Petition Seeks to Eliminate Racist Expressions from Spanish Dictionary

Have you heard the expression "trabajar como un negro"?

ByABC News
January 24, 2013, 3:05 PM

Jan. 24, 2012— -- An online campaign in Uruguay is trying to eliminate racist expressions from the Spanish language.

Organizers of the campaign, which was funded by the House of Afro-Uruguayan Culture, have written a letter to Spain's Royal Academy of the Spanish Language (RAE in Spanish), asking the institution to remove the expression "trabajar como un negro" from its famous dictionary.

The expression roughly translates "to work like a black person" and it harks back to the days when black slaves in the Americas were brutally overworked by their white masters.

"In our every day language, there are expressions that can be used in discriminatory ways, and one of them – to work like a negro—appears on your dictionary," reads the Uruguayan petition, which has already been signed online by 21,000 people.

"We ask you to revise the permanence of this expression in your dictionary, while we find ways to eliminate all discriminatory expressions from our plazas, our schools, our playgrounds and our homes."

The dictionary published yearly by the Royal Academy is one of the most important texts of reference in the Spanish language. It currently defines "working like a black person," as "working a lot."

Several actions against racism are currently taking place in Uruguay, an country of 3.3 million people where around 5 percent of the population self-identifies as black or of African descent.

As the online petition picks up signatures, anti-racism activists in Uruguay are pressing officials to prosecute five women, who were accused of beating black activist Tania Ramirez outside a club in Montevideo in December.

At the behest of local activists,and international soccer authorities, officials in this soccer-crazy country are also considering plans to cancel soccer games if fans break out in racist chants during matches, which happens repeatedly not only in Uruguay but also in Argentina and many European countries where black players often perform in front of mostly white crowds.