Congress sends bill eliminating ‘Oriental’ and ‘Negro’ from law to Obama

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Federal law will soon no longer contain the words “Oriental,” “Negro” or other dated references to minorities.

Legislation to eliminate remaining use of the terms in federal law text is headed to President Obama’s desk after the Senate passed it by unanimous consent Monday night. 

Rep. Grace Meng’s (D-N.Y.) bill, which the House easily approved in February, replaces the word “Oriental” in two sections of the U.S. code with “Asian American.” It also targets the use of the word “Negro” and changes it to “African American.”

{mosads}“I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for understanding that the time has come for our government to no longer refer to Asian Americans – or any ethnicity – in such an insulting manner,” Meng said in a statement on Tuesday. “Repealing this term is long overdue. ‘Oriental’ no longer deserves a place in federal law, and very shortly it will finally be a thing of the past.”

The legislation targets two particular lines in the U.S. code written in the late 1970s that attempted to define minorities. 

In the law that established the Department of Energy, a sentence regarding the Office of Minority Economic Impact describes a minority as “a Negro, Puerto Rican, American Indian, Eskimo, Oriental, or Aleut or is a Spanish speaking individual of Spanish descent.” 

Secondly, a line in the Local Public Works Capital Development and Investment Act regarding minority business enterprises establishes minorities as “Negroes, Spanish-speaking, Orientals, Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts.”

Both phrases containing the words “Negro” and “Oriental” will now be replaced with “African American” and “Asian American.” “Native Hawaiian” and “Pacific Islander” will additionally be included in the new descriptors.

“Spanish-speaking” will also be read instead as “Hispanic”; “Eskimo” and “Aleut” will become “Alaska Natives”; and “Indian” will turn into “Native American.”

This isn’t the first time Meng has pursued changing outdated references to minorities. While serving as a member of the New York state assembly in 2009, Meng co-authored legislation that similarly removed the word “Oriental” in official New York state documents. 

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