Tuesday, October 27

“The word ‘nigger’ goes in any mouth”


The title quote is from academic writer Dany Laferrière. A few words on the culture of banishment and the sometimes legitimate use of the term “negro”.

Notice to woke censors and other supporters of cancel culture, there is, in this text, the use of the term “negro” several times. You will have been warned.

At the beginning of the 90s, at another time, at the University of Ottawa, in the Department of French Letters, I had the chance to be introduced to an absolutely fascinating literary current: negritude.

We can define the term negritude as follows: “a literary and political current that brings together black francophone writers to claim black identity and its culture.”

This is how I was introduced to an absolutely fascinating literary universe and to the works of Aimé Césaire, René Depestre or even the influence of an activist like Paulette Nardal, the first black woman to study at the Sorbonne, in particular.

Yes, at the University of Ottawa.

This university where we delivered Professor Verushka Lieutenant-Duval to the vengeance of some radicalized woke students who finally got their head because she “dared” to use the term “nigger” in a purely academic context.

You know the deal. Fortunately, about thirty of his fellow teachers signed a letter of support, very lukewarm I found, but good. At least a few have denounced.

The rector of the said university, Jacques Frémont, former president of the Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse du Québec, has still not reacted. At least not at the time of this writing.

Radicalized students rule the university, it seems. My colleague Joseph Facal also recalls the case of Concordia professor Catherine Russell, suspended for having dared to quote the title of the book by Pierre Vallières Nègres blancs d’Amérique.

When will the next cabal of radicalized student wokes when a teacher dares to quote a work by academician Dany Laferrière or filmmaker Robert Morin? And if only these extremists were only acting in the margins or in relative anonymity. This is not the case. They lead wide in some universities.

Or elsewhere, in society; like at the CBC when journalist Wendy Mesley was severely punished for having also cited Pierre Vallières’ book.

Silly era, isn’t it?

I wonder if we still teach the literary stream of negritude at the University of Ottawa. And if we had to do it, how would we get there in this age of intellectual inquisition?

This time when common sense has no more place than the call for healthy and necessary debate? This time when those who manage university campuses seem to accept that this sanctuary of free and critical thought is taken hostage by small dictators of morality, allowing them to make reign their deleterious culture of banishment [cancel culture].

At the same time, I had the chance to forge a long and lasting friendship with the first black deputy in the history of the National Assembly, Jean Alfred. He had spoken to me so much in favor of Haiti and Martinique. He had already passed away when I had the chance, at last, to immerse myself in Martinican literature, on the spot.

Tell you how much I loved this little paradise, Martinique …

From his political opponents in the Outaouais, Jean Alfred had already suffered some racist insults. He spoke little of it. For him, the term “nigger” had to be put in context. He was certainly not afraid to claim to “claim black identity and its culture.”

By censoring, without nuance, the term “nigger”, it is a bit the memory of people like Jean Alfred that we keep silent. And that of black writers who have claimed the right to name their identity, in their own way.

Also, to these little inquisitors who are rampant on university campuses or in the world of some media that are complacent about their cause, we hope for a little common sense. Even if we can doubt that it is possible, in this extremist universe there.

A final word to writer Dany Laferrière, earlier this month, at France culture, about the word “nègre”:

“The word ‘nigger’ goes in any mouth, it’s in the dictionary, you use it, you suffer the consequences. But this is not the word to be eliminated. When the book came out in 1985, it sparked, and for the same reasons, debate across America. The word “negro” has been censored by the entire American press. Blacks were against me elsewhere. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of the most powerful anti-slavery, anti-racism organizations in America, had censored me as much as those who were in a way racist. This censorship made this book a worldwide celebrity. So, if we ever think of counting it, thank God. [heureux trait d’humour ici quand même!]

The word “nigger” is a word that comes from Haiti. For my part, it is a word which means “man” simply. We can say “this white man is a good nigger”. The word has no subversion. When you come from Haiti, you have the right to use this term and no one else can. It is a term that came out of the furnace of slavery and it was conquered. This is the total difference with the whole history of the word negro, if we take it by the United States, by the abolitionists as by the colonizers or by the writers of negritude, we are missing the story. The story is that for the first time in human history, negroes freed themselves, slaves freed themselves and founded a nation.

So claiming something that could be derogatory or insulting, or that could diminish you and make it exactly your identity, is one of the oldest human revenges. A writer has at least a double job to do, to update, that is to say to become contemporary and at the same time, to recall that words have an origin, arise from a historical reality.

For Dany Laferrière, each author should feel free to use the word. It is not a question of judging a term, but an intention and trusting the critical spirit of the reader.

We must not lose the humor somewhere too and we must not lose the sulfur of a word in the books. If you take all the wickedness out of a villain’s mouth, there will be loss of drama. As a reader, I want all the words in the dictionary to live. And then I will judge.

In the mouth of a white man, anyone can use it. We know when we are insulted, when someone uses a word to humiliate you and to crush you. And then, we also know when it’s another job. You use it, you suffer the consequences. ”




www.journaldemontreal.com

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