Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Warren Kinsella: certifiably nuts?

Over at Comments Please, Jean Chretien’s tireless footsoldier-in-exile posted an attack, not entirely unjustified, in my view, on a Liberal politician named Andrew Telegdi running against the fine NDP candidate Edwin Laryea in Kitchener-Waterloo. Telegdi ill-advisedly went to bat for a Nazi war criminal some time ago, although I suspect his chief sin in Kinsella's eyes is being a Martin Liberal. Nevertheless, one has to ask what Telegdi thought he was doing.

So far, so good. But Kinsella wasn’t finished. He managed to dredge up a comment made by the youthful Telegdi more than three decades ago, a clear reference to an article written in 1967 by Jerry Farber entitled "The Student As Nigger."

At about the same time (1971), the translation of Pierre Valliéres’ 1968 work Nègres blancs d'Amérique : autobiographie précoce d'un «terroriste» québécois, appeared: White Niggers of America: The precocious autobiography of a Quebec "terrorist."

These attempts to make common cause with the plight of oppressed and exploited Black Americans south of the Mason-Dixon line obviously set a somewhat different context for the n-word than as a racial epithet. And I was rash enough to point this out to Kinsella on his blogsite, thus:

Telegdi's reference was to a well-known pamphlet circulating widely in the 'sixties. Might as well call Pierre Valliéres a racist for his "White Niggers of America." Context is everything, Warren. And intellectual honesty, come to think of it.


It is his bizarre response that leads me to believe that he is…not well. Possibly unhinged, in fact.

Kinsella longs for the good old days, it would appear, and every move he makes, every word he speaks, has a political purpose that, frankly, doesn’t really matter any more. I'm an NDPer, although not a prominent one; once upon a time, I was an official in a large federal public service union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada. This is enough for Kinsella to attempt to smear me as a racist, which would be laughable, given my history, and highly ignorable as well--except that he has been busying himself writing to my old employer, demanding that they do something about me, and he has been sending me threatening emails, including this one:

Get ready, pal.

This came after a note to him, copied to his blogsite. And I close with this note, on the basis of which readers may judge for themselves a) if I am indeed a racist, and b) if Kinsella is finally ready for the funny farm. Comments welcome.

Dear Warren:

I have not been involved with the PSAC since 2003, when I stepped down. I am flattered by your interest in me, and it should make a good blog post in its own right on my own blogsite.

Since I posted this on your blog only this afternoon, and you posted a response after 5:00pm today, I suggest that you are being a little impatient.

For [the President of the PSAC]'s benefit, and for yours (although your disingenuousness appears to know no bounds), the word "nigger" is never acceptable in my view, used as a racist insult against Black people. Those who bother to read my blog, and indeed other writings of mine, know precisely what my views are about racists and racism.

But your attack on the youthful Telegdi for comments as a student politician many years ago was in an entirely different context. He was, in fact, referring precisely to a well-known article, which had wide circulation at the time, called "The Student As Nigger," an attempt (lame, in my view) to link the cause of students with that of the Black civil rights movement. Such a title and such a comparison do not stand the test of time, and would not be acceptable now. At the time, progressive and even radical students, many of whom had put their bodies on the line for civil rights, found nothing racist in the article. We're talking many, many years ago.

Of course, in the same period, Pierre Valliéres wrote his famous book. In his case, he was equating the treatment of French-speaking Quebeckers with that of Blacks in the Southern US. Once again, his intent was not to throw a racist epithet at Blacks, but to attempt to make common cause with them--to make the links, as human rights activists say now.

My objection to your comment, in the instant case, was your going back in time--considerably far back, in fact--to target a politician whom you don't like. If you'd stuck to his more recent misbehaviour, I wouldn't have said anything at all. But you did, in fact, wrench a comment, made in his youth, out of time and out of context.

To answer your question directly: is there a context in which the word "nigger" (without quotation marks) is acceptable? In the here and now, I can't think of one. Thirty years ago, in the highly particular circumstances noted, there was a context in which many progressive people found the word acceptable: namely, making common cause with the exploited and oppressed Black people south of the Mason-Dixon line.

In conclusion, if you have a battle, it is with me, and not with the PSAC--an organization that you rightly point out has a long and distinguished history of defending human rights. Indeed, when I was a PSAC official, I like to think that I played a role in some of those struggles--such as helping to drive the Heritage Front out of Ottawa. But we aren't dealing here, of course, with the reality of the situation, and my own personal history of fighting racism since the mid-sixties in countless protests, sit-ins, letters and articles, in public and in private life. Rather, we are dealing with your own propensity for the cheap shot, for public posturing and displays of self-righteousness.

For intellectual dishonesty, in fact.

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