University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Comment: Racist insult provoked me, then made me think

African-American student Winnon Brunson Jr. was called a 'nigger'. This put him in a dilemma: Should he defend himself against this racially-infused term, or just accept it as an issue of cultural and historical insensitivity

A few days ago, a Danish person called me a ‘nigger’ to describe me to another person and the message was then relayed to me by a Danish friend. Upon hearing this, I went numb. I kept thinking maybe this was a way to laugh about the term because Danish humour is very dry and full of sarcasm.

Maybe I should just brush it off and act like nothing happened. One of my Danish friends said that it wasn’t that bad and that the Danish person probably didn’t mean it in a negative way.

While I know my friend probably tried to make me feel better, I must admit it felt like throwing salt on a fresh wound.

Considering the differences

Although, Danish people don’t have the same Trans-Atlantic slavery history as whites in the States, is it still justifiable for them to use the term? Can you take such a term and in a different cultural context, let it lose all of its pejorative or negative connotations?

No-one wants to be labeled a racist, a being of hatred and possibly ignorance. But no-one really wants to be called ‘nigger’, a term that labels them as a disenfranchised or inferior person.

I chose to withdraw myself for a bit and formulate how I would describe my feelings about the term being used to describe me. So after a couple of hours, I decided to approach my Danish friends and explain to them that even though ‘nigger’ has a less pejorative meaning in Denmark, it’s a term that still offends me.

The meaning of the word

We entered into a dialogue about the differences in cultural meanings of the term. Apparently, in Denmark, I learned, the term ‘nigger’, which is neger (nee-er) in Danish is sometimes used to describe black people. It is also used by younger kids, but with the intent of only describing the person as a black person and not in the pejorative sense of the term. It is just the bad translation of the slightly politically incorrect ‘neger’ into the English term of abuse.

It was definitely a powerful discussion. Why is it offensive and how we can make sense of this term coming from our different cultural backgrounds? Better yet, I think we reached a better understanding of the impact of using the term ‘nigger’ or maybe even other racially infused terms.

We are all socialized differently based on our cultural, maybe racial or whatever, differences. Often these differences in social background make it easy to put up a barrier or easy for one to say, ‘You’ll never understand unless you were in my shoes…’ .But then, we never get to the point of actually explaining our reactions to bigotry-based terms.

Accomplishing common grounds

I am not condoning the Danish person’s use of the term but I am focusing on how I choose to express my reaction to bigotry. If more discussions were to occur between racial and cultural groups, we might understand how racial or cultural tensions are perceived by ourselves and the person accused of being a bigot. Not all race-based remarks are maliciously intended.

I might never know if the Danish person that called me a nigger used it in a pejorative manner or just said it out of his own ignorance about what the term means. I could choose to call him a racist, but in the end what will I have really accomplished? What will I have really learned?

I am here to gain a deeper understanding of Danish culture, even if I don’t agree with everything. I don’t have to agree with every cultural practices or beliefs but I do believe in respecting them.