Danes: Stop saying ‘neger’ is not derived from ‘nigger’

Because it does not even matter that it is closer to ‘negro’. You have spectacularly missed the point.

This must be taught during samfundsfag in folkeskole considering how often it is brought up by well-meaning Danes.

If an English speaking person dares say anything about the distressing use of ‘neger’ in Danish polite society, a Dane will pop up to say “BUT REMEMBER, it only means ‘negro’, not ‘nigger’!”

Danes who do not want to consider themselves racist, Danes who like to think they’d invite a black person over for dinner, if only they knew any; are all over this if they see it.

Oh well, fine then! English speakers, stand down…

Except, the Dane shows no awareness that the word ‘negro’ is NOT OKAY in English anymore.

Let’s look at the history of the words ‘nigger’, ‘negro’ and ‘neger’ for a minute.

In the 1600, 1700s and 1800s Europeans kidnapped human beings from Africa, abused them and forced them to work in dangerous conditions until they died. They killed and tortured them whenever they wanted. Children were separated from parents routinely. Women were raped routinely. They did this on an industrial scale.

In order to be able to do this, the Europeans needed to de-humanise the targets for their abuse.  Much like the Nazis needed to identify Jewish people as rats to allow the atrocities of the Holocaust, the Europeans reduced their victims to one word. A word that did not give any clue it was being used about a human being.

They used the Spanish word for ‘black’. They reduced their targets to a word that summarised the essential difference in appearance between the two groups and the justification for their atrocities. As they became more comfortable with treating people like this, the word they used changed. The English speakers corrupted the word into ‘nigger’ and the Danish speakers corrupted the word into ‘neger’.

Danes don’t like to talk about the Danish slave trade anymore. They don’t even call it the DANISH slave trade, they call it the Danish-West Indies slave trade. As if there were no slaves in Denmark, it was all so far away.

Danes still refer to black people as ‘neger’. In headlines, in conversation, on television, on the bus, during physical confrontations. Black people are routinely called “neger —” where their name goes second.

Sometimes, old people mean it in a more neutral sense. In their time, it was okay to dehumanise on the basis of colour and they just have not unlearned that. Old people racism is NOT what we are talking about. Younger people who ought to know better use it. And they use it as a slur, more often than not.

I am white and I got called a ‘neger’ in a bar for speaking English. She was NOT using it in a neutral sense. Or a historical sense. She was not even using it in a descriptive sense. She was trying to verbally attack me and that was the word that came to mind.

If English speakers try to point out how messed up this appears from the outside, Danes line up to say it IS NOT actually messed up.

They always go to great pains to say that it is a linguistic difficulty. That if ONLY the English speaker was fluent in Danish, they would understand their mistake straight away. (If pressed on the point, they usually go into ‘but THEY use it’ but that’s a story for another time)

Sorry, no dice.

The word ‘negro’ is not acceptable in English. For the same reasons and strength of feeling as for the word ‘nigger’. Sure, ‘nigger’ is only used as a slur and ‘negro’ has a history of being the word people used in the olden days. But this word is not acceptable. Because it dehumanises. Because of its association with slavery. Because of how it makes people feel to be described in those terms. Because it is a reminder of a painful chapter in history and all the negativity that went along with it.

You want to claim ‘neger’ is closer to ‘negro’? Fine. Stop defending it. Stop defining it in comparison to a worse word.  Stop saying it is neutral. Stop using it.

 

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24 Responses to Danes: Stop saying ‘neger’ is not derived from ‘nigger’

  1. But but but, rappers, Black rappers use it all the time! So THEY’Re allowed to use it and I can’t? Racist, I call racist!

    Or something like that, isn’t this the next argument?

  2. Laura says:

    A very insightful article about the not-so-hidden racism that somehow still seems to enjoy widespread social acceptance in Denmark. When I first started learning Danish I actually believed that “neger” was a totally okay word to use. As a German, I had the same feeling about “polak” because it’s very close to the German derogatory term “Polacke” for Polish people, but as I understand that one is actually okay (unlike neger!!).

  3. Canadian says:

    It’s disingenuous to call it neutral. Bad faith. But it is amazing how many Danes say it with a soft voice, as if they actually believe it. They are that brainwashed. Unfortunately, it is our duty (and burden) to educate them, because it’s not coming from within their ranks.

