Food for Thought

Elderly couple eating dinner at their home on Lamont Street, N.W. (June 1942)

Elderly couple eating dinner at their home on Lamont Street, N.W. (June 1942)

Here’s a question I’d like an answer to, and one that I keep tripping over.

When someone writes about a historical event, and you retell an incident that comes from an old newspaper, say the Washington Post, and the article states a name, and notes that they are “negro” in the news story, is it acceptable to leave it as is but quote it, or, is it acceptable to adjust the language to modern norms? Additionally, is it even important to mention at all?

The history of the District is quit diverse, and as you can image, polite and acceptable language changes over the years. What people find important to mention in news also changes.

I have to think that it might be a case by case situation … but when you mention people by name, especially when they aren’t important enough to be remembered historically, sometimes the diversity of an historical event or story becomes more important today that it may have been at the time.

There are easier ways of me getting this answer rather than blogging about it, but I’m betting I’m not the only one who cares about the history of the District that would like to know how to tell the story of the City by being true to its events and respectful of all.

Also, I don’t want to ignore a signivicant, important, and rich DC heritage because of a five letter word.


5 Responses to “Food for Thought”

  1. Over the River Says:

    If you are quoting the article, put quotations around the entire article leaving each word intact. If you are discussing the word (as above in your post) it is acceptable to bracket it in quotes to bring attention to the phrase being discussed.

    I personally feel we do people an injustice when we simply follow trends by constantly changing how they are addressed. Some terms are intended to be hurtful and disrespectable and if they are in the article you may want to distance yourself from the writer. I don’t think negro is one of those words.

    Words and people’s attitudes toward them change over time. In the future someone may quote your Blog and have the same question.

  2. When I was growing up I thought it was completely obnoxious that they would only write “negro” after a person’s name but never “white” or “caucasian.” That inconsistency really bothered me on a number of different levels and it still does. I never saw them write “asian” or “chinese” either. I guess they figure it would be pretty obvious from the name.

    I think the correct way to quote something like that would be to put dots (…) in place of the word or maybe put [sic] after it, because it is sick! Or maybe you should leave it as is because it is an important historical reminder of how things actually were back then. It is a dilemma. I’d be more inclined to not quote, so I could say it the way I wanted to, but then include a footnote or a link to credit the orginal source.

  3. That makes sense. I guess everything has to do with context and intent. Where I catch myself more often than not is in writing, where tone and body language are lacking. There is so much more to communicating than words … and yet, words themselves can be very powerful.

  4. @ Cyndy: You’ve made my point exactly.

    By singling out one group of society with labels and not the others, it was not fair or equal treatement. That in and of itself is an interesting historical note, and in part behind my question. The inequality of it shouldn’t be continued, but to sweep it under the carpet is wrong too.

    I think its a balancing act of when it is important to the historical event vs. when it isn’t.

  5. […] The images were easily found in google searches, but the lovely older couple I found on the blog Food for Thought here:… […]

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