There has been a lot written about the controversy relating to the potential name change of Negro Creek. The most surprising aspect, for me, has been the curious passion of those who defend the creek’s name as though it were a source of local pride. They say the name was meant to honor the early black settlers of Bureau County, but I doubt that is what really motivates them to defend it. And I find it strange that this name seems most important to those who are white.
The two primary points I see repeated by opponents of the name change are: A. That you cannot change history; and B. That this is political correctness run amuck.
In reference to the first point, it has been suggested we leave the name unchanged to serve as a reminder of our history. This has been suggested as though a person looking at a map of Bureau County, upon viewing the name Negro Creek, would be moved to contemplate the trials and tribulations of the early black settlers. But let’s face it: That is not likely to happen. A person who sees that name will likely just view it as a dubious vestige of a bygone era. Sadly, others may just smirk and point it out as “Nigger Creek,” like some already do.
Changing the name will not change history, but it will signify that times have changed. And that itself is important, for the word Negro, while not inherently offensive, does bring with it baggage from eras that denied basic rights to black citizens.
In reference to the second point, it has become a self-affirming pastime of some to bemoan political correctness in all its forms. Some identify “political correctness” as encroachment from the so-called Thought Police, trying to manipulate people under the aegis of some ambiguous liberal agenda. For others, it more simply means they cannot as unambiguously air their grievances against change and people who are perceived as different.
Recently, Charlie Klinefelter wrote a Letter to the Editor to the Bureau County Republican expressing his desire as a black member of the community for the name change. Reading the article online, I was disturbed by some of the comments made by the readers. One reader wrote of the potential name change, “Your (sic) right we should rename it. I say lazy creek is more fitting.” A woman expressed it is important to her that the creek’s name remain unchanged and then added, “I can’t deal with change.” Another man objected to Mr. Klinefelter’s self-identification as an African American; he then stated, “Be an American first.”
These comments indicate an overall objection to change, not simply the change of a creek’s name. One of the comments is explicitly racist; the other two more simply wish to reject the possibility of change and the inclusion of different cultural possibilities in the American character. Is the name change really political correctness run amuck? Or is it recognition that we are no longer the same society that would choose the name Negro Creek?
Why should the name Negro Creek be changed? Because it does not inspire any positive communal introspection. Because it serves as fodder for racist members of the community. Because geographic landmarks should not be named after anachronistic ethnic classifications. And because the name Negro Creek seems suspect in a county whose white population totals 94.2 percent of the overall population and whose black population totals only 0.6 percent, according to the 2010 census.
It seems like a pretty simple issue: Change the name to avoid future racist interpretations and perhaps rename it after the Love family, the black settlers for whom the creek was allegedly named. Unfortunately, this debate has become needlessly personal and acrimonious. But maybe we are forgetting something important here. Perhaps we should take into account the black population of Bureau County, whether or not they feel the name Negro Creek actually does honor the early black settlers.
Devin Vaughn, a former Princeton resident, resides in Cambridge, Mass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.