House negro (also house nigger) is a historical term for a house slave of African descent. Historically, a house negro had a higher status and standard of living than a field slave or "field negro" who worked outdoors, often in harsh conditions. House negro is also used in the 2010s as a pejorative term to compare a contemporary black person to such a slave.
The term "house negro" appears in print by 1711. On May 21 of that year, The Boston News-Letter ran an advertisement that "A Young House-Negro Wench of 19 Years of Age that speaks English to be Sold." In a 1771 letter, a Maryland slave-owner compared the lives of his slaves to those of "house negroes" and "plantation negroes", refuting an accusation that his slaves were poorly fed by saying they were fed as well as "plantation negroes", though not as well as the "house negroes". In 1807, a report of the African Institution of London described an incident in which an old woman was required to work in the field after she refused to throw salt-water and gunpowder on the wounds of other slaves who had been whipped. According to the report, she had previously enjoyed a favored status as a "house negro".
African-American activist Malcolm X commented on the cultural connotations and consequences of the term in his 1963 speech "Message to the Grass Roots", wherein he explained that during slavery there were two types of slaves: "house negroes" who worked in the master's house, and "field negroes" who performed outdoor manual labor. He characterized the house negro as having a better life than the field negro, and thus being unwilling to leave the plantation and potentially more likely to support existing power structures that favored whites over blacks. Malcolm X identified with the field negro.
The term has been used to demean individuals, in critiques of attitudes within the African-American community, especially against politically right-leaning African-Americans, and as a borrowed term in contemporary social critique.
In New Zealand in 2012, Hone Harawira, a Member of Parliament and leader of the socialist Mana Party, aroused controversy after referring to Maori MPs from the ruling New Zealand National Party as "little house niggers" during a heated debate on electricity privatisation, and its potential effect on Waitangi Tribunal claims.
In June 2017, comedian Bill Maher used the term self-referentially during a live broadcast interview with US Senator Ben Sasse, saying "Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house nigga [...]. It’s a joke!" Maher apologized for the comment.
In April 2018, Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor used the term during a dispute with a bank teller. When the teller refused to cash a check for which there were insufficient funds, Taylor called the teller a "house nigger". Both Taylor and the teller are African Americans.
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- Malcolm X (1990) . George Breitman (ed.). Malcolm X Speaks. New York: Grove Weidenfeld. pp. 10–12. ISBN 0-8021-3213-8.
- "Obama a 'house negro', says Al-Qaeda". Sydney Morning Herald. November 21, 2008.
- "Black Group Condemns Cartoonist for Racist Strip About Condoleezza Rice". Project 21 press release. July 19, 2004.
- James, Darryl. "The Bridge: In the House". Blacknla.com.
- Roche, Kathi Roche. "The Secretary: Capitalism's House Nigger". Women's Liberation Movement on-line archival collection, Special Collections Library. Duke University.
- Danya Levy; Kate Chapman (September 6, 2012). "Harawira's N-bomb directed at National MPs". Fairfax NZ.
- "Bill Maher Drops the N-Word on 'Real Time,' Sen. Ben Sasse Laughs". thedailybeast.com. March 6, 2017.
- Dave Itzkoff (June 3, 2017). "Bill Maher Apologizes for Use of Racial Slur on 'Real Time'". New York Times. Archived from the original on June 11, 2017. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
Mr. Maher said: "Work in the fields? Senator, I'm a house nigger. No, it's a joke."
- Dan O'Donnell. "State Sen. Lena Taylor Cited for Disorderly Conduct'".