How a Black Montreal comedian got his point across about the N-word controversy
Comedian Renzel Dashington says he felt ‘sick to my stomach’ after Patrick Lagacé used N-word on radio
When comedian Renzel Dashington heard La Presse columnist and 98.5 FM host Patrick Lagacé use the N-word on several occasions during his radio show last week, it didn't sit right with him.
A controversial debate over the word and academic freedom erupted after the University of Ottawa suspended a teacher for using the word in class.
After going on social media to criticize the columnist's use of the word, Dashington had the opportunity to have a private conversation with Lagacé to share his thoughts about his use of the N-word.
That exchange prompted Lagacé to acknowledge he was wrong in a column over the weekend.
In an interview with Daybreak host Mike Finnerty, Dashington spoke about how that conversation went and how he ultimately got his point across.
The interview is edited and condensed for clarity.
Describe the exchange and what happened.
I'm not going to say I wasn't nice, but there wasn't much space for him to try and justify how it might feel to me as a human being and my children, and children of other people. And that's part of how we started to kind of shift a little bit. He had never thought, like many other people, that Black people have children. It's not that he didn't think they existed, but [he neglected] the impact [on those] people who are not in the environment that we are all in and don't understand the subtleties of adult conversation.
You made a point to him about the F-word.
We are about the same age and I said, "Remember in the 1980s in school and people used to say that?" Funnily enough, I don't remember so much pushback [when people said the word was offensive]. What I would like in this society is accountability. If you're going to be a bad human in public and your job is to be the teacher of a 12-year-old, I need you to be reprimanded. I don't need you to be censored. I actually want to know what type of human you are because my children need to be safe. Black Lives Matter means my children's states of mind matter. Protecting how they grow up and for them to be able to be children for a little while, that's what Black Lives Matter is. That's what I told him and I think that's part of what he understood.
Radio-Canada Host Guy A. Lepage used the N-word during an interview on Tout le monde en parle and you criticized him on Twitter. Lepage responded, saying the interview was useful and respectful, and the N-word was only used to cite book titles that have been part of the debate. What did you think of his response?
I think there's some intellectual dishonesty in what he said because I don't think the interview would have been less good if he had chosen to use "N-word" instead of the full word. The message I am trying to send to a lot of these French-Canadian people — who are not bad people to start — is if you and the racist people have that in common, you should choose which side of the road you want to be on. When it comes to Black people, we don't have the luxury to want to measure your intentions. If I see you screaming that kind of word, no matter the context, when it comes to me, my family, my children and those I love, we will see you as one who wants to agree with racist people.
Bringing Patrick Lagacé around to your way of thinking, that must have felt good.
I think it felt good as a Montreal boy, who's 43, who had never heard on TV or radio someone shift like that on a subject that matters to people like me. That meant everything.
It felt to me that we're moving forward. This person has a great audience. I know for a fact that he's changed some minds because he admitted that he was wrong. I felt from him and other people, that Quebec was a little better for people who look like me. And that felt amazing.
Listen to Renzel Dashington's full interview on Daybreak here:
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
Based on an interview with CBC Montreal's Daybreak