Lessons From The Wendy Mesley Case: Please Don't Feed The #racehustling Crocodiles!

September 2020

Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured.

– Winston Churchill

In June 2020, a story broke that the veteran CBC journalist Wendy Mesley had been disciplined and temporarily removed as host from “The Weekly with Wendy Mesley”. Evidently, according to media reports, Mesley had, by her own admission, “used a word that should never be used” during an editorial discussion about an upcoming episode. In this discussion, Mesley “used it as she was quoting a journalist they were intending to interview on a panel discussion about coverage of racial inequality”. It also was revealed that, in September 2019, Mesley had committed the word crime of referring to the title of Pierre Vallières’ book White Niggers of America.

In normal times it would have been realized that mentioning someone else’s use of a word is completely different from uttering it yourself, and that even the derogatory word “nigger” can be used non-denotatively without implication by the utterer. Vallières, for example, used the word not as a slur, but as a noun intended to get readers to think about how the Québécois had been historically oppressed. The current rise of “victimhood culture” (as documented by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning) and a Politically Correct Totalitarian climate, however, actively tries to discourage an understanding of these important distinctions. In the haste to signal virtue in condemning racism, the “woke” are eager to prove their moral purity by punishing completely appropriate actions like those of Wendy Mesley.

The most distressing aspect of this story was the grotesque apology that Mesley felt she needed to make. In this statement, posted on June 25, Mesley asserted that she “now realize[d] that [her] abuse of the word was harmful”. This, according to Mesley, had caused “hurt” to her colleagues, her team, and the CBC. She confessed to being “deeply sorry and ashamed” because when “people of power use certain words, we abuse our privilege”.

Also unsettling were the actions of Mesley’s colleagues. Although Mesley had mentioned “the word” in a private editorial meeting, Imani Walker, Associate Producer for CBC Radio, publicized that she was “on the call” with Mesley when “it” happened. Walker, in an almost boastful tone, recounted that she had ensured that there would be “ ’disciplinary’ action” against Mesley because “using a racial slur at work re-traumatizes BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour] & weaponizes the space to protect someone like Wendy, while leaving BIPOC journalists to feel unseen, unheard & unsafe”. This circumstance led the sports broadcaster and author Bruce Dowbiggin to argue, in a piece entitled “The Snitches that Betrayed Wendy Mesley”, that the journalist was a victim of an ongoing power struggle at the CBC. The power struggle related to people he called “race hustlers” who saw accomplished people like Mesley “as trophies to collect on the way to power”.

Ironically, Dowbiggin’s piece generated more treachery from Mesley’s colleagues. It was posted on an internal CBC Facebook page and the appreciative comments that it generated resulted in another CBC journalist, Ronna Syed, taking screenshots and posting them on her public twitter account. At this point, more groveling ensued. Surreal was the statement by Kim Trynacity, President of the Canadian Media Guild, who claimed that her finger had slipped while reading Dowbiggin’s “vicious” and “hurtful” article, resulting in her accidentally “liking” it.

Dowbiggin’s use of the term “race hustler” in this context is appropriate. This has been defined as a person who becomes a self-proclaimed spokesperson for a particular racial identity during a perceived incident of racial tension, so that the individual can exploit the situation to serve their own interests. This was evident in the Mesley case when Imani Walker stated that the mechanism to enable Canadian media to make progress in race relations was “to have BIPOC journalists in the room to hold their white counterparts accountable…Every BIPOC at the table matters. Invest in them. Listen to them”. Pursuing Wendy Mesley with the false accusation that she “[used] a racial slur at work”, therefore, enabled black journalists to make a case for promoting themselves within the organization. In fact, it resulted in an organization called #CBCBlack being formed to demand sensitivity training, racial content, and the hiring of black personnel.

