The N Word Row – Clearly This PhD Student Shouldn’t Be At Cambridge


The reason to be at university is that one is uneducated and wish to become more educated. The very presence at an institution of learning is a pure and complete admission that more learning needs to take place.

That is, students, by definition, do not know everything. By the students’ own definition that is, by their very placing of themselves in the position of being students.

However, there are things that must already be known in order for such a presence, such a status as a student, to be successful. At Islington Technical College it is not to believe a single word an economic lecturer utters, including the words and and the. At Cambridge the necessary pre-knowledge is rather more specialist.

Which brings us to the N word row:

Cambridge University has been accused of racism for allowing a non-black lecturer to read aloud the N-word from a passage in class, as a PhD student quits in protest.

This is drivel. We are now to say that only black lecturers can teach about Conrad? The Nigger of the Narcissus does indeed sound a little odd, even offensive, to modern ears. It’s still a novel from one of the great writers in our language:

Gary Dexter investigates The Nigger of the Narcissus by Joseph Conrad The Nigger of the Narcissus (1897) was Conrad’s first major novel and, as an early work, its title has some peculiarities. For a start, the Narcissus was the only real ship’s name Conrad ever used in his novels and is one intimately connected with his own life: he joined the real Narcissus in Bombay in April 1864 and voyaged south past the Cape of Good Hope, reaching Dunkirk on 16 October.

A second biographical link, as Conrad told his biographer, was that the ‘Nigger’ of the title, the West Indian crewman Jimmy Wait, was based on a shipmate on that voyage, the 35-year old Joseph Barron, who, like Wait, died during the voyage. The title is obviously problematic to modern ears – Chinua Achebe charged Conrad with out-and-out racism – and was thought so in America on publication, where it was changed to The Children of the Sea: A Tale of the Forecastle.

Only black lecturers can even discuss the name of the novel and how it was changed across British and American sensibilities of the time?

That is, of course, a position of the most complete and utter tosh.

As would be, say, insisting that only a black lecturer can discuss the use of the N word in Huckleberry Finn. As PJ O’Rourke pointed out, the entire point of the story is that Huck knows, without a doubt, that his soul will be damned to all eternity if he helps the runaway slave. But he helps him anyway, in spite of that damage to his longer term prospects. It’s a story of one of those grand victories of common humanity over and above the spite and vileness of societal rules and indoctrination.

People who don’t get this may be fine on a grievance studies course at Islington Tech but they’re clearly too damn stupid to be at Cambridge.

But this isn’t quite why this PhD student shouldn’t be there.

She said she has witnessed an “accumulation” of racist incidents during her time at the university, and went on to describe an incident where an English lecturer “repeatedly read aloud the n-word during our class discussions”. Ms Seresin said that a black friend had emailed the lecturer to explain that she did not feel comfortable hearing non-black lecturers saying this word aloud. But she told how rather than receiving an apology, the friend was “patronisingly told that she did not understand the context in which the word was being used”.

Ms Seresin explains that the disagreement escalated and a group of students, including herself, had “multiple meetings” with the chair of the English faculty about it. They were also invited to raise the issue at the Teaching Forum, where academics and students meet to exchange views. Ms Seresin and her peers found the experience of speaking in front of senior faculty members “intimidating”, adding that they felt as though they were on trial.

“Many of those present seemed simply unable to comprehend the difference between a black writer reclaiming the n-word and a nonblack Cambridge lecturer or student saying it aloud in class,” she said. “We also faced hostility regarding the idea that different rules applied to black and nonblack lecturers, even though beyond Cambridge this is a widely accepted principle and for obvious reasons does not constitute a double standard.”

The point of your being at Cambridge, rather than some other lesser institution, is that you’re considered bright enough to be able to question widely accepted principles. Even, to be able to reach, critique, justify or reject them by working from first principles upwards. And if you can’t then you shouldn’t be there.

It’s not a place to regurgitate pap, no matter how fashionable it may be.

Thus good riddance. And at least we taxpayers save a bit on not having to fund such a course wasted upon one clearly not suited. At least not any more we don’t while we can mourn that the selection process failed so miserably in the first place:

…leave Cambridge where she had been working on a Government funded doctorate about contemporary American artists and writers.

Actually, why are we funding such in the first place? What is the public good – in its correct economic sense – in having any more unemployables around?