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Alive, well, working 

To the editor,

The Coast kindly printed my letter on the Department of Education requiring Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cpl. Craig Smith to reprint his book, You Had Better Be White By 06:00am to replace the word "nigger" with "n*****" ("Black talk," Letterhead, August 2). A nice by-product of this was that Cpl. Smith called me to express his thanks for the letter. I should also set the record straight for readers of The Coast: Cpl. Smith is definitely not retired, and is alive and well and on active duty in the Aboriginal and Diversity Office of the RCMP in their Division H headquarters in Halifax.

I went back to my files to figure out how I had made such a mistake—and it was my mistake. I appear to have simply assumed that a black officer in the RCMP would have to be safely retired with her/his pension intact before they would dare to talk publicly about the history of racism in the force. Mea culpa! I am pleased to report that not only is Cpl. Smith not retired, he has received positive feedback from the commissioner of the RCMP and from his colleagues in Halifax when he supplied the text of the book to them prior to the book going to press. Cpl. Smith also sought the advice of Dr. George Elliott Clarke, Sylvia Hamilton and other black scholars on the final text prior to its publication in its unexpurgated form. None of the RCMP or other scholars suggested a revision of the spelling of "the N word." Only one particular office within the Department of Education insisted on this before the book would be released for general classroom use in Nova Scotia. And the minister of education, Ms. Karen Casey, has chosen to back this decision and in her recent letter to me she indicated that she is quite unwilling to reconsider it.

Cpl. Smith, a native of New Glasgow, bent to the ultimatum to hopefully get the book into wider classroom use in Nova Scotia, and "the N word" appears as "n*****" in the expurgated version, which Cpl. Smith has funded out of his own pocket. But the Department of Education, in its narrow vision, has then not responded with any bulk purchases of the expurgated volume for use in Nova Scotia classrooms. It is up to individual teachers to request the book for use in their own classroom programs, which is quite a different process than the Department of Education taking the initiative of ordering the book for wide distribution.

For book collectors, all teachers and for students of racism, human rights and revisionist history in Nova Scotia, the unexpurgated and the censored versions should stand side-by-side on our bookcases as a living testament to the work we still must all do in Nova Scotia. It does seem to me that the RCMP has moved farther down this road than has our own Department of Education, and I would again call upon the minister of education and the premier to reverse the decision of her bureaucrats on this matter as did Percy Paris and Bill Estabrooks of the NDP opposition on the floor of the Provincial Legislature in the Spring 2007 session.

By Alan Ruffman


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Vol 24, No 22
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