Adam Habib responds to r-slurs over use of n-word

SOAS director says you can't impute malign intention without understanding context

1. I notice some individuals deliberately misrepresented a conversation in a student meeting yesterday. The video is deliberately cropped in a way to misrepresent. Unfortunately many others have rushed to judgement without the full facts. So let me explain what really happened:

2. A student did question SOAS’ responsiveness to anti black racism & suggested a staff member used the word without consequences. I did use the word & said: “if someone used the word ‘nigger’ against another staff member, then it would violate our policy & action would be taken.

3. Another student objected arguing that only those who were ‘black‘ (or what I in SA would describe as ‘black African’) could actually verbalize the word.I was taken aback because the case was being argued devoid of any understanding or explanation of the context of my argument.

4.I did say that I am surprised by the reaction because I could have made the same statement in the context of the same argument back home without provoking this reaction. I did not say we use the word in SA.This is a deliberate distortion used for despicable political agendas.

5. I then did apologise saying no offense was intended & I again said that if the word was used against another person, it would be a disciplinary offense as it would violate our policies. The question is why is it that after this apology, some are still politicizing the issue?

6. What is their agenda? There were many issues of importance discussed at the meeting: the strategic plan, the experiences of students & what measures are being instituted to address it,what can SOAS do & and what it cannot afford. None of this is highlighted. What is the agenda?

7.Why did I apologize? I was not of the view that I did anything wrong.After all I was saying if anyone used the word against another person,action would be taken and I should be duly informed of the case.I apologized because it created discomfort with someone who was engaging me.

8. So why don’t I think it was problematic to use the word when I did.Well, because context matters and I was arguing for taking punitive action. You cannot impute maligned intention without understanding context. Do I believe that only blacks can verbalize the word. No, I don’t.

9. I am aware that this is a common view among activists committed to an identitarian politics. I don’t identify with this political tradition. I grew up in a political tradition that is more cosmopolitan oriented and more focused on the class dimensions of structural problems.

10. I think identity politics prevalent in the US & Europe & in middle class circles of the developing world is problematic on 2 levels.1st it distracts from the real struggles of poor people’s around the world which are on econ. issues & in the unequal distribution of resources.

11. This is not to suggest that we must ignore identity. We must of course be sensitive to questions of identity and how it impinges on class and how it in turn is influenced by it. But this cosmopolitan class oriented political tradition cannot be defined by identity variables.

12. Second I think the way this politics manifests through its targeting of individuals and labeling has the effect of silencing people. Daily people complain about how self appointed activists determine what is acceptable or not and how intolerant they are of alternative views.

13. This is particularly destructive in a university which is meant to enable competing ideas. But it also creates a fertile ground for political forces on the right to mobilize on as we have seen when conservative political actors demand academic freedom and the right to speak.

14. Of course these political forces do so for their own purposes.But the fertile ground is in part created by activists who target & label others with a different viewpoint.They essentially alienate many who have different views & ideas & allow them to be politically mobilized.

15. So to return to the original question. Did I use the word: yes I verbalized the word in the context of explaining that if it was used by a staff member against another, it would be a violation of our policy & action would be taken.

16. Do I think I did something wrong? No,for reasons I explained above.However I did apologize because some individuals felt offended, and it was the right thing to do.Did it make a difference?No because some focus on a politics of spectacle.These are my final words on the issue.

17. As for those who have just joined my account: note the rules on it.I don’t tolerate foul language,racist remarks & threats of violence.Those who do this should do so in their own political circles. This is my account & it meant for thoughtful deliberation.Please keep safe! 🙏🏿