I really hope this question doesn't get deleted or flagged, so to make sure it doesn't I will try to keep it as academic as possible.

I am currently an American student studying in Saint Petersburg and several times I have been shocked by the use of the "N-Word," (it's a racist word for Black people in case there is any ambiguity). In my college classes, my professors, when speaking about Black people, will use it in place of the word "black." Needless to say, as an American where if a professor said this word, they would be fired immediately, my heart stops every time I hear it and I just can't seem to understand why it is ok here.

So my question: Is the origin of the word in Russia such that it really isn't as offensive as it is in America? Or is it because Russia is less than 0.01% black that nobody has made a big deal about it? I am genuinely interested to know.

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    Welcome to Russian.SE! Please note that, like on any language-related SE site, tabooed words (in either language) are OK to use in the posts and answers, as long as they are germane to the topic of the discussion. In fact, substitution of euphemisms for tabooed words (like you did in your question) obscures the question. My professors, when speaking about Black people, will use it in place of the word "black": do they use English "nigger", Russian ниггер or Russian негр? Please clarify what do your professors say exactly.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 10:41
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    @Quassnoi I only mentioned the N-word (I'm not comfortable with using it) in my post, so it seems fairly obvious that this is what I was talking about. It was clarified in the answers that I was misunderstanding them and they were, in fact, not saying the N-word, but негр.
    – Rocket Man
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 10:47
  • I was born in Ukraine and teachers taught me that black people are to be called by the n-word. It's not racist or anything in Ukraine, it's just the same thing as if you would say caucasian.
    – Vlad
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 21:39
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    I think the best way to keep your question academic would have been to write the word and not create such a theatrical spectacle about it.
    – CocoPop
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 4:27
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    Russian is not the only language where the word "негр" is a regular acceptable word. According to my Cuban colleague, Spanish word "negro" is very common when referring to black-skinned people. "Negro" is just a Spanish word for "black", hence "black tea" in Spanish is "té negro"
    – Vitaly
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 14:25

5 Answers 5


There is no reason to worry that this question would be closed - it is indeed a very good question.

Word Негр is not considered racist in Russia or Russian language. Do note that the scientific name for the race is Negroid - hence the word to describe an individual representative of that race. This word is different in pronunciation from the N-word in America that you're referring to.

I personally have studied and lived in the USA for over 10 years and do understand your sentiments very well. However the reason the N-word is considered racist is historical rather than linguistic. In the USA, the racism of the word has origins in the black slave trade of 18-19th centuries, where word negro was pretty much equated to the word "slave". The N-word is simply a derogative derivative of it.

Because in Russia historically the black population has always been extremely small and Russia never really experienced the black slave trade anywhere near the level of the USA, there was no reason for the word to gain a negative connotation. Hence, again, In Russian the word is not racist and is not considered derogatory in any way.

In some contexts, naturally, word негр may be used as a derogative, but that would be a minority case. There is also a rather rude version ниггер, recently borrowed from English, which corresponds directly to the N-word you are referring to - and this word is racist and derogative and would not be used in normal conversations.

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    In fact word "черный" (black) is racist in Russian when applied to black people and some other nationalities.
    – Artemix
    Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 17:19
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    @AJStas Well "черные люди" sounds strange in Russian (as if you don't know what is the right word and just want to describe it with the simpler words). To sound racist you'll have to say just "черные" like "понаехало черных".
    – Artemix
    Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 19:26
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    @AJ Stas "чёрные люди" sounds not connected to race at all, it looks as if you were speaking about their soul being "black" and evil and the persons were immoral, so it is derogatory but not racist. If you use just "чёрные", this is very much derogatory and racist, although implies the people are Caucasians (from Caucasus) rather than blacks.
    – Anixx
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 14:23
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    @AJ Stas In Russian the word "чёрные" is not associated with Negroids at all. But you can use "чернокожие" "black-skinned" for them. It is not derogatory but rare and quite uncommon.
    – Anixx
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 14:29
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    @AJ Stas This depends on context though, as an adjective, чернокожий is ok, for example in the context "Nelson Mandela is the first black-skinned president of SAR", in this context one hardly can use негр because the sentence structure requires an adjective.
    – Anixx
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 18:28

In Russian "чёрные" ("blacks") is a racist slur for Caucasians. It is not associated with people of African descent at all.

"Чёрные люди" ("black people") sounds not connected to race at all, it looks as if you were speaking about their soul being "black" and evil and the persons were immoral, so it is derogatory but not racist. In an archaic meaning it may mean servants who do the "black work", i.e. dirty work.

It also can mean optically black-colored people but not in racial sense:

  • Some black-colored aliens or people who contracted some fantastic desease which makes people black
  • People appearing black due to the position of light source, sihluettes.
  • People painted black for some reason
  • People wearing totlly black clothing, including black helm, like Darth Vader. Wearing a Batman costume would not qualify due to non-black face!

Thoughts about black race just excluded so you cannot use it for race. Confusingly, "black people" would more likely mean black-skinned aliens than people of African descent.

If you use just "чёрные", this is very much derogatory and racist, although implies the people are Caucasians rather than blacks.

  • 18
    And "Caucasian" here means a person from the Caucasus mountains region, not a person of European descent.
    – Dima
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 18:56
  • 2
    Present day it also encompasses immigrants from Central Asia, not just people from Caucasian mountains.
    – alamar
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 14:05
  • Also "чернота" to denote immigrants as a social group. Need to say, this is very strong language.
    – alamar
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 14:11

There is a subtle difference in pronunciation between the English N-word and the Russian word "негр". The latter is equivalent to "black" or "negro", and is not a slur, in and of itself. However, it is not clear whether what you have heard was "негр" or the N-word. The N-word is known in Russia, and it is understood to be a slur. Furthermore, the word "негр" may also be used in a derogatory sense, depending on the context.

If you can read Russian, this wiki article may be helpful.

  • I will give the wiki article a shot. I have been studying russian for a year and half, so maybe I'll learn something.
    – Rocket Man
    Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 15:55

Here is the real-world story about usage of word "afro-americans" to negroid peoples living in Russia. http://www.anekdot.ru/id/697460/

Подруга: «вон, у афроамериканцев спросим». У противоположной стены три темнокожих студента разговаривают о чём-то на своём олбанском. Подходим. Разговор замолкает, один, с интонацией одновременно обиды и гордости, практически без акцента: «мы не афроамериканцы, мы НЕГРЫ».

  • 1
    anekdot.ru is not a reliable source, and an anecdote (sorry for the pun) is not data. Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 19:46
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    I think the joke here is that they are not Americans, so they cannot be African Americans. I have heard people make this same mistake in America. They do not want to say "black Africans" since that is not up-to-date, so they say "African Americans in Africa".
    – David42
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 20:34

негроидный - Negroid (adjective) негроид - Negroid (noun) нигр - Nigger (noun) негр - Slang (noun) Shorter version for Negroid and should not be used based on the similarity to "Nigger"

негроидный люди is not offensive because it does not objectify people in the way that негры / нигры does.

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    Doesn't seem to have any relation to Russian usage. Is it about USA?
    – Artemix
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 10:28
  • What is нигр? Why негр is slang? What is негроидный люди?
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 5:13
  • 1
    Слова "нигр" в русском языке нет. Есть слово "арап". Например, был один такой Александр Сергеевич.
    – ddbug
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 12:18

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