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The N-Word – A Warmup

I just finished reading a book called “The N-Word” that I’m going to talk about/review this week in the context of a larger conversation about language. But to get you all ready, frothing at the mouth, or chomping at the bit for this discussion, I present the warm up round:

Packaging Label Describes Sofa Color As “Nigger-brown”

Yes, dears, you read that right.

From The Toronto Star:

When the new chocolate-coloured sofa set was delivered to her Brampton home, Doris Moore was stunned to see packing labels describing the shade as “Nigger-brown.”

She and husband Douglas purchased a sofa, loveseat and chair in dark brown leather last week from Vanaik Furniture and Mattress store on Dundas St. E. She said yesterday each piece had a similar label affixed to the woven protective covering wrapped around the furniture.

Moore, 30, who describes herself as an African-American born and raised in New York, said it was her 7-year-old daughter who pointed out the label just after delivery men from the Mississauga furniture store left.

“She’s very curious and she started reading the labels,” Moore explained. “She said, `Mommy, what is nig … ger brown?’ I went over and just couldn’t believe my eyes.”

Douglas explained the origins of the word to daughter Olivia, telling how it was a bad name that blacks were called during the days of slavery in the United States.

“It was tough, because she really didn’t understand,” Moore said. “She’d never heard that word before and didn’t really understand the concept of it.”

… Moore said she called the furniture store the following day and three other times since, and feels discouraged that no one has returned her calls.

When interviewed yesterday by the Star, Romesh Kumar, Vanaik’s assistant manager, passed the buck to his supplier, Cosmos Furniture in Scarborough.

… “That’s terrible, that’s a racial … something?” Kumar said. “This is entirely wrong, but it’s not my fault. It’s my job to sell good product to people.”

The owner of Cosmos Furniture, Paul Kumar, no relation to Romesh … passed the blame to a Chinese company, but apologized for the labels. He said he would contact the furniture maker in Guangzhou and demand they remove all similar labels.

Moore said she’s not sure she wants the sofa set in her home.

“Every time I sit on it, I’ll think of that,” she said.

via Consumerist


12 thoughts on “The N-Word – A Warmup”

  1. somewhereupnorth says:

    I blogged about this yesterday. Unbelievable (or perhaps not!).

    I don’t know if the same applies Stateside, but here in the UK, it’s not entirely uncommon for (old) people to casually refer to this “colour”. I remember one time when I was very little, hearing an old woman ask a shopkeeper if he had a certain jacket in “nigger brown”.

    His response was something along the lines of a polite refusal, rather than putting her straight, or straight up kicking her out of the shop.

  2. Dani says:

    To make it worse- I was wondering if the US news would cover this at all. Just now on CNN did did a “teaser” on this story before a commercial break. In big letters they had on the screen, “Race-sits?”

    I would say that is pretty offensive in itself. Sometimes I really hate mainstream media.

  3. Lo says:

    I say, oh wow to this. That’s a story I couldn’t even dream up.

    Though the world is getting smaller. I’m pretty sure for years this has been the name for sofas that are brown that are made in countries where there aren’t any black people or there aren’t any people who speak English…so while it is horrible, it’s also good. The whole world is going to have to get with the program. I wonder do we in the US say anything about other people that we don’t even know is insulting…


  4. nunya says:

    “Douglas explained the origins of the word to daughter Olivia, telling how it was a bad name that blacks were called during the days of slavery in the United States.”

    As if we’re not called that *now*.

    This happens in other contexts, as well. I remember a few years ago when I was applying to law schools, I ran across a story about a student at Harvard substituting the word “black” in his outlines for “nig.” And the word “black” wouldn’t even refer to race a lot of the time–the law in the legal profession is sometimes referred to as “black letter law” and so the student’s outline would instead say “nig letter law,” for example. And then he made these outlines available online for other Harvard law students.

  5. talullah says:

    I heard Tom Joyner talking about this the other day and nearly ran off the road going to work. What in D hell? Is this 2007 or 1947?

  6. mike says:

    Heres the real deal. This was not a racial incident. This couch came from China, and the label was translated and printed there. A software program translated the color description to the N word. Impossible you say?

    I was typing an email (thank goodness praising) and employee in Microsoft Outlook. The new version has corrected it but I just checked Yahoo mail and it has the old logic so go see for yourself.

    I typed….Engr Smith is a great…blah blah…. I ran spell checker and didnt pay a lot of attention. Guess what spell checker changes Engr to….. Negro. I swear.

    I sent the email. I cant inagine what he thought. He showed it to me and I thought I was on candid camera and was also soling myself. We finally figured out what happened and it was funny. He never took offense because he knew that I did not have any racist feelings.

    She needs to drop this. It was an honest mistake and nobody involved is racist. Trying to exploit this for money makes me question her character.

  7. the angry black woman says:

    Mike, there’s a world of difference between the word Negro and Nigger. there’s no spell checker in the world that would make that mistake. You cannot say it wasn’t a racial incident because you weren’t there at any level – not in the warehouse, the offices, the marketing meetings, nothing. Beyond that, you seem to have missed the entire point of her problem.

  8. Jack says:

    From an advertising and marketing standpoint; it seems to be a superb description. “Nigger brown” is not only a descriptive, but colorful adjective, it does a remarkable job describing the hue of this product. If I were to purchase a “nigger brown” sofa, there would be no confusion on my part as to what color I am going to receive.

  9. A. says:

    Jack – Pretty much. I mean, that has got to be just one shade of brown, right?

  10. Legible Susan says:

    I hope A. was being sarcastic there. I mean, whaaaat? Have you any idea what range of people would be called that?

  11. the angry black woman says:

    No clue if A was being sarcastic, but Jack has driven off the deep end. I would like to see an ad or marketing agency that would even give 2 minutes of consideration to naming a color “nigger brown”. because obviously that would be an agency full of crazy people and I do enjoy my human folly.

    This is why I encourage everyone to join me in pointing and laughing at jack.

  12. A. says:

    Yes. I was being sarcastic, actually.

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