Frazier in a rematch a couple of years later, after Frazier had lost the crown to George Foreman, Ali regained the title against Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974. In February 1978, he lost to young Leon Spinks in Las Vegas, but won a rematch a little over a year later, making him the first heavyweight champion to win the belt three times.

It was Ali’s name change, fighting to have it accepted against the conventions of the day, and his successful opposition to the Vietnam war, more than his boxing, that most interested me about the man.

Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984. Yet he remains one of the best-known, and beloved, persons in the world, as he engaged in philanthropy, “involved in raising funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, Arizona; supported the Special Olympics and the Make a Wish Foundation among other organizations, and has traveled to numerous countries… to help out those in need. In 1998, he was chosen to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace because of his work in developing countries. In 2005, Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.”

I was saddened, but not surprised that he died this weekend at the age of 74.


The late Ed Bradley’s interview with Ali on 60 Minutes in 1996

Michael Rivest: The greatest is Gone

Ali on the wall.

Muhammad Ali is 70

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”.


There are certain figures who are, for whatever reason, transcendent. For instance, people knew who Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan were, even if they didn’t follow baseball or basketball. Muhammad Ali was, and is, like that. In a period when the heavyweight championship of boxing still was culturally significant, before an alphabet soup of different boxing authorities stripped the championship of any lasting meaning, Ali was most noteworthy.

I remember that it was the conventional wisdom that Clay could not possibly beat champion Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964, a fight I recall hearing on the radio. Yet, Clay prevailed.

Shortly after the fight, he announced his conversion to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Ultimately, it was that conversion, scorned by some opponents who kept referring to him by what he called his “slave name”, that was the gateway to the next phase of his life: being stripped of his boxing crown and even his boxing license in 1967 for his “refusal to be conscripted into the U.S. military, based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War.” This was a momentous event, which “inspired Martin Luther King Jr. – who had been reluctant to alienate the Johnson Administration and its support of the civil rights agenda – to voice his own opposition to the war for the first time.” Ultimately, Ali won his US Supreme Court case, but not before he lost nearly four years working at his chosen profession.

This set the stage for three epic fights with the late Joe Frazier, who died late last year. In 1971, Frazier became the first fighter to defeat Ali then “lost two epic rematches including a ferocious battle known as the ‘Thrilla in Manila.'” Ali went on to have another stretch of boxing success. He has regularly been named one of the top one or two boxers of all time.

But it wasn’t just his boxing prowess. It was the poetry of his boxing style, which he described as “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”.

And it was his name change. Lots of actors have changed their name, but Ali’s action gave other athletes, such as Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, permission to do likewise. Whatever one thought of the theatrical arguing between Ali and ABC Sports’ Howard Cosell, I always liked Cosell because he always called Ali by the name he wished to be called.

I was awestruck at the 1996 Olympics when it was the Parkinson’s disease-riddled Ali who had the honor of lighting the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. One of my favorite Ali memories was when he and his fourth wife, Yolanda, wife were being interviewed by the late Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes.

In 1999, Ali was crowned Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated and Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC.

Happy birthday, Muhammad.

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