Blacks are also, as many know, a socioeconomic group
of people--originally a racial
group, but less so now, as black Americans
have become distinctly different from African
blacks, and more intermingled
with the white American
The word "blacks" says a lot. Throughout a long and difficult history of domination, oppression, and the dangling tease of freedom, this group of immigrants has struggled to be seen as human by their (equally non-native) brothers and sisters. Pretty much the closest we've gotten is this: To call them by, not the color of their skin, but a stylization of their color; an expression that identifies, not really them, but rather how different they are from us.
The word "blacks" lacks the invective of the word "nigger"; rather than to insult, its aim is simply to trace the borderline, digging it in a little deeper: They're black. We're white. We're as different as different can get; we're all the way on the other side of the spectrum. ...Yeah, whatever.
Considering the gentle, matter-of-fact way the label "blacks' is often delivered, and the damage such thinking does to any effort at real equality, I wonder sometimes if "nigger", while meaner, isn't at least more honest. At least, when using racial slurs, we can't deny that we're drawing lines, and pushing large chunks of humanity over to the other side. But what's a better word? "Black Americans" isn't any better, being essentially the same thing with a graduation cap on. "African Americans" has its master's degree; but a good chunk of them aren't even African, even if they are negroid-appearing. They might be Mexican, Puerto Rican, South American...what we mean by "blacks" is "the dark people", not "the Africans". Half of them are some mix of something by now, anyway, so "continent of origin many generations back" doesn't do it. Hell, four generations back, I'm German. Do I get called anything? Hell no; I'm an American. See?
Then there's "Negro". It's technically correct, since the scientific term for a dark-skinned human with African-looking characteristics is "negroid"--and one could easily see referring to "Occidentals, orientals, Native Americans and Negros" in a friendly public setting -- but then, that word's been totally ruined by those Jim Crow mofos and freaks like the KKK.
Well, somebody else will have to come up with the better word, if there is one; or, even better, we can stop worrying about words and fix the darn problem already. Me, I live in Detroit, and 'round here we don't call "blacks" anything, really. (We tend to call everybody "nigga", but it's equal opportunity slang.) Socially disadvantaged or not, "they"'re about 60% of our population, so you can call "them" names if you want...me, I'm rather sick of it all. Like the oppression of women, the oppression of the dark-skinned -- of immigrants who are easily identifiable, basically -- is just juvenile, and it needs to stop.