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Dear Esben Lunde: ‘Neger’ is a dirty word


Zach Khadudu is a Kenyan by birth and a journalist by choice. He is a commentator and an activist with a passion for refugee and human rights. He may share a heritage with a certain US president, but his heart lies elsewhere – in the written and spoken word.

February 6, 2014
21:14

by Zach Khadudu


Esben, I’m writing in reference to your recent resolve to henceforth refer to people of African descent as neger. In your own words as published by Jylland Posten and republished by other newspapers, you stated categorically that there is no difference between ‘sort’ (the Danish word for ‘black’) and neger. I understand the fact that you cannot satisfactorily substantiate between ‘African’ and ‘black’ (words can be confusing). What I cannot comprehend is your claim that ‘black’ and the ’N-word’ are the same.

It is outrageous and beats logic, especially coming from an elected leader. Common sense questions can be tricky, even to an educated PhD holder like yourself. You know why? It’s because common sense is not very common these days. I really don’t fault you for that. Your assertion was so skewed that you baffled even yourself in your comment, especially when asked whether you would also call Barack Obama and Tiger Woods neger.  On this question, you really put your foot in your mouth, sir.

I know by now you have received enough backlash from right-thinking Danes. So I will spare you my wrath.  In fact, my personal conviction is that you don’t deserve criticism, you need help. Your utterances displayed an unrivaled level of ignorance. I believe that ignorance can be eradicated by education (and not just of the academic sort, since you already have that, but rather some basic life education). From your remarks Esben, clearly basic education has a long way to go in eradicating ignorance. I’m not saying you have a low intelligence quotient, nor am I saying that you don’t, but research has shown time and again that people with racial prejudices tend to have a low IQ.  Don’t believe me? Google it.

I fully understand that journalists can be tricky with their questions. Just remember next time you are in that situation Esben, that you can always answer with “no comment”. Those two magical words will save you the embarrassment of coming across as a dimwit racist when your words are published verbatim in the press. Frankly, that is how you came across in that interview. Another trick you could employ when you have nothing better to say is the age-old wisdom: don’t say anything at all. I tell you it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and dispel all doubt, as Mark Twain so famously said. 

Esben, neger is a dirty word, really. Dating as far back as the 17th century, it has been used disparagingly. It is derogatory and internationally frowned upon for its relation to one of the darkest periods in the history of humankind: the slavery era. This is common knowledge Esben.  What a pity that despite being common this knowledge has not reached you yet, even in this age of technology. 

This is another example of the subtle re-emergence of neo-racism disguised as freedom of expression. What is more worrying is that a public figure of your caliber is setting a precedent. To help you get over it, I recommend you find a few slavery movies, a can of cola and popcorn and spend a few hours in front of your TV catching up with history. This will inform your understanding of slavery and help you fathom why the ’N-word’ is considered a slur. For a public servant like yourself, an elected member of parliament representing a section of society, this does not augur well.

Alternatively if you really believe ‘black’ and the N-word mean the same thing, take a trip down to Harlem in the US and refer to a random African-American with the N-word and see how it goes. They, African-Americans, are direct descendants of slavery and I’m sure they will give you a lesson or two on how not to use the N-word.

If your utterances were simply meant to attract cheap publicity, then you failed miserably in your quest. It only helped paint a bad picture of you, worse than that of Miley Cyrus naked on a wrecking ball. I understand how much you cherish your freedom of expression, but your freedom does not give you liberty to belittle other people because of the colour of their skin using vilifying words. That is what racism is.



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