Icelandic expressions used when describing immigrants and the recent republication of the children’s book Tíu litlir negrastrákar (“Ten Little Negro Boys”) were discussed at Ahús, the Intercultural Center in Reykjavík, last week.
Icelandic specialist Mördur Árnason warned against “escaping words,” that in essence are not negative, mentioning the Icelandic word negri (“negro”) in that context, Fréttabladid reports.
Árnason later stated in an interview on Channel 2 that the word in itself is not negative, though a negative meaning may on occasions have been applied to it, and more so in English-speaking countries than in Iceland.
At the Ahús meeting, Kristján B. Jónasson, director of the Association of Icelandic Book Publishers, talked about the freedom of the press in relation to books that are the children of their time, referring to the republication of Tíu litlir negrastrákar, Fréttabladid reports.
Jónasson said the story is certainly not suited for children, but that it is the byproduct of a historical process that shouldn’t be erased, and should also be preserved because it contains images made by the famous Icelandic artist Muggur.
The republication of the book has caused considerable controversy. Parents of children of ethnic minority have written a letter to kindergartens in the capital region encouraging them not to read the book to children since they find both the text and the images in the book hurtful and likely to cause prejudice towards people of color, ruv.is reports.
“I didn’t know what the word ‘negri’ meant, but I knew the kids were calling me that to hurt me,” Bryndís Eiríksdóttir, a mother of two, who believes the republication of Tíu litlir negrastrákar is a mistake, told Fréttabladid. Eiríksdóttir added her husband had once been attacked for the sole reason that he has dark skin.
The couple worries that their children will be bullied following the republication of the book. “They talk about the freedom of publication. It is certainly important, but I think respecting people is more important and this book violates that importance,” Eiríksdóttir concluded.
Tíu litlir negrastrákar was first published in Iceland in 1922 as a translation of an English nursery rhyme, translated by Gunnar Egilsson. Three thousand copies were recently republished by Skrudda and it has already made it to the bestseller list, ruv.is reports.