Why can't you say the F word

African diaspora in Germany

Grada Kilomba

To person

Dr. Grada Kilomba is a writer, lecturer and psychologist from São Tomé e Príncipe and Portugal. She is the author of the book: "Plantation Memories" Unrast Verlag, 2008. Her literary work combines post-colonial discourse and lyrical prose on the traces of slavery, colonialism and everyday racism. She taught at universities in Germany and Ghana. www.gradakilomba.com

Black Germans are insulted with the N-word every day. It leaves psychological scars that cause anxiety and nightmares. They feel deeply hurt because they have been the victim of racial oppression. What are the psychological causes of this emotional response?

When I was writing this text, I first had to think about how to use the N word, because the word is painful. When I use the term 'N' in this article instead of the euphemism 'N-word' write out, then to deconstruct it. This is a difficult decision for me, even hurtful, because the N-word is not a neutral word, it is a white Concept - a term that forces me into a colonial order.

The term 'N.' is intended to categorize all sub-Saharan Africans and was invented during European expansion. The N-word is thus situated in the history of enslavement and colonization, i.e. it is a term that is associated with brutality, wounding and pain. These experiences are defined as trauma in psychoanalysis.
Demonstration against the N-word in Munich on June 27, 2020 (& copy picture alliance / ZUMAPRESS.com | Sachelle Babbar)
In psychoanalysis, trauma involves the idea of ​​violent shock suddenly tearing apart relationships with others and with society, and it leaves psychological scars in the form of nightmares and flashbacks or additional physical impact. It also includes the idea of ​​timelessness, as the present and the past mix.

The N-word or racism is seldom perceived and named as trauma. This absence of naming is due to the fact that the history of racist oppression and its psychological effects have been neglected within the Western discourse. Black people and People of Color however, are confronted with it every day. We have to deal with the trauma of colonialism not only on an individual level, but also on a historical and collective level, since everyday racism is a re-initiation of colonial scenes that forces us back into discourses of inferiority and alienation.

In this text I therefore deal with the N-word as a form of wounding and trauma, and analyze an interview with a black woman - Kathleen - who talks about her everyday racist experiences in Germany. This is one of 28 stories in the book "Plantation Memories. Episodes of Everyday Racism", Unrast Verlag 2008.

I. Black Venus vs. Black Slave

"I remember that (my friend) had a piano teacher and I picked him up after his lesson, and that piano teacher had a little girl. The little girl started to talk:" The beautiful negress, and how great the negress looks! And the beautiful eyes that the negress has! The beautiful skin that this negress has ... I want to be a negress too! "(...) I kept hearing just this one word: Negro, Negro, Negro, again and again ..."

The word combination 'beautiful N.' is ambiguous, as a positive word: 'beautiful' before a traumatic one: 'N.' stands. It's a game of sweet and bitter words that makes it difficult to identify racism. Kathleen becomes 'beautiful' and at the same time 'N.' called, where 'N.' here marked their position as inferior.

The N-word originally comes from Latin as a name for the color black: Niger. At the end of the 18th century, however, the N-word was already a derogatory term with a hurtful character that was used strategically to convey the feeling of loss, inferiority and submission white implement colonial rule.

So if 'N.' is said not only about the (skin) color 'black', but also about: animality - primitiveness - ignorance - chaos - laziness - dirt. This series of correspondences characterizes racism. We are seen as the embodiment of each of these labels, not because they are inscribed in our bodies or are real and real, but rather because racism is discursive. Racism is not biological, it works through discourse, through words, and through a series of correspondences that maintain identities.