I am a South African and a person of the Khoisan (Khoekhoe) heritage who were, in the 18th century, given the name Hottentot (same meaning as nigger) – a name given by the colonialists to the First Nations people of South Africa.
I am disturbed by J Rose (Barking up the Wrong Tree, Letter, 19 July) to Jonathan De Wet, also a South African and of Khoisan (Khoekhoe) indigenous heritage, demanding him to open his mind and broaden his education. This smacks of linguistic and colonial superiority, hiding behind semantics, lexicography and the significance of context. Explain that to a First Nations human living in accordance with their environment. Being called a Hottentot, or nigger, isn’t something we can easily follow in the good old Aussie idiom of ‘Get over it mate’.
We have lived this experience through the oppressive apartheid years, and beyond here into the Byron Shire where we live. You cannot feel it unless you have experienced it.
Racist names lurk in the names of plants, animals and other species. The name ‘Hottentot’ for trees and shrubs, was given by colonial South African botanists to certain trees because the Khoisan people ate the figs. Other species called ‘Hottentot’ were pests.
In the case of Khoisan women: Sarah Baartman was a South African woman who was enslaved and brought to London in 1810, where she was exhibited as a freakshow called the ‘Hottentot Venus’ – Hottentot was the colonial term for Khoekhoe people, while Venus implied her exemplary exotic femininity. Put on stage as an object of scientific and sexual interest for European men, Baartman was paraded in public as ‘the missing link between man and beast’.
Reproductions of historical exhibit flyers depicting caricatures of Baartman and advertising these public displays of her body are the historical starting point for Black Venus, a new iteration of a touring exhibition curated by Aindrea Emelife, ‘exploring how Black women make images of their bodies after a long and horrifying history of racism and objectification’ (The Guardian, Charlotte Janson, Weds 19 July, 2023).
The term ‘Hottentot’ has been historically used as a racial slur and has caused significant pain to many communities. It has been associated with derogatory and dehumanising depictions of the Khoikhoi (Khoisan) people, who are indigenous to Southern Africa.
In today’s society, it is our responsibility to foster inclusivity, respect, and sensitivity. By removing the word ‘Hottentot’ from the street name, we can contribute to creating a more inclusive and respectful environment for all. It is an opportunity to recognise and rectify the harm caused by racial slurs and to promote a more equitable society.
We believe that by embracing change and choosing words that uplift and celebrate diversity, we can move towards a more inclusive future. It is essential to acknowledge the pain that certain words and terms have caused and take steps to ensure that our language reflects the values of equality and respect.
Thank you for considering this perspective, and I hope we can work together to create a more inclusive and welcoming community in which the derogatory and racist name ‘Hottentot’ must fall.