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What do Icelanders call Black People?

Iceland
Iceland

“Blamenn!” Palli, our Iceland Review photographer, shouts. “You call them Blamenn!” Of course, Palli is a leg-puller from way back, so I take this with a grain of salt. Although it’s something I desperately want answered. What are black people called in Iceland?

Black People in Iceland?

Palli’s answer of “blamenn” (blue men), however dubious, is historically how the ancient people of this isle referred to people from the African continent. Why blue and now black? Interestingly enough, in Old Norse the concept of “black” didn’t exist as it does today. Hence, seemingly black horses are most often called “brown.”

Other animals that we English-speakers normally call black, like the raven?a regular in the Icelandic fauna line-up?were called “blar” or blue, which is actually a tone the bird can sometimes takes on if the light strikes his feathers in just the right way.

So when Icelanders first laid eyes on people with particularly dark skin, they were called blue people, and the term has survived through the ages, even though the Icelandic concepts of colors have pretty much been normalized with the rest of the West.

But back to my question, what is the P.C. term for black people in Iceland? There have been a number of terms since the ancient “blamadur”?some of them have taken on nasty undertones and are often associated with the N-word in English. But the words most used today are “svertingi” (derived form the modern Iceland word for black svartur) and “blokkumadur” (an Icelandicized version of “black man”).

Even though there are relatively few black people in the Iceland, the discussion of what term to use comes up just as much as it did in America. And it seems to me that people make a more conscious effort not to make others feel marginalized. At least, the situation has gotten better since 1977, when this headline ran in Dagur, a daily paper out of Akureyri in the north:

Negro in Fjord
Negro in Fjord

The headline, “Negri i Thistilfirdi” means something like “Negro in Thistil Fjord,” and that’s exactly what the article is about. The first three paragraphs rhapsodize about winter life in the north. Finally, in the last paragraph they get around to this “breaking news.” Johannes Sigfusson hired an “African negro” from Ghana to work on his farm Gunnarsstadir over the winter. “He’s a cheerful man and is getting the hang of his job,” the news reports. “But there’s one thing he’s afraid of, and that’s tall snow drifts, because he feels that he might get stuck in them and never come out again.”

“Blamenn!” Palli, our Iceland Review photographer, shouts. “You call them Blamenn!” Of course, Palli is a leg-puller from way back, so I take this with a grain of salt. Although it’s something I desperately want answered. What are black people called in Iceland?

Palli’s answer of “blamenn” (blue men), however dubious, is historically how the ancient people of this isle referred to people from the African continent. Why blue and now black? Interestingly enough, in Old Norse the concept of “black” didn’t exist as it does today. Hence, seemingly black horses are most often called “brown.

Other animals that we English-speakers normally call black, like the raven?a regular in the Icelandic fauna line-up?were called “blar” or blue, which is actually a tone the bird can sometimes takes on if the light strikes his feathers in just the right way.

So when Icelanders first laid eyes on people with particularly dark skin, they were called blue people, and the term has survived through the ages, even though the Icelandic concepts of colors have pretty much been normalized with the rest of the West.

But back to my question, what is the P.C. term for black people in Iceland? There have been a number of terms since the ancient “blamadur”?some of them have taken on nasty undertones and are often associated with the N-word in English. But the words most used today are “svertingi” (derived form the modern Iceland word for black svartur) and “blokkumadur” (an Icelandicized version of “black man”).

Even though there are relatively few black people in the Iceland, the discussion of what term to use comes up just as much as it did in America. And it seems to me that people make a more conscious effort not to make others feel marginalized. At least, the situation has gotten better since 1977, when this headline ran in Dagur, a daily paper out of Akureyri in the north:

Black woman in Iceland
Black woman in Iceland

The headline, “Negri i Thistilfirdi” means something like “Negro in Thistil Fjord,” and that’s exactly what the article is about. The first three paragraphs rhapsodize about winter life in the north. Finally, in the last paragraph they get around to this “breaking news.” Johannes Sigfusson hired an “African Negro” from Ghana to work on his farm Gunnarsstadir over the winter. “He’s a cheerful man and is getting the hang of his job,” the news reports. “But there’s one thing he’s afraid of, and that’s tall snow drifts, because he feels that he might get stuck in them and never come out again.”

These days the only black people in Iceland’s news are America’s next president, Barrack Obama, and the stunning cover photo of the Reykjavik Grapevine’s bombshell second issue from 2004.

But when asked if racism towards black people exists in Iceland, I normally answer that it’s impossible to generalize an entire nation. Certainly there are haters here, as there are in any country. But in my experience, black people here aren’t the brunt of racism as much as they are the object of exoticism. Quite simply, a black man in Iceland is rare bird, and the nation does tend to stop and marvel whenever it has the chance.

Original Article by Jonas.at the Icelandic Review
http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/search/news/Default.asp?ew_0_a_id=302019

4 thoughts on “What do Icelanders call Black People?

  • 19th May 2011 at 5:27 am
    Permalink

    Huh— That’s not what I heard last I spoke to some Brothers that live in Iceland.

    As I understand, one word they have for black people contains the same word for ‘feces’. Iceland sounds crazy to me, and I live in Norway so it’sn not like I haven’t seen marginalization or discrimination.

    Any one know about this?

    Peace

    Reply
  • 11th June 2011 at 12:29 am
    Permalink

    Hi, Chimaobi. I’m from Iceland, “Feces” means “Saur” in Icelandic, I don’t know of any words that describe black people here that even resemble that word, the closest would be “Surtur”, which is usually thought of as derogatory term here (To the point of actually being on the same level as “nigger” in English), so its hardly ever used. An interesting side-note: Surtur is a fire jotun in the Norse mythologies.

    However, Icelandic people generally call black people just “black”, (svartur/svertingi), white people are white (hvítur/hvítingi), there are no fancy/high culture words for races here, it just is what it is, the idea behind that is not really a racist one, its just that people here are mostly (not the older generation) indifferent to this stuff, because this shit just don’t matter here, which is in my opinion the best route to take, people are judged by their personalities and their traits, not by some superficial idea that has no real impact in the world.

    Reply
    • 29th March 2017 at 12:33 am
      Permalink

      What is Iceland Religious Status. Is it Christian, Catholic, Baptist,What’s up with the Witch Craft.

      Reply
  • 4th May 2016 at 6:16 am
    Permalink

    Much of what you read in comment sections are written by Americans with a tremendously warped sense of race. People who desire to protect their inane idealism and sensibilities towards a group think fallacy. Blacks in Iceland are like all foreigners in Iceland seen as exotic. Women love them, men want to talk with them. It is not racism here…exoticism. The few black men, the young ones have found heaven with the women.

    Reply

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