This missing dog's racist name is causing a storm on Twitter

This missing dog's racist name is causing a storm on Twitter

It is a universally accepted truth that people on the internet will argue over anythingIt could be discussing something as trivial as model trains or mundane as bus tickets, but scrolling through internet comments will inevitably reveal a maelstrom of anger.

Differing opinions and sarcasm, along with the typical comparisons, no matter how far-fetched, of other commenters to Hitler, can mean that any well-intentioned debate can quickly spiral out of control; and that's without even factoring in malicious trolls.

Now, introduce touchy subjects like race and you've got a full-blown war on your hands. You'd think that it would be easy to avoid sparking this kind of row; but all it takes is for the ignorant and the easily-offended to share a thread on a message board before all hell breaks loose, as one Twitter-user learned to her peril last month when an honest appeal about a missing dog turned into a massive debate over semantics.

On January 20, Twitter user @rebeca_macias18 tweeted her followers for information about her pet dog, who had gone missing, along with two pictures of the missing canine. However, it wasn't images of the black Staffordshire terrier that infuriated Twitter users, but the name of the dog. Rebeca's tweet read: "Negro is missing please if anyone sees him message me!!! [sic]" No sooner had she posted these words, than she was inundated with over 5,000 messages; some defending and others admonishing her use of the word "negro" as a name for a dog. 

Different words have different meanings for different people based on their specific cultural upbringing, and nowhere is this axiom more clear than in this instance. In the predominantly English-speaking United States, the word 'negro' has distinctly racially-aggravating connotations, harkening back to the term most often used to describe African-Americans before the emergence of the civil rights movement.

Although the term "negro" was originally the preferred and more sensitive nomenclature used for black people (with 'black' itself considered non-politically correct) over time it began to be regarded as an offensive racial slur. The word 'negro' is now so racially-charged, that in 2016 Obama signed legislation which made the use of the word negro (along with other inappropriate terms such as 'oriental') illegal to use in federal law.

When the United States Census Bureau stated that 'negro' would be the descriptor for black Americans in the 2010 census it provoked outrage. Journalist Erin Aubry Kaplan wrote in the Los Angeles Times that there was a generational divide towards the word, and many older black Americans identified themselves as 'negro' in older censuses. "Though it was the accepted term until the late '60s, for those born after that," Kaplan wrote, "'Negro' is something they never answered to, a word that sounds only slightly less incendiary than 'n*gger ... Its taint goes back to slavery, when Southerners paternalistically referred to even free blacks as 'our negroes.'"

In the Spanish-speaking world, however, the word is totally benign. There 'negro' is simply the word for the colour black - and has been for hundreds and hundreds of years. It is also pronounced differently, as Twitter-users were quick to point out, as "neh-gro" not "nee-gro." But in the 14th century, when the Spanish joined the slave trade, they also used the word to describe African slaves, because it meant 'black" in Spanish - something slave owners adopted. However, since Rebeca herself is Latina, it appears that she was ignorant of how loaded the word is, and thought that it was a perfectly acceptable name for a black pooch.

One Twitter user sarcastically replied: "You definitely ain't gonna find that dog now with a name like that," while another commented that "First of all the fact that negro is used in Spanish as a colour is racist asf. The end." However, other people appeared to be on Rebeca's side, like Twitter user XoxoVannia, who wrote: "Lol first of all educate yourself before you look stupid on social media. "Negro" is Spanish for the colour black in English. This has NOTHING to do with black people she’s simply naming her dog a colour not a racial slur. Smh so quick to bring the race card [sic]".

However, the story had a happy ending, when it seems that Rebeca's dog was later found. Despite all the outrage and controversy, Rebeca still tweeted a picture of the black pup, to reassure everyone that he was safe and well. The dog had no idea how much trouble his name had caused. I can see why Rebeca was confused by all the righteous indignation she was on the receiving end of, but to be fair, I don't think I'd call my dog that myself. As far as I know, "Poppy" has never incited a race row.