Friday, April 15, 2005

Watch what you call your chocolate balls

I know this is old, but I just got around to translating it today. It's from an article in the Sydsvenskan on a discrimination case in Sweden involving the name of a baked good. Some swedes refer to them as negro balls. The EU has a law against marketing products or services with offensive names or words and the Swedish authorities ruled that negro balls fell under this EU law. Interesting case on so many levels.

Here is my translation of the article:

'Negro Ball' is offensive but Skåne bakery is not fined

Selling your chocolate balls as "negro balls" can become an expensive proposition. The Ombudsman for Discrimination (OD) will institute fines of 100,000 SEK ($14,000) for companies that sell their baked goods as negro balls. In spite of that, the OD has has decided not to pursue charges against the the Sjöbo bakery that was reported last summer.

In July of last year someone noticed that a bakery in Sjöbo had the controversial name negro ball on a sign. After she tried in vain to get the shop to change the name of their baked goods, she turned to the OD.

The complaint was one of 700 complaints about ethnic and religious discrimination that came into OD last year. Some complaints are noticed more than others. The woman's complaint about whether it is ok to call the the little round baked good "negro balls" has drawn a lot of attention and the OD has received many comments. Margareta Wadstein (ombudsman) is surprised. "I didn't think it was very important. But the interest generated shows that people don't accept words that can be regarded as disparaging and insulting to another person," she said.

The question tested the new law which became effective July 1, 2003. The law forbids discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or physical disability when goods or services are marketed. The law affects all people within the EU and is meant to get people to rethink and reevaluate the use of words which can be offensive to some people.

After six months deliberation, the DO is closing the case. The case is being closed because the complaintant has not herself been disparaged, something which the law requires. But at the same time, the DO explains that if someone had felt personally insulted by the sign and filed a complaint, it could have led to the bakery having to pay a fine.

"It is up to the courts to decide whether the word 'negro' is discriminatory. But I think the ruling would stand," says ombudsman Margareta Wadstein.

The DO believes that the name negro ball should not be used at all, nor should the word negro be used in combination with other words. That way people will avoid insulting the worth of other people. To defend use of the word by saying "It's what we've always said," doesn't work either according to the DO.

Margareta Wadstein explains that the word negro, because of its historical background, is strongly connected to slavery, oppression and lack of respect for the equality of others. She says that there is also a broad desire among people of color to avoid the label and that a good starting point when you want to describe or label a person is to do just as the person themselves wishes. Words like African or Black are not disparaging. The DO even recommends not using the word lapp for people of Sami origin, nor the word gypsy for people of romany origin.

"Those who continue to use the term 'negro ball' don't understand the seriousness of insulting a person's or a whole group's humanity," says DO Margareta Wadstein. Although the DO isn't saying that someone who uses the word must be a racist or have bad intentions. Rather it's use can be the result of ignorance or thoughtless. Is it now illegal to use negro ball?

"You won't break the law simply by using the word. But as a food purveyor, to market something as a negro ball can offend another person. The risk is then large that that can lead to a crime," says Margareta Wadstein.

The Sjöbo bakery refused to comment.


boredoom said...

In defense of my homeland, though it may not deserve it, let me say that the Swedish word for "balls" isn't used very much to refer to testicles, so "negerbollar" isn't quite as offensive as it seems. But still plenty offensive.

The most common casual Swedish reference to the testicles is "pungen," or "the pouch." Clearly we focus on the packaging more than the contents.

liberal elite said...

Right! Good point. I missed that in the translation.

JamesDiG said...

The really weird thing is that in African-American communities, white sausage is referred to as "swedecock."

Anonymous said...

By the way they are not "Baked". It's just blended ingredients and refrigerated....You can try them at IKEA... not sure what you call them... if not the "non PC" term...

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