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U.S. Rep. Grace Meng

Obama strikes words 'Negro' and 'Oriental' from federal laws

Federal laws will no longer include outdated and offensive terms used to describe minority groups.

President Barack Obama signed a bill on May 20 striking the several terms, including "Negro" and "Oriental,” the White House said yesterday.

Those terms will be replaced with "African American" and "Asian American."

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., introduced the bill to remove the offensive language in December. The bill passed the House in February and the Senate last week. No one in either chamber objected.

“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. “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.”

There was some pushback from the far right, with commentators on that end of the political spectrum falsely claiming that Obama had made it illegal to speak or write the obsolete words.

The language targeted by the bill had appeared in laws dating to the 1970s that attempted to define minorities.

In the Department of Energy Organization Act the phrases "a Negro, Puerto Rican, American Indian, Eskimo, Oriental, or Aleut or is a Spanish speaking individual of Spanish descent" will be replaced with "Asian American, Native Hawaiian, a Pacific Islander, African American, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, Native American, or an Alaska Native."

The same language changes will be made to the Local Public Works Capital Development and Investment Act of 1976.

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