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What is the meaning of 'neguinho'? Nelson Piquet slur has an awful history

Eve Edwards June 29, 2022
What is the meaning of 'neguinho'? Nelson Piquet slur has an awful history
Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images

Two legendary Formula 1 drivers are up against one another this month, as allegations that Nelson Piquet called Lewis Hamilton a racial slur come to light.

Brazilian former race car driver Piquet has since denied the allegations but has issued an apology to Hamilton.

Piquet’s comments surfaced from an interview conducted last year; he claims that the comment made has been mistranslated but “was ill thought out” regardless.

Despite Nelson Piquet’s apology, the reality of his words continues to have a ripple effect as the history of the slur comes to light.

Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The meaning of “neguinho” has a horrendous history in Brazil

The Brazilian Portuguese term ‘neguinho’ is the diminutive of ‘nego’, or ‘negro’. Diminutives are used in Brazilian Portuguese as a suffix to mean ‘little’ or ‘small’. They are often used in terms of endearment, although not necessarily, as seen in the case of this controversial term.

The word ‘nego’ was used in Brazil to refer to black people in a derogatory way; it translates to the masculine for ‘black person’. The aforementioned diminutive then literally translates to ‘little black’ or ‘small black’.

These terms have roots in the slave trade which peaked in Brazil during the 19th century, although the country had been party to the trade since the 16th century. White slave owners would use such terms to describe black slaves brought to Brazil from African countries such as Angola and Mozambique.

Given the term’s shocking history, there is inevitable debate about its usage in Brazilian slang.

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A term of endearment or relic of Brazil’s brutal past?

There has been much speculation over the use of the term ‘neguinho’ in Brazil in light of Nelson Piquet’s comments. Some, including Piquet himself, state that it is inoffensive and used colloquially in Brazil; others disagree.

Aline Ramos, writing in Black Brazil Today, speaks about the conflicting meanings of the term. Ramos states that context and delivery are crucial in the intended meaning of the term. She explains that she has been attacked using the slur before, but also that her mother has used it as a term of endearment.

Some Brazilian musicians and artists, such as Neguinho da Beija Flor, have attempted to reclaim the word, using it as a stage name. But the consensus is that the term is still largely regarded as offensive in Brazilian culture.

Lewis Hamilton speaks on Piquet’s alleged use of a slur

On Tuesday, 28 June 2022, Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton spoke out after Piquet’s comments came to light. Hamilton’s Mercedes team and Formula 1 condemned Piquet for his use of the racially-charged language although action has yet to be taken against the former race car driver.

Taking to Twitter, Hamilton wrote: “It’s more than language. These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport. I’ve been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted my whole life. There has been plenty of time to learn. Time has come for action.”

Following Piquet’s comments, Hamilton also shared a tweet in Portuguese which translates to “Let’s focus on changing the mindset.”

As reported by The Guardian, Mercedes made a statement in light of the comments: “We condemn in the strongest terms any use of racist or discriminatory language of any kind.”

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Nelson Piquet issues apology to Lewis Hamilton

As Nelson Piquet’s comments from last year come to light, the former race car driver has issued an apology for any offence caused.

“I would like to clear up the stories circulating in the media about a comment I made in an interview last year,” Piquet said on Wednesday, 29 June 2022.

“What I said was ill thought out, and I make no defence for it, but I will clarify that the term used is one that has widely and historically been used colloquially in Brazilian Portuguese as a synonym for ‘guy’ or ‘person’ and was never intended to offend. I would never use the word I have been accused of in some translations. I strongly condemn any suggestion that the word was used by me with the aim of belittling a driver because of his skin colour.”

Piquet continued: “I apologise wholeheartedly to anyone that was affected, including Lewis, who is an incredible driver, but the translation in some media that is now circulating on social media is not correct. Discrimination has no place in F1 or society and I am happy to clarify my thoughts in that respect.”

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Eve spends her days writing about everything culture-related. From celebrity news to music, film and television, Eve covers all bases. When she’s not writing you can find her making music or mastering the art of homemade pasta.