Thursday, July 31, 2008

Negro… an old Italian family name Part II

When Columbus first sailed on the Santa Maria, his navigator was a black man named Pedro Alonzo Nino, also referred to as el negro; on his last journey, he sailed with one Diego el Negro. Alessandro de' Medici (1510-1537), first hereditary duke of Florence, was called il Moro, moor being a word believed to be from the Greek mauros, meaning black or dark. Thus, at the time of the European encounter with the Americas, there were people of colour living as free men and women in countries north of the Mediterranean Sea. Did they grapple with what we call 'prejudice' because of the colour of their skins? Alessandro, presumably, didn't. Moors who crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa at the beginning of the eighth century, occupying the Iberian peninsula for hundreds of years, are no doubt responsible for folks in this heavily Portuguese neighbourhood who sport afros and who certainly consider themselves ‘white’. Moor, like Negro and Prieto, is a surname, and one quite common in the Caribbean where, I wager, most people don't associate it with colour. Wikipedia explains that the word “remains associated with the Morrocan immigrants in Spain, and is considered a pejorative word,” as in fsjl’s ‘blackamoor’ . The Wikipedia entry further explains that “the word remains associated with the Morrocan immigrants in Spain, and is considered a pejorative word.” One must wonder, is that the rub? Does the prejudice, and the pejorative usage of the word, follow from migration, voluntary or forced? Is skin colour an easy identifying marker when a people move place to place in large numbers? Might there have been a time when white immigrants who entered communities of brown and black, were so marked – when blanco, along with its cognates, was used as a pejorative? Wikipedia tells us that “in Spanish, the cognate moro is considered a racist and derogative term.” And in an instructive comment, the head entry concludes: “But the Spanish still use it and even think of it as a neutral word in local sayings such as no hay moros en la costa (lit. "there are no Moors on the coast," meaning "the coast is clear"). That this usage could be advanced as neutral, without equivocation, goes to show that one man’s pejorative is another man’s positive. Professor Mervyn Alleyne has done important research speaking to this topic. We look at it in a upcoming post.


Jdid said...

never thought of moor as a perjorative before but I can see it.

skin color is an easy identifying marker if you stick out.

Do the words themselves get bastardized or shortened to become the perjorative though? Like how negro got bastardized to ni*** or recently in north america think about how pakistani got shortened to because a perjorative paki or how hispanic got shortened

makes one think said...

Dear Pam,


As toxic as the word nigger is to MY ears, I have to agree with the late George Carlin that "There are no bad words. Bad thoughts. Bad intentions."

We have been conditioned to believe that the word of itself is bad, but that is objectively false.

For example, if I said to an American, "Come here, my little bumbo claat," and said it in a nice tone, he or she could walk around and tell people how wonderful I was in calling him or her, "my little bumbo claat."

Words have no power,except the power we give to them either by taking them in.

FSJL said...

The expression 'no hay moros en la costa' derives from the time when the Barbary pirates -- who were Moors, since they came from the Barbary coast which is in Morocco as well as Algeria -- sailed off the coast of Spain (not to mention Portugal, France, England and Ireland) looking for ships to capture and white folk to haul off to the slave markets of Tangier, Algiers, and Oran.

FSJL said...

Geoffrey, that's a YOMANK.

clarabella said...

Hi jdid, Geoff, fsjl:
Further to Geoff's point, and with a warning that it's politically incorrect, please see
In addition to Mervyn Alleyne's book, I'm dipping into Randall Kennedy's NIGGER. It is a gift. The inscription reads: "To my favourite nigger... All my love..." More later.