The problem is not the word itself, more the backwards idea that because something doesn't bother me I should continue to call people that because I don't feel the word has power. The 'N' word doesn't have power in my life, and I have heard plenty of African American people identify themselves using that word, but that doesn't mean I would ever use it to refer to another human being because I know it is offensive and hurts others- just cause it doesn't hurt me (being white and all *rolls eyes*) is completely irrelevant. What someone calls themselves is their own choice, but what we refer to others as requires some tact. For example the term 'colored' is widely used and identified with in South Africa. I would hope however that a South African person traveling to the US would be more sensitive to it being offensive to some people there and not use it when describing someone. Just because it feels perfectly acceptable to one person doesn't mean those around you wouldn't be offended. I think its good to be aware of the history of the words we choose to use when describing other people- especially when it comes to sensitive issues like race. And when we describe our own child in a certain way we are saying, not only to the child but to every stranger we meet, that the term we use is an acceptable one to use- so it makes sense to choose one that really is acceptable to the community you are describing- especially so if you are not a member of that community.
Of course if you want to describe yourself any which way then that's fine, but when you are talking about someone else why not find an option which is not inappropriate? Heaps of people have posted many great alternatives on this thread to using half. If my kids choose to identify as being 'half' when they grow up then that is their identity to choose. But until then I would prefer to model something which is not racist towards them or anyone else. I understand it's not racist there, but it's good to be aware that not everyone you will meet in your life is American, or doesn't know the history of certain terms.
If a friend introduced you at a party and someone asked where you were from, would you prefer they said "oh she's half black and half white" or "she's Scottish/Namibian"?
I say all this as gently as possible as I never intended this thread to get so heavy, was merely looking for ideas :)
My point was more about people who use the word "half" to describe themselves...generally I do think it's important to try to avoid using hurtful or racist terms and will definitely avoid using that term in non-US situations (including the internet). I will continue to use it to describe people who use that word to describe themselves, just as I will use the word "mixed" for myself and my siblings although apparently some dislike it, because I think self-determination is key.
Of course I rarely if ever and then I generally use what they prefer. As for what I prefer others to say about me, it would be "mixed", but if someone asked where I am from I would hope a friend would say "Colorado". I hate that question as a proxy for race...no one asks white people where they are from.
Anyway, I am glad you got a lot of ideas and I agree with you that word choice is very important and not an imaginary issue as some here would have it.