“My nego” – “My neguinho” – How using such terms in memes is racist

nego 2
nego 2
"Nego is worth nothing"
“Nego isn’t worth anything”

Note from BW of Brazil: To get into this, let’s first start by saying that if you don’t live in Brazil, you may not understand this completely due to differences in cultural background, but on the other hand, as some of the points made in today’s article will show, in some ways, the issue isn’t as different as some people think it is. We’ve discussed the terms neguinho/neguinha is previous articles and specifically here where a few Afro-Brazilian celebrities discussed these and other terms used in reference to Afro-Brazilians. The question is: is referring to a black Brazilian as “nego/nega” or “neguinho/neguinha” offensive or terms of endearment? If they are offensive, are they always offensive? Are there situations in which they are or aren’t? Can one person use the terms in affectionate manners while others use them in pejorative ways? Does it depend on how the user is seen in racial terms? Should these terms be avoided altogether? 

As the denial of racial meanings and racist situations are so often denied in Brazil, it would be expected for a white or even black Brazilian to disregard any racist meanings in the usage of these terms, but should we ignore the possibilities simply because there are those who don’t agree, deny it or don’t want to violate Brazil’s image of cordiality? We’ve discussed some of these questions in previous articles and all of them won’t be addressed in the piece below, but that’s OK. Let the dialogue continue. 

"Nego doesn't miss one"
“Nego doesn’t miss one”

Nega explains why the meme “nego” is racist

by Aline Ramos

Come here, meu nego (my negro/my black/my nigga), one must understand that language is alive, following people over time and expressing a way to organize the world into names and linguistic structures. The meme “nego” appeared and demonstrated how a single expression can acquire numerous meanings including being racist.

Language changes and reinvents itself with people, but this transformation does not exclude its historic construction nor its variation according to the space in which it operates. In other words “nego” can be affectionate in Bahia, but racism in Santa Catarina, which is why we need to be alert to understand how problematic this joke is.

“Nego”, “nega”, “neguinho” and “neguinha” are expressions that can be used to show affection or to offend. In the first text published here in Que nega é essa? (What nega is this?), I reported the first time I felt racism in a violent and open manner. At the time, I walked around Blumenau (SC) and heard from an unknown man in the street the word “neguinha” said with all the possible disgust. In the same week, my mother ended our phone conversation with “take care, neguinha”. My mother was not racist, but that man, yes.

The difference in the use of these expressions is highlighted by the following set of sentences, that point to derogatory and racist content, because they carry a context that make the offenses explicit. Look:

“Aquilo ali é uma neguinha!” (That there is a neguinha!)

“Sua nega feia” (You ugly nega!)

“Ô nego dos infernos, tire essas tralhas daqui”.(Oh nego from hell, take this junk out of here)

“Quem roubou a casa foi um neguinho.” (Who robbed the house was a neguinho).

In the group of sentences below, we can see a demonstration of affection, like my mother sought to convey calling me neguinha. Note how the context generates this difference:

“Ô nega, estou com saudade!” (Oh nega, I miss you!)

Ô, meu nego! Obrigado!” (Oh, my nego! Thank you!)

“Obrigado, neguinha! Obrigado mesmo!” (Thank you, neguinha! Thank you so much!)

“Meu neguinho tá sozinho em casa!” (My neguinho is home alone!)

As much as the meme “nego” has arisen without social commitment and seeking to generate laughter with its literal translation, the set of words and images generate discomfort because it dates back to historic racism. The language varies with the context, but we cannot forget that it comes from an ideological dispute and doesn’t break from its origins. Moreover, it can also be used as a tool of power. We need to remember how the word “nego” was used in the 19th century to understand why the current meme is racist.

"Nego is free today"
“Nego is free today”

With the intense and numerous arrivals of blacks to the country in the 19th century, Brazil was considered one of the largest importers of slaves at the time. The human cargo arrived from Angola, Mozambique and many other countries in Africa. And it treated the black as a beast of burden in which Brazil began using linguistic prejudice in order humiliate that human being.

When the slaves were punished, the words “nego” or “nega” were used. That is, its meaning was accompanied by the idea of ​​the black as being inferior, not human, a foul animal, used to work without pay and liable to punishment and humiliation practiced by white people.

Racism traveled back in time in a word that now dwells in new contexts and records of expression and information. By this line of thinking, the same term “nego” used to belittle other human beings in the 19th century takes on several meanings today, in the 21st century, because of the current scenario in which there is no official slavery under the Constitution.

"Nego lost notion of danger"
“Nego lost notion of danger”

The perversity of the meme in question hinders the conclusion on the presence or absence of racism in the joke. This is the use of an expression that has acquired many meanings, which excluded the racial issue in some contexts, and that relates to black again. That is, what could be considered an advance by means of language has become a setback because the black appears as the main figure of the meme and brings out the racial, and by consequence, racist character.

There are still some memes that go beyond prejudice and bring in their texts expressions and current everyday situations accompanied by images of the period of slavery or strong racial oppression in the United States, recalling organizations such as the Klu Klux Klan.

Given all that, the question is: for whom is slavery and the murder of blacks a joke? For us, neguinhas and neguinhos, it’s not.

Aline Ramos
Aline Ramos

Aline Ramos is the creator of “Que nega é essa?”, a fourth-year student of Journalism at UNESP-Bauru and a black feminist. She also writes for Grão de Fato and Blogueiras Negras and believes that her hair has the power of a horse.

Source: Que nega é essa?

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. You forgot “neguinho e’ foda!” 10 years ago there was a party in Rio called “Little Black is Fuck” a direct translation of this expression to English with the goal of sounding funny. I have to say I also thought it was funny at the time, because I never thought the expression being racist . I mean, the origin of the expression is unquestionably racist, but I’m not sure the meaning is racist every time. But, if you are not Brazilian that is nearly impossible to understand.

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