TOM w. SMITH is director, General Social Survey, NORC. This research was done for the Genera) Social Survey Project directed by James A. Davis and Tom W. Smith. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation, grant SES-87-18467. The author thanks Lawrence Bobo and A. Wade Smith for their comments.
Labels play an important role in defining groups and individuals who belong to the groups. This has been especially true for racial and ethnic groups in general and for Blacks in particular. Over the past century the standard term for Blacks has shifted from “Colored” to “Negro” to “Black” and now perhaps to “African American.” The changes can be seen as attempts by Blacks to redefine themselves and to gain respect and standing in a society that has held them to be subordinate and inferior.