Let me start this blog by offering a very sincere and heartfelt apology to CTV Ottawa anchor Stefan Keyes. Hope that doesn’t sound hollow or trite.
He did a fabulous and very telling interview with former Red Black football great Henry Burris, discussing the current climate of racism, in which Burris told Keyes one of his young sons had been called the “N-word.”
As a 61-year-old white woman who has lived in near oblivion to racism out here in the suburbs – save for what I read in the papers – I was just simply shocked. But of course, ignorance isn’t bliss. I tweeted my congratulations to Keyes, for what I saw as an eye-opening interview.
As a journalist, the truth always matters, so when I tweeted about the interview, after praising Keyes, I used the expanded version of the N-word. That’s what Burris’ son was called and as a journalist, there’s always a feeling of obligation to tell the truth. It was essentially a quote in my mind.
When Keyes suggested it was very wrong of me to use that word, I told him he was wrong. I believed at the time I wrote it, that people needed to know the kind of racist ignorance that’s out there, that if we don’t use the real words, people won’t see how horrible reality actually is right now.
And I reacted badly to his criticism.
But I was wrong, really wrong. Which leads me to an incredible heartfelt thanks to Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King, who gave up a part of his day to help me understand, or at least start, my education.
King not only helped me understand the effect of using the word, but put up with me blubbering like the middle-aged white woman that I am. I will never be able to convince him I’m a hard-assed reporter some believe me to be. For King to help me work my way through the truth and what I’d stepped in, it means a lot to me.
I have written in recent days of the ignorance that I’ve lived in, before this all transpired today. I grew up in a very white neighbourhood in Nepean, City View to be exact, for anyone who remembers that part of town. I can vividly remember the day a black family moved to the street behind me. Honestly, my friends and were all excited, I didn’t see a hint of racism, but it was so extraordinary, we were all talking about the news. That’s how white I am.
All to say, when people on Twitter started pouncing on me for using the full N-word, I was literally and absolutely taken aback. Whether you believe this or not, I seriously had no idea that the mere repeating of the word was insensitive and just wrong.
For starters King pointed out the obvious, that social media, especially Twitter with its limited space requirements, isn’t really the place for any thoughtful discussion.
Of course, but the truth is, while I’ve always understood as long as I can remember, the actual N-word should never, ever be directed at someone – and I never would have thought otherwise – I just didn’t know using the actual word itself was wrong, that it was hurtful just to be repeated.
“I understand the intent of what you were saying, it wasn’t to anger people,” King said. “You’re doing it to be accurate, to protect the idea of free press in this country, sort of in the sense you’re really recording (the conversation),” he said.”It’s about the nuance, the understanding, meanings are in flux, and the word, it’s offensive. It’s a term of dehumanizing, and remember, these terms are in flux, it’s about increasing sensitivity, especially with social media.
“I spent a lot of time in journalism school. I understand the marketplace of free ideas, about being unvarnished about the way we communicate.”
As King explained it to me, language is always changing, that for example, we don’t use the word Negro anymore, and that the use of the N-word, when spelled out, is hurtful to many.
And again, I apologize, I simply just didn’t know. “I’m not surprised that people would be upset seeing the word repeated, it’s really a term meant to dehumanize, to keep black people down, so people use the n-word, maybe sometimes using dashes, to represent parts of the word.”it’s understandable because of pain with that word, I used to think, it’s really a question of understanding people’s sensitivities, that’s why it’s impacting how people using the language used now, it’s a difficult concept,” he explained to me Sunday afternoon.
“The word can be seen as dispassionate, a grating reminder there are people who don’t value you as a human being,” King told me.
“Education is key, this is why things need to change.”
I need to stop hiding behind my ignorance, I get that.
So to King, Keyes, Burris, I really do apologize. I have a lot to learn.