The Racist History Of The N-Word

As I have told you before, I live in Sweden. The N-word is by most people, I hope, viewed as a racist word here in Sweden, just as in the USA. But there are some differences. In USA, for example, it is almost impossible for a white person to even quote a person who used the N-word. In the US, you can’t say: “Mom, he said nigger!” You have to say “Mom, he said the N-word.” But here in Sweden most people make a difference between a quote and an active use of the N-word. So if you have trouble with the word in my text, remember that it’s in a quote or that I must use it in order to make my text understandable.

So, where does this racist word come from? Well, the Swedish historican Dick Harrisson, writes in the SvD, in the 30th of April 2011 that the word have a complex history. Well, it’s easy to see what it came from. The word “niger” is Latin and means black. There is a similar word in Spanish, “negro” which also means black. Spanish is a roman-italic language, and come from latin. So, one can say that the etmylogical roots of the N-word is just a color, and therefore neutral in it’s youth. When the white man started to conqour America and Africa, they took the black inhabitants as slaves and bought them to the cotton plantages of the American South. We all know this story very well. The black slaves were sold, beaten and treated very badly by their masters and owners and it would take a great civil war to end the miserable slave market in 1865.

Among the black slaves, the word “nigger” was used among them, both in a positive and pejorative way. They used to refer to their fellow slaves as “nigger”, which in that case meant “guy” or “dude”. For example, when they organised themselves, they called it “nigger meating” and they even called their baracks “nigger baracks”. This was in the early 1800’s. Still, white people did not use the word. Before 1865, rich slave masters did not commonly use the N-word. They thought it was too vulgar. But the N-word had already become a racial slur amongs the common farmers on the countryside, used to humiliate black people. But later in the 1800’s, even the rich farmers and masters started to use the N-word, to humiliate their slaves and remind them of what they were – nothing…

After the civil war, we know that slavery was formally prohibited, but the black people were still not free. When they were not serving their former masters, they had to take poorly paid jobs from day to day, appear in freakshows and circus performances of different sort. In the south, the systematic segregation and discrimination was completely legal til 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was implemented. But it would take long time before the race unequalities to disappear. Still today, black people, especially in the South, have problems with racism in court, crime, drugs and poverty and other forms of segregation and social injustice. Still, after almost 150 years, the black people are still not free.

The N-word lived on everywhere, in cartoons, in comic books and on TV-shows. When rap music and hiphop was introduced in the 80’s and 90s, black people started to embrace the N-word and use it amongs themselves in music and rap-culture. Some claim that they wanted to reclaim the word from white people and use it, only amongs themselves. The N-word still today appears a lot in black rap and hiphop.

Here in Sweden, we have had a discussion for a long time about a similar word – “Neger”. Actually I think we are the only country, where this debate even exist. Back in the days, we used to call a special chocolate cookie “negerboll”, which means “negro ball” or “niggerball”. Then some of us started to question this word and call it chocolate ball instead. Some white folks became furious, and some of them still are, they see it as their right to use the term “negerboll”, just because they grew up with this word and claim it as a tradition. As a Swede, I am ashamed of this. Imagine a white person in America, claiming his right to say “niggerball”. He wouldn’t live very long for sure. But here in Sweden, this discussion actually exist, and it’s just pathetic.




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