The race hustling surrounding Mesley continued at my university when I defended her. Although there have been a number of developments at Mount Royal University (MRU) that have facilitated this, the most serious was a statement on racism by the President in response to the killing of George Floyd. In his statement, “What do I think about racism?”, the MRU President asserted that he “learned long ago to accept people’s accounts of incidents of racism as their lived experience. I say this as a human being who recognizes that people hold vastly different values, both consciously and subconsciously, and that these values manifest in their behaviour”. This, of course, is music to the ears of race hustlers. It effectively prevents anyone from questioning whether or not allegations of “racism”, “white supremacy”, ”harassment”, etc. are valid.

The MRU President’s deference was to have serious implications for my defense of Mesley. This defense began with my tweet on June 18 stating “You did nothing wrong @WendyMesleyCBC”. I elaborated with the following: “You were using the word in a QUOTE! Shame on CBC for making Mesley grovel”. I then asked “Are we now going to censor Wikipedia?!!!” and attached the relevant entry about “the word” from this source. I defended Mesley again with similar comments on June 29 and June 30.

In all of these posts, I intentionally avoided mentioning the word “nigger” because I was aware of the perfidy of race hustlers. This was until an anonymous twitter account that had lobbied to get me fired a month earlier “innocently” asked: “If the word is so benign, why do you refuse to say it?” Although I almost never make a reply on twitter (especially to trolls), and I knew I was being set up, I thought that it was important to show the CBC that Mesley had done nothing wrong. I took a deep breath and showed my solidarity with Mesley by mentioning the word in the same way. My reply appeared as follows: “The word itself does not have some kind of spiritual power. We need to separate a user’s intent from recognizing a word that exists. There is no problem with saying ‘White Niggers of America’ or quoting that ‘the word nigger is an ethnic slur typically directed at black people’ ”. To this I attached screenshots of the cover of Pierre Vallières’ book and the Wikipedia entry from which I had quoted.

To my surprise, there was very little reaction to my reply – until July 30, that is. On July 30, an indigenous colleague retweeted it – my reply was evidently the subject of a discussion on Instagram within the “student-led initiative” of MRU Racial Advocacy – without the question that had prompted it. According to this indigenous colleague, “[s]tudents are raising critical.awareness [sic] around certain faculty who hide behind academia to spread racist views! No one knows another person’s intent. Focus less on intent and more on outcome”.

The fact that this tweet was “liked” by six other faculty members led me to initiate an intense social media interaction with them on August 1 by asking whether these colleagues should be appreciating “supporting student mobilization against another professor…”. A resounding “yes” was the response from those involved, and, at the time of this writing, 36 professors and other MRU staff and entities expressed their support for what appeared to be an academic mobbing. Over a number of days I was accused of being “anti-Black”, “mak[ing] neo-nazis and white supremacists happy”, “spewing hate”, “us[ing] violent racist slurs”, “outright harassment” and saying that BIPOC students were “less than human”. The professor who initiated the mobilization even agreed with a post that stated that I was “like a regular Klansmen [sic]”. In a 23 tweet takedown, posted on August 3, a faculty member observing the discussion mischaracterized my justification of Mesley’s actions as “defend[ing] the use of racial epithets” and suggested that I had violated the Collective Agreement and MRU’s Code of Conduct. In spite of these documents referring to the right of faculty to “engage in rational debate” and the need to have “tolerance of differing points of view”, this faculty member maintained that I had not used academic freedom “responsibly” and so students should be given the option of avoiding taking classes with me. Two members of the faculty association executive board also criticized my actions, and one suggested that I should be reported to my employer for using “derogatory language”.

After two days of crocodile wrestling, I posted my final words on the subject. In this post, I used my “victimhood status” as a woman to show how the intentions of a speaker could change the meaning of a word thought to be a slur. To do this, I referred to myself as a “cunt”, asserting that the word was being “used in the liberatory sense, of course”. To this end, I provided a link that discussed the word’s pejoration from its early feminist origins when it became distorted by the patriarchy. I also told the “#PCTotalitarians” that I would not “feed” them, as “[i]t is right to defend @WendyMesley”. I completed the tweet with an appeal not to “pander to #racehustling crocodiles in @MRUAntiRacism and their student proxies (@RacialAdvMRU)”.

