What we are collectively bearing witness to is about power; namely who can access it, and who must succumb to it
I am not going to talk to you about why the ‘N-word’ is reprehensible, you already know that; engaging in this antiquated debate is simply futile. What is happening at the University of Ottawa is not about white folk’s right to access reclaimed verbiage by communities outside of their own, nor about academic freedom, as we have been so led to believe. What we are collectively bearing witness to is about power; namely who can access it, and who must succumb to it.
Academic institutions are rooted in white supremacist delusions that, for its sustenance, requires the othering of Black persons. Black placemaking on the U of O campus, however, acts as a disruption to white hegemonic understandings that colour academia: Black folks were simply not a part of the imaginings of this exclusionary Euro-Canadian institution. Our presence consequently contests the racist ideological frameworks that white pedagogies have been founded upon. We have continued to unapologetically map Black geographies atop the named space—we have been bold, loud, and courageous, tearing apart the anti-Black seams that have been woven into the very fabric of the University of Ottawa.
This creates unease amongst those whose sense of self is anchored on the denial of the humanity of BIPOC folks. They then feel compelled to push back, not just to tell us that our Black lives do not matter here, but to also simultaneously convince themselves that their whiteness does. For these individuals, their whiteness can only be made sense of in the context of a racial juxtaposition anchored on the false inferiority of Blackness.
So, to my fellow Black colleagues, I implore you to bear witness to their pushback and interpret it as a sign of triumph: their discomfited posture is a reminder that not only are we doing something, but we are doing it right. And to the folks that continue to subject each of us to maltreatment, in the wise words of Queer activist, playwright, novelist, poet and essayist James Baldwin himself, “I am not your negro.”
Shadé Edwards is a second-year law student at the University of Ottawa in the common law section. She completed her BA in criminology and Canadian studies, with a minor in sociology at the University of Toronto. She is passionate about the struggle for social justice and its interplay with the legal sector.