Since 2019, when the furniture and decoration store Etna decided to do it Abolish the use of the term ‘bedside table’ of your ads and replace it with “bedside table’, the discussion about whether the term is racist or not comes up every now and then. The last time that was last Wednesday (April 18) Big Brother Brazil 23corrected the singer Marvilla Gabriel when she heard him say “bedside table”. “Well, that term isn’t used anymore because it’s racist. I know you spoke of innocence, but I better tell you,” the sister said.
At the time, the brand, which ended operations in April last year, argued that the origin of the term dates back to Brazil’s days of slavery, when enslaved black people “were called servants and performed various functions in the homes of rural area owners” one of them stood by the bed and held everyday objects of the man or woman of the house (owner of the property) such as a glass of water, books and clothes without being able to speak.
The issue is controversial, as another strand argues that the phrase comes from the translation of the English word dumbwaiter. But at least ‘Nightstand’ is a racist term or not? Vogue house spoke to linguists who had differing opinions on the subject. Read both pages below:
2 of 4 bedrooms signed by Flávia Gerab with work by artist Luiz Martins — Photo: Ruy Teixeira
Room signed by Flávia Gerab with works by the artist Luiz Martins — Photo: Ruy Teixeira
Author of Linguistic Racism, Professor at the Federal University of Southern Bahia, writer and linguist Gabriel Nassimento points out that the term contains racism and notes that in order to understand it it is necessary to go beyond the philological or etymological context of the word.
“’Dumb Servant’ does not appear concretely in the context of slavery but acquires historicity in this period, it is the objectification of the person serving in the residence, which in the 19th century was the enslaved person. The expression is racist because it naturalizes the internal commodity structure of the house that the enslaved person makes up this place and is seen on the same level as the furniture, an inanimate being that has occupied a specific place in Brazilian society that he has never known could walk away”, he explains.
He says that works by Machado de Assis reflect the context of the time. “When we create new forms of vocation, we stop having the same racist practices. In Dom Casmurro the term ‘servant’ is used more often than ‘slave’. As a linguist, I understand that there was a change in the sense of a perceived political correctness of the time, and I am increasingly convinced that ‘bedside table’ is a dangerous metaphor for the enslaved within this regime”.
Gabriel recalls that the term ‘servant’ is used heavily in 19thcentury texts: ‘These slavery novels reveal an oral that has not been documented, but it is vital to understand how society at the time spoke a term that is still used in uppermiddleclass families. That is why the term “created” is uncomfortable, it alerts us to its use that needs to be refuted. It is normal that we question usages that are part of the racist repertoire of Brazilian society”.
3 of 4 bedside table in a project by architect Virna Carvalho — Photo: Denilson Machado/ MCA Estúdio/ Disclosure
Bedside table in a project by architect Virna Carvalho — Photo: Denilson Machado/ MCA Estúdio/ Disclosure
The teacher believes that raising awareness is better than simply banning the word from vocabulary. “By banning words, we seem to create a list of terms to exclude without considering why they arise or that they are naturalized in everyday life. We must banish the racist formation that produces racist words. Campaign to prevent their use Words are fundamental, necessary and crucial, racism is the main enemy”.
In the stream of linguists who do not see the concept of racism are the doctor of literature Pablo Jamilk and the writer and master of Brazilian literature Tássia Hallis.
“The narrative manages to attract the careless person who, when they hear about the suffering of others, thinks, ‘My God, I have to stop using that kind of expression.’ Etymologically, there is no record of the expression ‘dumb servant’. as a ‘servant in the house during slavery who should remain silent by the bed,'” says Pablo.
4 of 4 rooms designed by architect Gabriel Magalhães — Photo: Gabriela Daltro/Disclosure
Room designed by architect Gabriel Magalhães — Photo: Gabriela Daltro/Disclosure
“’Criado’ doesn’t necessarily mean enslaved. And it’s hard to say that the origin of the term ‘servant mute’ is racist. But if it is currently considered inappropriate by the population, I think we should respect that position,” Tássia assesses.
Pablo notes that “the argument that ‘it’s not because there are no records’ is intended to make revisionist history, and worse, without any primary source, which is a gross error, academic failure, or intellectual dishonesty.” The person who says “I need to buy a bedside table for my room” at no time has an apparent desire to use racial slurs against anyone”.
He is opposed to imposingly banning the use of any word in society, as this would breed linguistic authoritarianism. Tássia thinks it’s worth thinking about. “Replacing the term ‘bedside table’ with ‘bedside table’ or another synonym that cannot be taken as a reference to the past of slavery is a valid option in order not to offend that part of the population that considers the term racist . The language is alive and therefore adaptable to historical time and social context,” he concludes.