This action seemed to destabilize the “student-led initiative” of MRU Racial Advocacy, leading the faculty organized Mount Royal Anti-Racism Coalition to spring into action. On August 6, the coalition’s twitter account (@MRUAntiRacism) posted five of my controversial tweets that had been mined over the last year, tagging MRU’s President, the Students’ Association and a local Black Lives Matter group. At this point, very few faculty members entered into the discussion. In fact, most of the activity now came from four protected accounts. Since I do not have access to the protected accounts of four faculty members who are “followers” of both @MRUAntiRacism and @RacialAdvMRU, references to their involvement must remain speculative. It is probable that some of these faculty members are actually the leaders of this “coalition”, as their secrecy shows that they have something to hide. It also should be noted that the previous mobbing effort against another MRU faculty member, Mark Hecht, was orchestrated in secret. Why should my case be any different?

The race hustling character of @MRUAntiRacism and @RacialAdvMRU can be seen in the “Open Letter to Mount Royal University” that they initiated and sent to MRU administration a month earlier. This letter, signed by 62 MRU faculty, made all sorts of demands, including “[h]iring and retaining more faculty of colour, and providing them with the mentorship and resources they need to succeed and thrive”. Rent-seeking also occurred immediately after the false accusations were made about me. One professor, for example, argued that “White [MRU] scholars” should “demand institutions acknowledge social justice work and its consequences on and increased risks to our Black, Indigenous, and BIPOC colleagues”. She maintained that, as MRU “benefits from that work [of BIPOC colleagues] in increased reputation, safer campus life, more funding, then it must protect those working to address race, gender, and class violence”. MRU Racial Advocacy also used my case to argue that black students at MRU needed to be given a dedicated room to “discuss their grievances on campus” because “MRU must commit to combating anti blackness on campus”.

After this experience, I have learned a few lessons that I would like to share with others. These include the following 10 actions that can help professors resist a mobbing attempt:

  1. stay calm and be strategic;

  2. document everything;

  3. toughen up;

  4. don’t take things personally;

  5. focus on principles, not individuals;

  6. avoid demanding punishment;

  7. build up a supportive network of colleagues with diverse viewpoints;

  8. admit mistakes, but don’t apologize (unless wrongdoing was intentional);

  9. resist appeals for compromise and identify Trojan horses; and

  10. maintain a sense of humour.

I recognize that doing this is not easy, and I have failed numerous times in trying to follow my own advice. One thing is certain, however. Pandering to race hustling only creates a positive feed-back loop. Wendy Mesley should never have apologized, and her participation in a struggle session only emboldened those who had mobilized against her. As Bruce Dowbiggin astutely pointed out, “[t]he retreat into a cringing position is an invitation to try again—only harder—to move the power needle in a society made docile by its cozy lifestyle”.

This problem of pandering to race hustling (or to that of any other identity) is also apparent in universities. There is tremendous pressure to appease activists in the hopes that the “storm will pass”. Even in the case of the shrinking number of professors who still have tenure, there are numerous developments that impede our ability to speak freely and pursue the truth – “harassment” and “hate speech” legislation, university corporatization that promotes student (i.e. “customer”) satisfaction, and faculty association politicization. The disputational culture of universities also has been seriously compromised by diversity managerialism and postmodern “wokeness”. Race hustling is a symptom of a wider disease, and it needs to be confronted head on to keep it from metastasizing and destroying the academic character of post-secondary institutions.

Racism is obviously a serious problem in society. Universities should be on the frontline of studying this problem, and increasing empirical knowledge and theoretical understanding of it. But effective action to combat racism requires distinguishing it from false accusations of prejudice and discrimination. Race hustling, therefore, is not only an enemy of the pursuit of truth; its focus on rent-seeking, as opposed to correctly identifying problems so as to solve them, increases divisiveness and impedes human attempts to live more cooperatively and peacefully with one another.