Opinion: An SDSU professor repeatedly used the N-word. The way we reacted was not to cancel the culture.

Muttaqee is a graduate student at SDSU and an organizer at Pillars of the Community, an Encanto-based nonprofit. He lives in La Mesa.

America has been engaged in war for two decades in a row. America also has one of the highest rates of gun-related deaths in the world. It is fair to say that America is a violent country. However, most students do not expect to be verbally attacked in class by their professors.

Violence does not always involve physical assault or the use of weapons. Any act that hurts another person is violent. In my opinion, words have the potential to do more harm than missiles and machine guns. Words start wars.

Whether or not the extensive use of the N-word by Professor J. Angelo Corlett at San Diego State University had any pedagogical benefit is debatable. Whether his increased use of the racial epithet after black students objected in recent weeks was an academic freedom issue is also debatable. What cannot be debated is the level of harm the students felt as a result of Corlett’s behavior.

Pain cannot be measured. The pain felt by black students is not a case of frailty as some have suggested.

Read other takes on this issue:

An institution cannot teach intergenerational trauma theory and simultaneously ignore how triggering it can be for a fair-skinned man to utter the N-word 60 times in two lectures. As a black man, I assure you that there is no other word that has been linked to as much violence on American soil as the N-word.

The non-profit Equal Justice Initiative has determined that nearly 6,500 black people were lynched in America between 1865 and 1950. Many of these lynchings were perpetrated by white mobs shouting the N-word.

Today, black people are more likely to be lynched in a courtroom by a death sentence. However, when I was in Mississippi in 2015, a black man was found hanging from a tree, which means the practice of lynching is not ancient history.

The history of black people being lynched in America is not the reason for my distaste for the incident that allegedly happened in Corlett’s class. I took an English class, which required me to read a Mark Twain novel that uses the N-word more times than Iceberg Slim (Robert Beck, a self-proclaimed pimp who later became a writer) uses the B word.

The way I and others reacted to the Corlett fiasco is not a matter of so-called cancel culture. This is reckless language and the blatant abuse of a college degree as a license to utter words in a classroom that would otherwise only be whispered to a honky-tonk.

The N-word would have been not only used, but abused. However, there is absolutely no threat of starting a war at San Diego State University. Indeed, the students most affected by the N-word were appeased by a handful of faculty members who discouraged black students from demanding any action.

I attended a Zoom call organized by black students in which I suggested a silent protest. A black teacher replied that we were in school to learn and not to be revolutionaries. This overlooks the fact that revolutionary movements such as the Black Panther Party and the anti-war movement began to organize on college campuses.

Revolutionaries simply embrace change. If educated people are not expected to change the world, who will? Uneducated people?

I’m a senior at San Diego State University. I am black, formerly incarcerated and Muslim. I have no choice but to be aware of the racial and ideological issues that exist on our campus. I am affected by all of them.

One of the obvious racial ironies is that our school mascot represents a formerly colonized tribe. Descendants of some Aztecs are now risking their lives to enter America in hopes that their children can attend SDSU and become Aztecs. I took a course at SDSU on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and it was clear to me that the professor was teaching from a Jewish-Zionist perspective.

Some teachers have agendas and I agree with that. What does not suit me is the lack of respect. Merely writing a book on reparations does not make an individual a black champion. I would gladly give up my 40 acres and a mule in exchange for dignity and respect.

If Professor Corlett has hurt tuition-paying students with his words, he should do his best to right that wrong. These are real repairs, and that’s what a professional would do. Professor Corlett holds a Ph.D. Good doctors heal instead of hurt. A sincere apology would be a start. Words start wars, but words can also end them.

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