Swedish town ditches ‘negro’ neighbourhood

Swedish town ditches 'negro' neighbourhood
The city of Karlstad in western Sweden should no longer have a neighbourhood called Negern (‘the negro’), the town council decided on Wednesday.

“They’ve come to their senses,” said Kitimbwa Sabuni of the National Afro-Swedish Association (Afrosvenskarnas riksförbund) to the TT news agency.

Karlstad’s Negern neighbourhood has been around for nearly 150 years, but came under fire recently after a private citizen complained that the name was “objectionable, insulting, or just plain rude”.

The council in turn sought guidance on the matter from the National Land Survey of Sweden (Lantmäteriet), which ruled in June that the name should be seen as “exotic and evocative” and represented a part of Sweden’s cultural heritage.

The ruling outraged Sabuni and others, prompting a heated debate on the opinion pages of newspapers across the country throughout the summer and forcing the Karlstad council to take action.

After a committee designated to review legislative referrals made its recommendation, the council’s City and Buildings Committee decided to remove the name, following a similar ruling by the city’s Place Name Division.

“We can’t have a name which we don’t even dare to say out loud,” said buildings committee head Håkan Holm to TT.

The meeting was preceded by a demonstration outside Karlstad’s city hall arranged by the Centre Against Racism (Centrum mot rasism) and other organizations.

“Our pressure has brought results,” said Sabuni.

However, there remain some who weren’t at all offended by the Negern neighbourhood, such as the head of the Christian Democrats in Karlstad, Peter Kullgren.

“The name should have been allowed to remain,” he told TT.

“It’s an old name, and if we continue to take away names that some find offensive then we’ll end up with an extremely poor cultural history in the future.”

He claimed the neighbourhood received the name shortly after the American civil war and after the majority of the slave trade had ended.

“So it’s more like a confession, an approval for what had happened in the world at that time, rather than a sign of the linguistic conventions of the time,” he said.

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