Thursday, February 21, 2013

Racist Language in German Children's Books: Dialika Neufeld in Spiegel

A German Children's Book 
Germans murdering Poles in Bochnia. Source

In Spiegel Online, Dialika Neufeld argues that Germans should remove offensive terms from German children's books. I read this article in English. The word "negro" is identified as an offensive term. In current American English, "negro" is not offensive, merely old fashioned. The offensive word is "nigger." I'm not sure if "negro" is a flawed translation for "nigger." In any case, Neufeld argues against using offensive terms for black people in children's books, and she mostly focuses on black people. 

Germans, of course, victimized Jews and Poles much worse than they victimized black people, at least in the past century. I wonder at the focus of her article. If Germans are going to upgrade their level of sensitivity, ought they not upgrade their level of sensitivity toward Poles? Jews as well, of course? But Germany has been working on improving relations with Jews for some time. How about Poles and Poland? Are we on their Politically Correct radar? If not, we should be. 

She does mention offensive terms for Poles in passing: "People in the second category -- those who deny the problem exists -- claim that everyone nowadays knows not to use words like "Negro," "Gypsy," "Polack" or "Slit-Eyes," these terms that seem to come straight out of some handbook of discrimination. But their view holds little weight, given that I regularly find myself having to explain to adults why they shouldn't use the words "nigger" or "Negro" -- and certainly not in my presence."

On the one hand, it is easy to agree with Neufeld. I would not read the word "nigger" to a child. I would not have the book containing that word around, or, if I had to read it, I would delete the word.

On the other hand, German literature is full of nasty images of Poles and others, including women. The Grimms' Tales are replete with sadomasochistic and misogynist tortures. I wouldn't read those to a child, either, but their existence is part of our cultural heritage. Censoring them attempts to change the world into something it is not. 

Full article is here.


  1. I don't like this idea of "political correctnes". I prefer to know other people's opinions. And this censorship of speech doesn't make people better. It makes them more dishonest. They hide thoughts behind "newspeak" out of fear of social stigma. One word comes to my mind wright now: communism.
    As for Germans and their treatment of black people. Link below.

    1. Political Correctness offers many good things. I'm glad that people think twice now before making overt racist or homophobic statements. I'm glad that employers feel duty bound to create diverse work forces. I'm glad that "Mad Men" is a time capsule rather than a reflection of current work conditions. I'm glad parents choose not to use the word "nigger" when reading innocent material to their children.

      But everything has a good side and a bad side. Political Correctness has gone to ridiculous extremes. See previous post about white skin being unfair.

      About the Germans' crimes in Africa -- yes, I was aware of those. But Jews and Poles, in the past one hundred years, have been the larger and more significant number of victims of Germans, and I question why Germans are not publishing articles talking about monitoring their own speech about Poles.

      The reason is obvious, of course. Poles have not adequately communicated why the Bieganski stereotype is a bad thing.

  2. Perhaps the fact that Germans are much more sensitive to blacks and Jews, than Poles, owes to the fact that, consistent with recent blogs, blacks and Jews are in the position of “victim groups”, while Poles are not.

    As for once-accepted words in classics, the same thing occurs in the USA. We could think of Mark Twain. He uses the N-word. For this reason, some have tried to ban these books from the American classroom, while others consider that a form of censorship.

    When it comes to racist words in children’s materials, I need look no further back than my own childhood. We had this little ditty for casting lots:

    Eenie, meenie, mahnee moe,
    Catch the n_____ by the toe
    If he hollers, let him go
    Eenie, meenie, mahnee moe

    1. We had a quite enjoyable exchange regarding Julian Tuwim's poetry another day.
      So now, read this:
      Hard to imagine as it xcan be, but there are people in Poland who seriously believe that the poem promotes racial stereotyping.


    2. TL thanks for that.

      What do you think?

      I am not familiar with the poem, I don't know how Poles react to it, and I am not qualified to have an opinion.

  3. I think society chooses its path when sorting out its own idea of correctness. I think there is a large fear that if one thing becomes censored for political correctness, then political correctness will become out of control. Where do you draw the line?

    As far as the written classics go, I don't mind preservation to the extent that such classics are examined not just for their literary value, but also on the basis of their relevant historical, artistic, social, and anthropological contexts. I also don't mind censorship of every day phrases to the extent that a greater part of society determines that such jettisoning of every-day once-acceptable epithets is necessary. I think this is possibly one point when popular movements become effective.

  4. I agree with Jan-

    but let me put I a little bit different.If You are behaving nicely to Blacks, if you "hate nazis" (it goes as far as treating them in a way---Jews have been treated once. No irony here, of course---) you are a "good guy". Also, if You like "multi-kulti", if you hate people critical of Islam you are "good"-according to the standards of society. Poles are---we do kind of not exist in the German imagination apart from being the "other", strange, but definitively worse. German crimes against our nation do not exist as well- that why this here happened without causing the uproar it should have:

    Its about a monument for Polish slave laborers (btw, these people received compensations that are ridiculous- f.e 3000 Euros for 5 years of forced labor!). During the inauguration ceremony a German neo-nazis walked towards the Polish delegation (of former forced laborers) and maced them. He did that because he thinks there are enough monuments and it’s a waste of money. He was send to a psychiatry for several days and nothing more. The next day, the monument was desecrated by right-wing graffitis.This is Germany- 2012. Had this been a Jewish monument all TV station would have talked about nothing else. My dad actually said really funny. “Why have they come back to Germany? Wasn’t the first time enough? I hope, this “opened their eyes”. :-D Ergo: Being nice to people not considered to be a victim group does not earn You brownie points-thus, its not worth ones time.


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