October 07, 2011

"Negro" and "Squaw" place names

Race-Based Names Dot the Landscape

By Kim SeversonThe onetime name of Gov. Rick Perry’s Texas hunting camp is currently the most famous example of an egregious race-based place name, but it is not the only one.

Consider Runaway Negro Creek, which flows near a state park outside Savannah, Ga. The name is printed on nautical charts, but park rangers find it so uncomfortable to use, they try to avoid saying it.

It is one of several hundred places that have the word “Negro” in their names and still exist on government maps and in the local vernacular in dozens of states.

They are vestiges of racial attitudes that not that long ago made it acceptable to label a piece of property once leased by Gov. Rick Perry’s family as Niggerhead, which had been painted in block letters on a large rock at the entrance to the rural northern Texas hunting camp. The word was once so common it was used as a brand name for everyday items like soap, canned shrimp and tobacco.

Although it would be hard to find anyone willing to argue that the term or its variants should still be on any maps or signs, many people now also say that Negro—a government-approved alternative to the harsher epithet used in the past to name mountains, rivers and other places—should also be removed.
The article goes on and on about "Negro," but has only this to say about "Squaw":One person’s offensive name may be another’s point of pride, as communities are learning as they grapple with requests to change sites that use the term “Squaw.”Comment:  I don't know if "Squaw" is a bigger problem than "Negro" in terms of number of places. But it's a bigger problem in terms of offensiveness. The article should've devoted more space to "Squaw" and less to "Negro."

For more on the subject, see "Niggerhead" Out, "Redskins" In and Debating Frog Woman Rock.

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