    You are not the only White woman who has ever been called “brown” (or suspected of being mixed race). I am not, by the way, and this card has been used to invalidate my point and imply that I am some sort of idiot who doesn’t know what she is talking about. So no, it’s not neutral in any way, shape or form.

    How odd, right? As a White person, I am trying to put peer pressure on Danes to smarten up, and their reaction is to ask me if I am really White. As if my Whiteness meant that I should be on the side of bigots…

    It’s 2014, Denmark, wake up and smell the coffee.

    • Kel D says:

      Yeah, I don’t understand how they can be so backwards about this.

    • Sadly, from the comments of this Libertarian moocher, this kind of mindset is alive and well in Nevada. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/cliven-bundy-mlk-rosa-parks-offended BUT NO, DANES, THIS DOES NOT GIVE YOU A PASS BECAUSE A STUPID AMERICAN MAN MADE RIDICULOUS COMMENTS!

      • Kel D says:

        OH BUT IT IS WORSE/THE SAME SOMEWHERE ELSE. End of discussion, hurrah!

      • Canadian says:

        This rancher is getting corrected, though. There is a problem when people, at an event, don’t even object to that kind of comment, and even nod in agreement. That’s what typically happens, here. And the few Danes who might disagree are typically just making a face instead of opening their mouth. It allows the bigots to keep thinking that if everyone agrees with their statement, or if everyone says it, it must be true.

        It’s a bit like what the Writer was saying about pushing blind people on trains. If no one reacts, maybe it’s okay…

  4. Allison says:

    The first time I ran into this, it totally freaked me out. To be fair, it wasn’t a Dane using the English word “negro” but a person in my Danish language class from another country. But no one else in the class seemed at all disturbed by their use of the word. Then again, no one else in the class was from the US, like me. It just seems like people are less concerned with being PC here in Europe, maybe in Denmark in particular? I haven’t heard any Danes use neger yet, but it is clearly not OK to use. The fact that it’s close to “negro” does not at all justify it’s use, as you have so adequately demonstrated.

    • Canadian says:

      Oh yes, other Europeans can be just as biggoted, sometimes even more…

    • Kel D says:

      Yeah, continental Europe in general has a problem with trying to avoid offence. I’m not sure why that is, but Danish culture celebrates being ‘un-pc’ as if making the attempt not to humiliate another person is somehow only something a total jerk would do.

      • Canadian says:

        LOL!!! It’s hypocritical. They want to be free to be openly racist, but they won’t even admit to themselves that they are racist. Total non-sense.

  5. Hmm.. The Danish-apologist hasn’t appeared on this one, yet? :D Obviously.. if you ‘change the definition of what ‘racist’ is, then it’s NOT racist!’ THAT’s what Denmark should do to get all you PC fanatics to shut up!

  6. HOX says:

    Defend / deny / accuse / compare, (if it’s considered an advantage) – essential components for a Danish discussion on anything they think breaches their ’freedom of speech’, which is a euphemism for having a license to humiliate / and abuse anything and anyone, as they are superior, as the one and only Pia K once said, ’ there is only one culture, and that is ours’. Sometimes, one can feel ashamed of having any connection with them…

  7. Astrid says:

    Does anyone really say that? I certainly don’t. Neither does anyone in my family, anyone I work with or.. well. Anyone, really. I’m not doubting that it’s still said somewhere, but I think it’s really unfair to say that this is something universally Danish. In my oppinion, it’s more of a class and age thing. The people who use words like that are the same group who use racist slang in other countries; uneducated or just very old and unaware that the world has changed. I’m not excusing their behaviour, but I really doubt that their bigotry has anything to do with their nationality or ethnicity.

    • kutubuku says:

      Astrid: I’ve heard it from educated Danes. Not sure if you are really blind to the fact or that you just pretend. The word is widespread, even in TV debate show

    • Kel D says:

      Does anyone say ‘neger’ or does anyone say ‘neger is closer to negro than nigger’?

    • Vibeke says:

      Astrid: as a Dane myself, I must tell you, that it is heard in all circles – nothing to do with education, class or age!

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