Thursday, August 25, 2005

More on Swedish Neger

Here's my translation of an article that appeared in yestereday's Aftonbladet about some controversy around the word neger. I've translated neger as negro although it's not a perfect translation. It's not as loaded as nigger but it comes closer than negro, which to me has a kind of quaint archaic feel to it.

"Black is a color, negro is a culture"
The Swedish Radio serial "The trees talk of it still" has started a controversy.
The reason: The word negro is used over and over.
"I am offended," says parliament member Nyamko Sabuni.
In the novel by Cameroon author Calixthe Beyala, The trees talk of it still, the word negro is used repeatedly, despite the fact that it is against the policy of Swedish Radio.
"I and many other Africans are offended, we do not want to be called negroes," says Nyamko Sabuni (Folk Party).
She believes that the word has negative connotations and doesn't reflect the positive meaning the author wanted to portray.
The serial began on Monday and there are 32 episodes left. Swedish Radio had tough time deciding whether to broadcast the serial or not.

A concious choice of the author
"We were uncertain for a while, but we believe that broadcasting the novel we are contributing to enriching an otherwise one-sided and objectified view of Arica," says Mattias Berg, Head of Cultural Affairs at Swedish Radio.
He believes that the conciously chose the word in her portrayal of Cameroon, which at the beginning of the 1900s was still under colonial rule.
"This is a piece of literature and we have to see the word in that context."
In an earlier interview on Swedish Radio, Calixthe Beyala explained why she chose the word negro:
"Black is a color, Negro is a culture. I am not using the word in a derogatory sense, but instead I want to rehabilitate it, because it encompasses so much of the African people's thought patterns, philosophy, culture, and history."

"Has to be taken in context"
Linguist Ola Karlsson of the Swedish Language Council thinks that the word negro has a derogatory meaning.
"It has come top be a loaded word and we use it very carefully both when we speak and in the media."
But he is critical of efforts to ban the word.
"It has to be taken in context, You can't just focus on the word. Moreover, for many the word doesn't have any negative connotation at all."


boredoom said...

It's interesting that the paper uses the word over and over. Probably more a sign of the more liberal word use in Swedish papers (who think nothing of using the Swedish equivalent of "fuck"), than anything to do with how loaded the word is.

Now that I think about it, the word is closer, in the historical sense, to "negro" than to "nigger." "Neger" was really the only way Swedes referred to ethnically black people until the 1950s or so, whereas in the U.S., people could chose between "negro," "nigger," or "colored."

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boredoom said...

I like your translation of Folkpartiet as "Folk Party." I can totally not picture them with harmonicas and banjos.

Anonymous said...

I am really surprised that Calixthe Beyala could be labelled as racist !!!!!

I am French and I have read several of her books, and I don't see her as a racist, neither against Blacks, nor against Whites, nor against anybody !

If a talented author can't use whatever word she wants in her books, where are we going ? (I don't think she is promoting hate or murder, either !)

Anonymous said...

To be fair with Mrs Sabuni (I am the same anonymous as above), and even if I am surprised by her reaction towards the book of Calixthe Beyala, I must say that I also think ridiculous that she is herself labelled as racist because of her wish to take steps against the islamic veil for teenage girls and against genital mutilations inflicted to women.

I think she addresses these serious issues as a responsible minister.

But the word "racist" is used much too quickly and indinsticly in our times, to my opinion.

Nevertheless, her comments about the work of Calixthe Belaya belong to the privilege of free speech, that we enjoy in Sweden, France, other countries... Even if I disagree with them.

To come back to Calixthe Beyala, her writings go much further than a manichean Black/White world. She has an inner philosophy which is even hard to seize, and which go far beyond the realm of sociological issues. About sociological issues, I remember this book of her, in which she tells about the transformations of the society in Zimbabwe, from the point of view of two white sisters, the daughters of a rich land-owner, with a incredibly subttle insight.

I will read this book " Les arbres en parlent encore".

Med vänliga hälsningar.

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