When I took my family out to breakfast Saturday morning, my son, who should not have been surfing the Net during family time, chuckled loudly while looking at something on his Droid phone. He then showed me the picture of a black man holding up and looking at a bag of Negro, some kind of snack food. I laughed pretty hard, and my daughter laughed as well.
The bag clearly had foreign words on it, but none of us recognized the language. We figured the word "Negro" in big letters had nothing to do with black people and supposed that the product's name was one of those lost-in-translation situations in which the word negro means simply the color black. Still, when we returned home, I looked up the candy anyway and found out its origin.
Negro is a hard candy made from the byproducts of sour candy. Reportedly, it's named not for people of African descent but after its creator, P. Negro, an Italian confectioner. The candy is popular in Hungary, and according to the Hungarian food website, Chew.hu, "Negro ("NAY-GROW")" developed the candy in the 1920s. Decades later a Hungarian company produced it:
First produced by the precursors of today's Dreher beer company, in 1980, the Győr Biscuit and Wafer Factory (Győri Keksz- és Ostyagyár) began production the Negro. More recently, Győri Keksz was bought by France's Danone group, and now has the sole right to produce and market the famed "chimneysweeper of the throat." The Negro comes in several flavors, and while the recipes are a closely-held secret, the popular original variety contains mint and anis.Apparently the candy also goes by the name Negrók in Hungary and has the reputation for confusing police breathalzyer tests, says Chew.
House of Names, a company that sells family crest products, says the following about the Italian surname Negro:
The recorded variations of Negro include Negri, Negro, Nigri, Nigris, Nigra, Negris, Negrelli, Negrotto, Negrello, Negroni and many more. [Read more at HouseofNames.com.]Surfing the web, I found that the website Bad Record Covers also discusses this confection. It delves into an old controversy about the candy, and using a 2004 newspaper clip about a black girl who received the candy in her Halloween candy bag, the writer says:
The clipping above is from one of my favorite news stories ever. It was reported in a local paper around 2003. The pictured girl was trick-or-treating and a Yugoslav refugee gave her some Negro candy. The girl interpreted this as a racial insult and went crying all the way home.The website also has a much clearer picture of a bag of Negro.
I can’t say that I know more about the incident than was reported. It’s hard to believe that the non-English speaking immigrant was trying exercise racial hostility. The man was simply trying to conform to the odd American custom of trick-or-treating the best way he could. He probably thought that the local kids would enjoy some imported (yet foul) tasting candy.
The word Negro, uppercase and proper noun, or negro, lowercase and adjective, the color black: What's in a word, indeed! In this story of a man's name turned into a name brand, we find a mixture of sweet and sour, of amusing and bitter--the inevitable result of clashing cultures thick with extractions based on personal and ethnic history and extrapolation informed by a people's denigration. We hope one day such misunderstandings will resolve themselves until they become rare, but like Condoleezza Rice who declared recently that race will remain with us, we, too, may conclude that the difficult matter of this social construct--especially blackness--and the tedious challenges that come with difference will never vanish in the U.S.A.
It's like we can never truly overcome.
Globalization: the world is getting smaller; soon we will be nose to nose. As we scatter and squish ourselves into one place or another foreign to us, we stumble over odd artifacts--objects that seem strange to us, those who have previously known only our small corner of the globe, but objects that are nothing unusual or offensive to those who have known intimately their own nooks on Earth.
It's like we know nothing.
Each day our world becomes in more ways than we care to realize a postmodern society and we weave through it as disoriented subjects, undone peoples of postmodernity who have slipped unawares over a line. We stand, we find, in what feels like someone else's land but it is our own world exploded where we must learn to bob and weave through its cumbersome fragments, longing to grab and cling to any chunk of debris that may stabilize long us.
It's like we are all becoming Brathwaite's Arrivants and must stitch from these pieces "something torn and new" but we pray better.
Or as the Black Eyed Peas say:"
It's the abstract! ...It's like that.
Change your history, categories,
different people in the same territories