My article last week, “Fight for violence,” went to the printers stained with contention. Although my editor and I have had minor disagreements on the content and wording of my articles in the past, they were rectified through discussion. This time though, our dispute was heated and narrowly focused on a single word. After consultation with one editor, attempted mediation by another, and a whole lot of anger, I finally consented to the proposed word change. Buckling had less to do with political consensus and more to do with the knowledge that I was powerless at that moment. I opposed the excision of the word then, and I continue to oppose it now.
The word in question is “pig.” The replacement was “cop.” The sentence at issue refers to police impunity. And the paragraph under discussion concerns the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence.
One of the main criticisms hurled at the word was that it doesn’t comply with The McGill Daily’s Statement of Principles (SoP). The SoP is essentially an outline of the beliefs that govern and the intentions that direct the content of The Daily. It’s akin to a Radical Politics 101, wherein power – its uneven distribution, the way it shapes social relations, and how it’s reproduced – is fundamental to the way the world gets conceptualized.
Now, no one is claiming that “pig” is an innocuous term. Offensive? Big shock! Hateful? Hell yeah. Derogatory? You bet your ass. Oppressive? I don’t think so.
“Pig” has wide circulation among those who are most vulnerable to police repression, harassment, surveillance, brutality, and social and racial profiling. It also has currency in overlapping as well as more distinct groups of anarchists and anti-authoritarians. In other words, it comes from folks who have an acute understanding of the concrete ways that oppression plays out in the day-to-day.
The meanings attached to terms like “cop” generally imbue the police with respect, morality, and innocence. This connotative web reflects the interests of the elite, whose maintenance of the current order depends on the public legitimation of their institutions. The meanings attached to “pig” speak more accurately of the reality of state violence as experienced by “disposable” sections of society.
One of the most potent starting points in struggling against systems of power is to create words and deploy language in ways that validate otherwise erased and discredited thoughts, experiences, and histories. Creating knowledge – through language – that reflects the “underside” can be a key part of survival and a giant leap toward eroding the logic of subordination. As one insightful incoming Daily editor said, “Our discursive practices bespeak our ideologies.”
The SoP takes “empowering and giving a voice to individuals and communities marginalized on the basis of [systems of oppression]” to be The Daily’s beating heart. Fear of being inflammatory, alienating, or offending the liberal sensibilities of McGillians needs to be checked at the door. Choosing to silence language that stems from oppressed groups to speak about their lives is a giant fail on the “empowering people” front. We need to re-evaluate whose exclusion concerns us.
When I started reading The Daily a few years ago, it was a force to be reckoned with. The newspaper stirred shit up and the conservative trolls demolished it – as it should be. That means the paper’s doing its job. Strident and uncompromising in its politics, the paper was inspiring and in many ways incited my own radicalization. What happened? The Daily shouldn’t just hang out on the left. It should slam itself to the left so as to give others more room to breath.
Hear that sound? That’s the sound of Lisa M closing The Daily’s office door. She’s going, going, gone. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.