‘It’s not OK’: Kid reacts to reading N-word in school book

Published 2019-10-30 09:57

Author has agreed to change text

Quincy François often reads aloud to his dad.

“So I can learn to pronounce the words,” the 12-year-old from Gatineau, Que., told CBC Kids News, in an interview conducted in French.

Quincy was reading to his father, Gioberti, while they were driving in their car last May when his dad suddenly asked him to re-read a sentence.

Without immediately realizing it, Quincy had a read a passage from a book that his dad thought was racist and offensive.

The book, Un Cadavre De Classe, by Robert Soulières, had been assigned to Quincy as part of his Grade 6 reading.

“He made me re-read the sentence,” he said. “Then he stopped on the side of the road to read it himself.”

Quincy and his dad, Gioberti François, were driving to Montreal from Gatineau, Que., last May when they came across the racist passage. (Idil Mussa/CBC)

The passage is:

"And you're old enough now to understand that in life we do not always do what we want and that we are often someone's Negro, and that someone is me."

In the original French version, the word "Nègre" is used, which can translate as either Negro or the N-word.

(What’s the N-word? Read this article from CBC Kids News to learn what it means.)

The book is a mystery novel about a math teacher who is suddenly found dead at school, and it is told in a fun, humorous way.

In this passage, a boy’s mom is rushing her son out the door to school.

“I was surprised he asked me to re-read it because I thought I pronounced it right,” Quincy said.

Kids don’t have full context

Once Quincy’s dad explained to him what it meant and how it’s racist, he understood.

Quincy doesn’t think the passage is appropriate for kids his age.

“We shouldn’t be exposed to words like that,” he said.

Un Cadavre De Classe was first published in 1997. The author, Robert Soulières, said future versions of the book will be modified, starting in the next six to 12 months. (Radio-Canada)

The school board said the book is chosen to educate kids about societal issues, including racism, but Quincy said the context wasn’t actually given in class.

“For kids who don’t know [the history], it could introduce them to the word in a negative way. And for them it could be normal. It’s not OK.”

Passage will be changed

Since CBC first reported this, the author of the book has agreed to change the passage.

Robert Soulières said it was the first complaint he’d heard since the book was published in 1997.

He said the passage is meant to be humorous and he never meant to offend anyone.

Quincy’s dad has filed a complaint with Quebec’s human rights commission, saying the language is racist.

“If kids don’t understand the context in which the word is used, it’s normalized for them,” said Gioberti.

Quincy said the point is not to attack anyone, but to highlight that it’s not OK.

With files from CBC News and Radio-Canada.

Was this story worth reading?