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On the Dutch word 'Neger'

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

What’s in a name? Today our society is filled with all sorts of names. Movie and song titles, celebrities, brand names, banks, diseases, disasters and countries. How on earth do we manage to remember all of these and more importantly; how are we able to make the right associations for these names?

There are so many factors to a name that it’s probably a waste of time to even consider the matter. And with today’s globalization and digitalization, one could argue that names are becoming of even less importance. Anonymity has made identity a much more fluid thing, but has therefore made the discernable names all the more powerful.

Just as in advertising, where a brand markets itself based on how many people relate to them and are satisfied with them, the name an individual responds to can play a hefty role in how they perceive and present themself. The way a group of people collectively responds to a given name is as definitive. Based on what we learn, our brains are able to decide what sort of reaction to give to that particular thing, person or phenomenon.

Hundreds of years after the abolition of slavery, its s embers are inexorable here in the self proclaimed most tolerant of all the lands. The Dutch word Neger is applied to black people, but is not to be confused with it’s relative Nigger. According to most Dutch people the word Nigger is bad, but the word Neger is not. Since the Dutch have invented a new word for Nigger – Nikker, Neger remains impervious. In their view it is not a bad word. Believe it or not, that is its only defense.

Correction: Another justification, which I’m reluctant to mention, is that many previously enslaved Africans (mainly of Surinams and Netherlands Antilles origin) have no problem at all with this word. This is true, but let me shed some light in the most common manner about the people in question. In the Dutch Antilles there is a mixture of descendants from Europeans, African slaves from around the 17th century. There is also a Carribean, Latin and Jewish presence, but for this purpose, I am discussing previously enslaved Africans.

Unlike other previously enslaved Africans the Antilles descendants have never officially defied Western rule. Although since 1954 the Netherlands, Suriname and Antilles were equal partners in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, The Netherlands Antilles as an entity of the Royal Kingdom was only dissolved in October 2010. That’s right – autonomy was achieved last year! This is just collectively, but you find that until this day Dutch Antilles citizens are proud to go by their slave names given to them by former owners. [For example Aruban governor Frits Goedgedrag's name is Dutch for "good behavior" and football player Edson Braafheid's name means "obedient".] Moreover, some deny with great conviction that they have African origins, opting rather for associations with Spanish heritage. This kind of resolve is what the insistence that the word Neger is not bad is reinforced by.

“Asians come from Asia and have pride in the Asian race. Europeans come from Europe and have pride in Europe’s accomplishments. Negroes, I am to assume, come from negroland-a mythical country with an uncertain past and an even more uncertain future. Since negroland is a myth, where did the myth of the Negro originate? The key to understanding what a Negro is, is to understand the definition of that word and its origin. …

The word Negro is Spanish for black. The Spanish language comes from Latin, which has its origins in Classical Greek. The word Negro, in Greek, is derived from the root word necro, meaning dead. What was once referred to as a physical condition is now regarded as an appropriate state of mind for millions of Africans.”

- The name "negro" its origin and evil use: Richard B. Moore

Repeatedly through the different eras of African oppression, there has been a tradition of establishing ways of patronization to ensure their primary value as slaves. But it is because of this that numerous Black Consciousness Movements were formed and black pride subsequently inspired.

Steve Biko, an anti-apartheid activist famously said: “Merely by describing yourself as black you have started on a road towards emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being.“

Blackness of course is endless, subjective and indeed quite sensitive because of its history. It necessitates an existence outside a particular mode of acceptance which constitutes vast potential. Regardless of this, these questions must be asked. Part of the productive work of this black space is confronting how it is perceived and named. Blatantly refusing to accept false dormancies.


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