Despite the significant progress made in removing Confederate flags from government buildings and challenging racist names of federally-recognized destinations, a new Voactiv study quantifies just how much is left to be changed.
The study, which was released last Thursday and can be read in its entirety here, concludes that “at least 1,441 federally recognized places across the nation include slurs in their official name.” This number persists despite the U.S. Board On Geographic Names—the official federal body that regulates American place names—declaring that it does not accept “a name for federal usage that is determined by the Board to be derogatory to a particular racial or ethnic group, gender or religious group.”
Researchers at Voactiv cross-referenced every slur in The Racial Slur Database with location names from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)—which contains nearly 2.2 million names.
Voactiv reports that “squaw” is the most-used racial slur in American place names, with 828 locations referencing it. The word, which has historically been used to perjoratively refer to Native women, is used with sexually-explicit overtones as well—at least 11 variations on “Squaw Tit” or “Squaw Teat” exist across the country. The study notes that Western “pioneer” groups were often exclusively white and male, which lead to both racist and misogynistic overtones in naming places, particularly in the Western United States.
At least 30 places had variations on “Chinaman” in their name, while nearly 558 had derogatory language directed towards African Americans (not including “six places named ‘darkey’ and 45 that use the word ‘spook’,” according to the study).
Aside from the vast-majority of derogatory names targeting Native Americans, African Americans and Asian Americans, a number of place names drew on perjorative terms for other groups as well. Locales as far away as Dago Creek in Alaska are named with derogatory terms for Italian Americans.