When a Professor Says The N-Word
On the evening of October 23rd in an English lecture at Western University, a professor stated the most horrendous derogatory term in the English language, the N-Word, in order to “illicit a response” from the class. This situation buzzed across social media, garnering attention from other students and professors, community members, and student unions across campus such as the Black Student Association.
Below is a response from third-year student, Maya Simon, (who was, in fact, present in the lecture) that she sent to the professor, elucidating her feelings on his utterance of such a word. This is the second time during her time at Western that one of her professors have lectured this term. Enough is enough.
After today's class, I was left with a lot of reflecting to do. I was excited to continue discussing the tropes within the Fresh Prince Episode in relation to race and class topics.
In your attempt to explain a historical fact regarding the Butler Jeffery and the comment that Will made to address him as “home-butler”, you proceeded to explain a historical meaning behind the term. I was completely taken aback when the lecture proceeded and you chose to say the “N” in your explanation. As a black female student at Western University, I have my own personal experience with prejudice and microaggressions that I face on a daily basis. Though I could not find the words to express my feelings in class I felt it was necessary to voice my concerns to you if not through at least an email. It was troubling that such an offensive word was used, I did not think that it was necessary to get the point across. You could have said “home slave” (as it fits the context you comparing a house slave to an outside slave) or even expressed that the “N” word was normally replaced into that term without actually saying it.
I know that a few of my black peers expressed that they were disconcerted by the results of today’s lecture, I could not hold my silence either. When called out by one of my peers you stated that it was said in order to solicit a reaction from the class. I have to state that in no setting is it okay to use racially charged language just to see how people will react, it was merely hurtful to me and my peers. Being one of the only 3 black people in the class it was interesting to see how my peers reacted, with silence and sparse giggles. This subsequently brought up feelings of exclusion, difference, and complete isolation, nobody immediately called out the wrong-doing and for some people to laugh was highly concerning. This history is not to be used as a spectacle to garner a response, this represents centuries of racism that has only ever manifested into a multiplicity of institutionalized boundaries that racialized— specifically Black people— face on a daily basis. It is not just a word, it a symbol, a reminder of all that Black people have and will continue to go through.
I do not want this e-mail to come off in any way as an attack towards you, or speak to a judgment of your character. This is simply an expression of the wounds that have unfortunately been opened for me in this lecture, and I feel that it is imperative that you as a faculty member of an educational institution understand the power, and history behind that word.