Open Letter to Professor Denis Rancourt

17 07 2012

This entry, as the title states, is an open letter to Canadian professor at the University of Ottawa, Denis Rancourt. This gentleman is seeking reinstatement to his position as professor after being targeted for political expulsion due to some of his views on the Palestinian rights struggle, among other things. At present, he is defending himself in a slander lawsuit against an administrative official, Ms. Joanne St. Lewis at his former university. You can read the complete story at this white so-called “liberal” blog. Please read it before you read my open letter so you can establish some context. I welcome any comments that you have on my new post. Thanks for reading and happy blogging!

Dear Professor Rancourt,

              Hello. I read about your travails on the Internet blog of Stephen J. Lendeman. This is a man whose articles I often read for deeper analysis and commentary on current events and sociopolitical issues. After reading of your predicament concerning the harassment and unjustified termination you received, you have my sympathies, and I hope you can succeed in continuing to teach students and others about the plight of the Palestinians and the other threats and affronts to justice around the world.

With that said, here comes the dreaded “but” which I am sure you were anticipating.

Speaking as an African man who was born in the United States, I have experienced first hand the institutional white supremacy in society, especially in the corporate world. I likely have similar political views as you do, in particular regarding the Palestinian struggle. I actually think that it is analogous to seeing the genocide of the indigenous nations of North America in real-time, right before our eyes. So I have sympathy and solidarity with their cause for this reason as well as because of the historical experience of my people, Africans in America, which brings me to my point.

Knowing the terrorism that Africans in the USA have faced in the past, and examining the Orwellian nature of the proclaimed “post-racial” period of the present, I know that there are still things that I, as an African, cannot say to a Euro-American directly and without the context being understood. Not the least of which is due to the hope of avoiding misunderstanding, but above all if they don’t know my authentic meaning, or if they are ignorant of my intent and have no knowledge of history on their part, then I would feel it were a wasted effort and done so only for self-gratification on my part. I have been the victim of this white supremacist culture by being summarily fired without cause just as you have, and if I used a sexist epithet towards the woman who fired me, whilst attempting to seek damages and restitution for an unjust act, I would expect the offended individual to use all of the force she had at her disposal to work against my interest–even if I felt I was right! So, as an African man, I and other strategic African men and women would not resort to name calling if indeed we had a legitimate case to argue and hoped to win. Now in private conversations of course other language could be used, but in public discourse, an oppressed person must be cautious in how they proceed, especially if they intend to use the apparatus of the state to seek justice.

Therefore, in my opinion calling Ms St. Lewis by the racial pejorative was wrong on your part for the following reasons. First, you apparently evoked Malcolm X as justification for your use of the term. Malcolm X was not struggling within the system to change it. Malcolm X was a revolutionary and was seeking to dismantle the system, not to seek redress from the ruling class. Secondly, he used the term while speaking to his own people, which were/are formerly enslaved Africans. The fact that in North America people of different ethnicities all speak English, sometimes falsely gives us the impression that we should be able to use any term with anybody, just because it is in the language that we speak. Unfortunately this is incorrect. To use an analogy, if you have an argument with a family member and your rage builds to the point that you called this relative by a pejorative epithet, that does not mean that I have the same liberty to do so, and especially in a public forum. I might use a negative term to refer to your relative in private or without you or your relative present, but it would be highly distasteful for me to do it in your presence and in the presence of your relative. Furthermore, it would be inconceivable of me not to expect some sort of retaliation. Therefore a cautious and strategic person seeking to actually win a favorable decision would refrain from inciting any more actions which could be perceived as negative and bring negative consequences. In addition, yes Malcolm X did used the term “house negro” when speaking to Africans. But he did it (in the speech “Message to the Grassroots” as you know) to explain a situation which existed for Africans in America historically and to describe the predicament they faced. He did it to teach Africans about their history and instill knowledge of themselves. However, people often forget that Malcolm also referred to any stranger, colleague, or adversary with whom he was engaged in debate or discussion by “sir or ma’am”. This is often forgotten about Malcolm when people listen to his fiery rhetoric about the situation of Africans in America. People forget that he often used very respectful, honorific terms, and employed manners and personal etiquette even when he was in intense disagreement with someone.

Lastly, your evaluation of Ms. St. Lewis might be correct. However, even I would not call a non-public figure and personally accomplished woman of African descent a “house negro”, particularly after all of the horror, rape, and negative media depictions that have been heaped upon the African women’s psyche, even if in my heart of hearts, in accordance with Brother Malcolm’s assessment, she was indeed acting like one—I would not do it—especially if I were a white man or Euro-Canadian. Sir, even if you are right in your view of Ms. St. Lewis, the historical relationship that African women and European men have had which included of rape, the siring illegitimate children while in bondage (as a veritable sex slave), pedophilia, the selling of her children, and sexual objectification of her should bring a degree of restraint by a supposed human rights and justice activist and educator. I understand that she is a tool of the institution. I understand that a woman such as this is being charged with the task of executing a political retaliation upon you for the sake of the institutional objective of maintaining the progression towards fascist policies that we see in many institutions today. However, this fight now is serious and it is reaching all sectors of society. What we need now from people who are ostensibly fighting to bring about a world based on justice is not to get caught up in delusions of grandeur by attempting to emulate the great revolutionary rhetoricians of the past, but to understand the inherent contradictions of an international system build on the ideology of white supremacy which serves as a justification for structural inequality, colonialism, private wealth accumulation, male privilege, murder, theft, and environmental degradation. The stakes are too high for us to lose battles that we can obviously win along the way toward ultimate victory just so that we can fulfill our fantasies of “telling it to ’em like Malcolm did”.


Lumumba Afrika




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