WASHINGTON, May 21 (UPI) — President Barack Obama signed legislation blocking the use of the words “negro” and “oriental” in federal laws.
The Commander in Chief signed the bill Friday without much fanfare, The Hill reported. He also signed six other pieces of legislation into law.
The move, sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., ran through Congress unopposed in a rare testament of bipartisan cooperation. The new bill will replace the offensive words with “African American” and “Asian American” in federal law books.
Meng’s effort was meant to “modernize terms relating to minorities,” she said. It was first passed by the House in early December as an amendment to the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act. It passed through the House after unanimous vote in late February.
On May 9, the bill was passed, again unanimously, by the Senate.
“The term ‘oriental’ has no place in federal law and at long last this insulting and outdated term will be gone for good,” Meng said in a statement. “No longer will any law of the United States refer to Asian Americans in such an offensive way, and I applaud and thank President Obama for signing my bill to get rid of this antiquated term.”
Since the 1970s, the term “oriental” in references to citizens of Asian descent appeared in Title 42 of the U.S. Code, which consists of federal laws that deal with public health, social welfare and civil rights. Title 42 refers to Asian Americans as “oriental” twice, and was the last place in U.S. law where the term referred to such citizens.
Friday also marked a triumph for the memories of the female pilots who served as Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II. Obama also signed into law Friday a bill allowing the women to be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery after laws for long blocked their military status.
WASP members were regarded as civilian volunteers and ineligible for inurnment of their ashes in Arlington National Cemetery until a 1977 law recognized their service and status as war veterans. The policy was revoked in 2015 by the U.S. Army, which cited limited space in the nation’s military cemetery. The new law will open the cemetery to WASP members’ cremated remains.
The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. The House version was sponsored by Rep. Martha McNally, R-Ariz.
Ed Adamczyk contributed to this report.