The (Other) N- Word

My latest piece has gone up here:

The (Other) N-Word

It begins…

Two years ago, I self-published 250 copies of Cheesesteak, a memoir about growing up in West Philadelphia in the 1950s and ‘60s. I gave about half away to people who had shared experiences with me and sold most of the rest. A distributor offered to take the book on if I printed more, and a friend, who had experience as a copy editor, offered to read proof.
On p. 3, she questioned my use of the word “Negro.” (I had written that my immigrant paternal grandfather’s medical practice at 10th & Baimbridge was devoted primarily to “Jews and Italians and Negroes, who paid him in cash or produce or homemade wine.”) It turned out that in 101 pages I had used “Negro” 18 times, “black” (in a racial context) 10 times, and “Afro-American once. (I had also used, twice each, usually quoting a speaker, “nigger” and “schvartze.”) All the pieces which composed the book had appeared on-line or in-print in publications of modest but actual readership, and no one of whom I was aware had objected to any word I’d written, except for one editor, who’d changed the title “My First Faggot” into a Spanish phrase with all considerations of – or attitudes toward – sexual preference removed.
My friend said “Negro” was unacceptable. She cited as authority President Obama, The New York Times, the Oxford Dictionaries, Wikipedia, and an esteemed friend of hers who edited a journal about flutes. (My friend played one.) She said if I did not replace each “Negro” with “black,” she did not want her name associated with my book…