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The last word 

To the editor,

I read the letters in The Coast submitted by Alan Ruffman (August 1, August 15) about my book, You Had Better Be White By Six AM—The African Canadian Experience in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Department of Education's reaction to the book's use of the word "nigger," and I was pleased with his take on the whole matter. I see it as a little book/big controversy, which is something I never expected.

To be quite honest, I thought if anything I would have received some apprehension or negative feedback or strictly no comment from the RCMP, given that the book was exploring some less than proud moments in RCMP history. In fact, the Force has been very supportive: they ran two stories—one in the local division newsletter and another in the national publication The Quarterly. I have received a number of positive messages from both active and retired members.

What I didn't expect, especially since I had sought out the African Canadian Services Division to review my book prior to my going to print, was resistance from them. Back in 2000, when I created the Journey African Canadian Resource Guide, I had worked closely with the ACSD to ensure their input in the process. With You Had Better Be White By Six AM—The African Canadian Experience in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, I tried to do the same. Approximately four months before going to print I met with their representative and we went over the entire document. There was no issue or concern raised over my use or the spelling out of the word "nigger." It wasn't until three months after I submitted the book for review that I was told there was a problem. I was told there was a policy in place. It is actually a practice, not a policy.

Before deciding to make the change, I enlisted Dr. George E. Clarke and Dr. Peter Paris, who I knew could speak to the relevance of my use of the word on an intellectual level. Their concerns were acknowledged, but the Department of Education stood firm.

There were a number of older folk who stopped me at functions and asked me not to change the word because they said there never seemed to be a problem with people calling us the word, how come when telling our history we have to alter it? It appears that even though the Department stated in the February 2, 2007 Chronicle-Herald article that the book was not kept off of the approved reading list because of my use of the word, once I did reprint the book at my own expense, the book was placed on the approved reading list for use by students.

Lord knows we can't change history, it is what it is, but we can learn from it and we can create meaningful dialogue around it that benefits all learners.

By Cpl. Craig Marshall Smith


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