President Barack Obama signed a bill into law Friday banning the federal government from using the terms “Negro” and “Oriental,” making the official terms African-American and Asian-American.
The measure, H.R.4238, was an amendment to the Local Public Works Capital Development and Investment Act of 1976 to modernize terms relating to minorities. The legislation passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate earlier this year.
The law also updates the terms the U.S. federal government uses to describe minorities. American Indians will now be referred to as Native Americans, while, according to the law’s language, a “Spanish speaking individual of Spanish descent” will be referred to as Hispanic.
“Many Americans may not be aware that the word ‘Oriental’ is derogatory,” said Rep. Grace Meng of New York and one of the bill’s original sponsors. “But it is an insulting term that needed to be removed from the books, and I am extremely pleased that my legislation to do that is now the law of the land.”
“The term ‘Oriental’ has no place in federal law and at long last this insulting and outdated term will be gone for good,” said Rep. Meng.
Rep. Meng pushed through similar legislation in 2009, while working in the New York state legislature.
A bill mirroring the law Obama signed Friday is being backed by Washington State Senator Pramila Jayapal.
Last month, the Library of Congress began revising its official use of terms like “illegal alien” and “alien” on its subject headings after a group of college activists and the American Library Association protested the agency’s use of those phrases.
“Our country is a rich tapestry of cultural backgrounds, and Americans of all backgrounds deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” said California Republican Rep. Ed Royce, an original cosponsor of the bill.