Munich and Berlin will no longer allow use of the traditional term indicating that someone is using public transport without a ticket. German cities have decided to ban the word “Schwarzfahren”, which literally means “black riding”, because people might perceive it as a racist insult. Cities in Czechia where the same term is used will not consider making such changes, though.
German transport companies in Berlin and Munich decided not to use the word Schwarzfahren anymore, as well as the term Schwarzfahrer (black rider). They plan to drop these terms altogether.
“Anti-racist groups point out that the black color is often used in German with a negative racial connotation,” stated Berlin’s public transport company.
For example, the Schwarze Menchen in Deutschland initiative (Black People in Germany) demands such a word not to be enforced and wants the fare evasion to be only called “riding without a ticket.”
“The term Schwarzfahren has a negative undertone for Black people,” Tahir Della, a spokesman for the initiative, told AFP, adding that the word “black” in this context means something negative.
“Schwarzfahrt costs 60 euros!” state posters hanging in German pedestrian underpasses, public transport vehicles, and around cities. The Munich transport company has already removed all such warnings. The company told the Bild daily that this was a measure to modernize communication. The advertising slogan now reads: “Honesty rides the longest.”
The word Schwarzfahren was also banned in Berlin. According to the German linguist Eric Fuss, however, the term Schwarzfahren comes from the word “shvarts” (poverty in Yiddish). So, it is supposed to describe people who are too poor to buy a ticket, not dark-skinned people.
Unlike in Germany, transport companies in the Czech Republic, where the Czech version of the term is also used, do not perceive this to be a problem.
“We usually use the term ‘passenger without a valid ticket’. Informally, people call this ‘black riding’, but no one gives it any racist subtext. However, we do not officially use this term,” said Hana Tomaštíková, a spokeswoman of the Brno City Transport Company.
The Prague Public Transport Company was even more resolute in its statement.
“According to the dictionary of the informal Czech language, the word black in the phrases such as ‘black ride’, ‘black work’, and so on has its origins in the 19th century and means that something is dishonest, happening under cover of darkness, during a black night, and therefore insidious. It has no connection with nationality, skin color, or even a racist subtext,” stated Daniel Šabík, head of the Prague Public Transport Company’s communication department.
“In our opinion, the term black passenger is commonly used and understood in Czech society without other negative connotations regarding race or nationality. We feel sorry if someone is looking for, or even attributing, a different meaning to this phrase than it actually has,” added Šabík.
Title image: In this Friday, Jan. 15, 2021 photo a person walks past a train at the subway station “Unter den Linden” boulevard in Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)