I was listening to Anne-Marie Dussault asking various people about the “word that begins with n”. I was listening to Patrice Masbourian interview Professor Verushka Lieutenant-Duval, introduced as “the teacher who used the ‘n-word”. I wondered what was happening to us collectively. And I wondered if, according to this poem that Anthony Phelps wrote during the darkest hours of the Duvalier dictatorship, “he [était] the time has come to speak to each other by signs ”. Because what separates the repeated use of these turns of phrase – “word in n / word that begins with n” – from what they avoid naming other than prudent self-censorship for legitimate fear of being vilified, designated for the vindictiveness of social networks, without any possibility of redemption? Professor Lieutenant Duval knows all about it, her name, address and phone number have been made public, which is nothing more than a call for violence. She admitted to being scared. Who wouldn’t be afraid in his place?
I listened to all these arguments being rehashed in favor of freedom of education, and it rang false in my ears, because everyone knows that there is no development or diffusion of knowledge without this freedom, and it seemed to me that by emphasizing this, which was not debated, we were cheapening freedom of expression itself, which, like all freedom, must stop, of course, where the right of others to dignity begins.
How does the use of the words “negro” and “ nigger ‘ in the context of an academic discussion about the reappropriation of these insults by those against whom they were originally directed – which was a way for them to turn the negative into the positive as the negritude movement did – does it undermine anyone’s dignity? But, beyond academia, how does the use of the words “nigger” and ” nigger “In the context of a respectful public debate, as all public debates should be, does it a priori constitute aggression against anyone? By what aberration have we come to be told, and almost to accept, that these words should never be used by people other than black? By what right ? Are we going to draw up a list of prohibited words for each group and sub-group in our society?
My mother kept telling me that it’s the tone that makes the song. If academics, aspiring doctors and aspiring lawyers don’t differentiate between critical analysis and insult, education is desperate.
Racism, whatever it is, is a form of aggression and injustice. And injustice is everyone’s business. The violent racist injustice suffered by Mr.me Joyce Echaquan is also my business, even though I am not an Attikamek. The immense emotion, beyond “races” and countries, aroused by the horror of the public assassination of George Floyd has cast a ray of hope on the future of our common humanity. But reactions of rejection of any dialogue such as those which interest us here make us collectively back down. They act like snuffers by discouraging the best wills, and they roll back the cause believed to be defending those who arouse them. Professor Lieutenant-Duval offered her detractors to debate their point of view. If they had taken her at her word, everyone would have come out grown. But intolerance and intimidation prevailed, and the University of Ottawa failed to rise to the occasion.
I was deeply saddened to hear Mr.me Lieutenant Duval apologizes again and again and says, “If I had known …” In the meantime, injustice, including systemic racism, is rampant, and racists of all stripes must be rubbing their hands. They know, the racists, that they don’t need the word “nigger,” the word “savage,” or any other term commonly used for the purpose of causing harm to others. Witness this drawing teacher that I had at the university in Toulouse. I was one of the few black people in the class. He called me “The Swedish” … when my back was turned. A student reported it to me laughing. Of course, based on the obvious, “Swede” is not “Negro”. And yet. Everything is in the way. Everything is a matter of context and tone.