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I came across this phrase in a paper on African American literature, and it made me wonder whether the phrase "a native son of Negro descent" could be used to describe a child who has an American father and an African mother. Does the word "native" mean that the child must be purely black or he/she can also be mixed-blood?

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3 Answers 3

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Taken without additional context, no, the word "native" does not necessarily mean either of the following:

  1. the child is purely black;
  2. he/she is mixed-blood.

Native son means

a person born in a particular place: The delegation from Iowa nominated a native son.

For example, a recent Guardian UK article title is Scranton stands by native son Biden but even here enthusiasm is elusive. U.S. President Joe Biden was born and raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He is a "native son" of Scranton. Joe Biden is white.

In the specific context of contemporary African American literature, "a native son of Negro descent" would most likely mean a male child who was born in the United States, and whose family heritage includes dark-skinned ancestors.

The eponymous novel Native Son by African American author, Richard Wright, was published in 1940. This 1992 book review by The New Yorker makes it clear that the native son was a black man with a black mother and black father. You can read a little more about the native son, whose name was Bigger Thomas, here.

Note: I wrote dark-skinned because "Negro" can refer to people who were citizens of Haiti, which gained its independence from France in the 1700s. Alternatively, Negro could refer to African Americans whose ancestors may (or might not) have been born in Africa and brought to the Americas as slaves.

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    Thanks for your explanation! I must have used the word "native" in a wrong way before. I'm very grateful for your help.
    – Yuhang Ma
    Commented Dec 22, 2023 at 14:03
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    You @YuhangMa are most welcome! Thank you for selecting my answer. Please feel free to give my answer an upvote as well, if you are able to do so as a new user. And of course, welcome to English Language & Usage (known as EL&U) StackExchange! Commented Dec 28, 2023 at 8:16
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The phrase come from a review by Montgomery Gregory of Jean Toomer's Cane.

Here native son was probably intended to mean American born and bred, while Negro descent meant Black.

Gregory's intention was to identify Toomer's novel as authentic African-American literature and as a genuine expression of Southern Black experience. This was an issue as Toomer (the son of a mixed-race former slave and of a free woman of color) was sometimes described as being "racially indeterminate" and could and did at times pass as White or Black, personally trying to avoid labelling himself beyond American.

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  • Thanks for your answer! You're right, I'm working on Jean Toomer's Cane and sometimes it makes me feel perplexed when I come across words or phrases concerning race. Your answer is very helpful.
    – Yuhang Ma
    Commented Dec 22, 2023 at 14:07
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"a native son of Negro descent"

native - born (or originating) in a given area.

OED

III.9.a. Of a country, region, etc.: that is the place of a person's birth and early life; that is the place of origin of a plant or animal.

1995 He has promoted Portuguese literature in his native country by, among other things, translating Fernando Pessoa..into Italian. Guardian 20 October (Friday Review section) 25/1

"a native son of Negro descent" -> "of Negro descent and born in the area stated"

It says nothing about the child's skin colour.

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    Now I get it, seems like "native" is related mainly to a person's birthplace, not his skin color. Thank you very much!
    – Yuhang Ma
    Commented Dec 22, 2023 at 14:10
  • It would help if you accepted the answer...
    – Greybeard
    Commented Dec 22, 2023 at 20:09

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