In 2017, during a Reality Radio 101 regular broadcast of Oshawa Today (which has since been cancelled), a host dropped the N bomb during a rant against, what he labelled, violent Black Lives Matter protesters. Here's a snippet:
“The biggest problem we have is people who pretend they are Black. And I don’t really use the word, but they’re niggers. And the reason I say they’re niggers is that they’re not worthy to be called Blacks or Whites. They turn around and disrupt (and I’m not a person for Pride Parades or anything, but they disrupt an event with Black Lives Matter. You know what, you niggers better listen. Black lives don’t matter. All lives matter, whether it’s yellow, red, white or blue. So stick that up your ass.”
He was basically repeating the view of right wing pundits regarding the organization since its inception, except he didn’t have the good sense to not use the racial epithet all those other White Conservatives were thinking but knew they couldn’t say. He was nice enough to add he wasn’t referring to all Black people when he used the word. He certainly wasn’t referring to the “good ones” who I’m assuming aren’t BLM members or supporters. The host was referring to the people he deemed “niggers”. Because if history has taught Black folks anything, it’s that White folks have always been the deciders of who classifies as that.
Usually “uppity negro” behaviour will get you called that quick. Mandela in his so-called “terrorist” younger years was one. Martin Luther King Jr in his heyday was one too. Now both are ironically poster boys for how Black people are required by White people like this host to to react to state violence.
Let’s be clear, police killing a specific group of unarmed people on a semi-regular basis without usually facing prison time is sanctioned state violence. Police going out of their way to interact with specific groups of people on a regular basis, resulting in a larger number of that specific group of people ending up dead or imprisoned on a regular basis, is state violence. Governments calling for measures (like carding/stop and frisk) which justify these interactions with police, resulting in horrible circumstances for a specific group of targeted people, is state violence. When that particular group of people tends to be Black, it is anti-Black state sanctioned violence. This is what Black Lives Matter is protesting.
People like this host think it’s their place to determine what classifies as respectable protest for people fighting against state violence. These same people sit through movies about the holocaust, slavery or apartheid and cheer when one of the regime characters dies. Seems a little hypocritical no? Not surprising though. The people on the wrong side of history will always typically shout down the people on the right side of it. Then 50 years later, applaud the efforts of the revolutionaries as if they were always about it. I could go into all this mumbo jumbo about the respectability politics of protest and why Mike Kalynko doesn’t get to decide who gets called a nigger. However, I feel like this has been discussed ad nauseum by other writers, and if you really want to educate yourself on this beyond the last paragraph, Google is your friend.
What I really want to talk about is Durham region’s recent spate of racial incidents against Black people, which makes the reductive arguments behind the host's statements even more clear. Speaking of Google, I typed two words into my browser. “Durham” and “racism” ... and boy was I not surprised. The radio host made the point that only certain people are niggers, and through his act, reinforced the idea it was alright for other people like him to use the word when they deemed it justified. So it should come as no surprise that other White people have done just that.
For instance, “doing groceries while Black” is a thing in Durham region. You can leave your car in your parking lot, run inside the store for some produce, and come back to find “nigger” scratched into the side of your vehicle. It happened to one woman doing her grocery shopping at No Frills. You can send your children to school, and have them barred entry to the school gymnasium. You can have an educator look at your child and his group of friends, and call them a “niggerfest” ...which is reminiscent of the Mel Gibson “pack of niggers” rant recorded by an ex. You can be walking through your neighbourhood minding your business and be approached by an off duty police officer demanding to know why you’re there. You can be chased down by the off duty police officer and his brother, and beaten so badly (with a metal pipe no less) you lose the use of one eye. Then to add insult to injury, you can be charged by Durham police for assault with a weapon. One can only speculate as to what was going through the minds of this off duty police officer and his brother, but I’m going to say there’s a high percentage the n word was rattling around in there somewhere as they beat this Black teen mercilessly with a lead pipe...for the crime of not being where they thought he belonged.
This Oshawa radio host is a White man using all the privilege afforded him to use the 'N' word to describe people he believed met his qualifications of the word, without being taken off the air for several months for doing it. The radio station did it only after much protest from members of the Black community, and has recently posted a half assed apology on Facebook regarding the incident. In it the radio station Reality Radio, while distancing themselves from the 'N' word, proceeds to defend the reasoning behind the host's usage of the word by repeating and supporting the original thesis of his argument.
Their biggest issue with the host seems to be his use of the 'N' word but not necessarily the politics behind his use of it. The thing is, while the word is horrible to have been used, it’s the politics behind the word that is more problematic.
It’s the ability to believe in the first place that the word is fairplay for White people to use at any time.
It’s in the delusion that the word can ever be used as anything other than a blunt weapon by White people.
It’s in the belief that White folks have the right to determine the justification or qualifications for who the word is weaponized against.
It’s in the safe delusion that there’s an accepted rule book to protest against oppression that can be written by the oppressing class.
It’s in the misunderstanding (or unwillingness to understand) what anti-Black racism actually is.
It isn’t just this host being allowed to have a platform to call people niggers without serious consequence to himself.
It’s in him believing he had the right to do it in the first place, without having to think about the consequence to Black people in general.
Byron Armstrong is a freelance writer and lifelong Torontonian, raised in Jane-Finch and living downtown.