I'm writing a paper on the Front de Liberation du Quebec; a homegrown Quebec terrorist organisation in the 1960s. As research, I've extensively studied a book by one of the intellectual leaders of the organisation Pierre Vallières called 'White (n-word)s of America'. Given the rather alarming title, how might I properly cite quotes from the book?

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    Is the title in English or French? Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 13:44
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    – cag51
    Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 15:52

8 Answers 8


It is what it is. You aren't responsible for that. I suggest that you cite it as you would any other work. Presumably you aren't endorsing racist views.

You aren't being "kind" by hiding history. The people targeted by such words know they exist, their meaning, and the intent in their use. Scholarly discussions don't contribute to racism unless they are specifically designed to do so.

Treat words as words. Treat people as people.

If you feel you must, then put a footnote somewhere disassociating yourself from racist views.

Please see: The Idea That Whites Can’t Refer to the N-Word.

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    A few examples with similar citations from published literature would improve this answer and provide some support for your arguments. Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 14:26
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    – eykanal
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 13:50
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    Please add citations on what is, and what is not, acceptable in citations in humanities citations on books such as this. The only citation you provide is someone suffering non-trivial consequences for using the word in question in as a full humanities professor, and you don't even include a quote from it to support your opinion (answers should stand on their own, and not rely on links). For example, here is a relatively recent use of citing this book: citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/… ; a more recent example would be even better.
    – Yakk
    Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 13:55

An academic paper published in 2017 had to deal with this issue because it examined this exact work. "The Struggle of Others: Pierre Vallières, Quebecois Settler Nationalism, and the N-Word Today" by Bruno Cornellier was published in Discourse, vol. 39, no. 1, 2017.

In the notes Cornellier states:

I explain later in the essay the reasons I decided to redact both the English and French versions of the N-word from this essay, with the exception of parsimonious references to the full titles of the book (in French and English translation), for citational purposes only, in endnotes and once in my introduction

So the standard Cornellier sets here is to redact the slur in the text of the piece, while leaving it in the citation.

The explanation alluded to in the above note is found on page 35

Before I proceed with my analysis of Vallières’s text as a textual trace (then and now) of such hegemonic settler structure of feeling, I must offer clarifications about my use of terminology. Vallières’s own admission that he actually meant the English N-word—and not what is often defended by French speakers to be the less derogatory and more acceptable French word nè***—explains in part why I decided to redact both the French and English versions of the N-word from this essay. Indeed, French users of the term have too often found solace in the convenient ambiguity provided by the French language between, on the one hand, the inflammatory and unequivocal N-word and, on the other, something assumed by white Francophone speakers to be less so by attaching the word nè*** to something that would be more akin to the antiquated English term “Negro”—or, by any measure, to mean nè*** as a term that could be used to mean the English N-word but not necessarily. My decision to redact all uses of the term is not an attempt to sanitize Vallières’s text à la recent editions of Huckleberry Finn, nor am I necessarily requesting that further reeditions of Vallières’s text also be altered accordingly. Rather, I do so in solidarity with black colleagues and other critical race scholars who have asked that I better situate myself, as a white Quebecois settler, in relation to this term but also to take a stand against the cavalier alibi found by my fellow white Francophone Quebecois seeking immunity in the (French) language they use to produce and designate blackness for themselves and without black people. In other words, I consider such strategic recourse to the ambiguity of the French word nè*** a way for white Francophone Quebecers to use or imply with ease—when convenient—the N-word and get away with it.

My interpretation of this paragraph is that it is the redacting of the French form that is explained, without noting why its unredacted in the sources, implying that may be an editorial standard that doesn't need discussion.

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    Indirect support for this answer can be found in the 2021 publication "Jung, M. K., & Vargas, J. H. C. (Eds.). (2021). Antiblackness. Duke University Press." The year should further address concerns of recency. On p. 33 where the citation first occurs, the authors use n***** in text, but use the full word when it appears as a citation. The same rule is followed for a Lennon/Ono song title.
    – Cardinal
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 22:49
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    A very good scholarly answer. But, ... we can anticipate that scholarly scrupulousness does not guarantee a friendly popular reception. Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 23:23
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    @paulgarrett: Agreed, but perhaps the absence of a popular reception is precisely when scholarly scrupulousness becomes all the more important.
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 0:08
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    I endorse this answer too. Out of all the answers on this page, Cornellier is the only (so far) answer that shows he has gone to his black colleagues in his field and asked them for advice, and he has taken on that advice and acted in accordance with it. As a member of a minority (disability) myself, this is basically the gold standard. I would consider quoting Cornellier's statement in its entirety (or nearly so, but definitely the part "I do so in solidarity with my black colleagues ... in relation to this term.") in your paper.
    – Tomato
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 14:59
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    To me, the phrase "black colleagues and other critical race scholars who have asked that I better situate myself, as a white Quebecois settler, in relation to this term" seems a bit ambiguous. Is this author saying that all the aforementioned people suggested that they redact all appearances of the racial slur, or that they offered some more general advice (e.g. "take a clear stand against the casual use of this French racial slur"), and that the author felt that the best way to implement this advice was to redact all in-text occurences of both slurs?
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 22:58

If it helps, at the time of this post, this particular work has been cited 210 times (per Google scholar) so you have 210 examples of what other academics have done when citing this book. My own view is that it is preferable to state the title without redaction, but redaction might also be acceptable so long as the citing author clearly states that the title has been redacted. Whilst practices may differ from field to field, I know that in the field of linguistics ---where scholars commonly deal directly with racial slurs (e.g., examining their etymology, history, etc.)--- the standard practice is to state the word under use without censorship. (In that particular field they also tend to italicise the word under discussion, but that it not relevant here.)

One issue of possible importance here is that the slur in the title is important in identifying the class of people that the book is about, so a full redaction is going to entail a genuine loss of information about the subject of the book. In some cases a slur word in the title of a work is not important in conveying information about the content of the work, but that is not the case here. If the subject of the book is "white niggers" and you change this to "white [racial slur]s" (as suggested by another answer here) then the scope of the subject matter of the book arguably becomes unclear. One possibility is to use partial redaction of the form "white [n----rs]" or "white [n-word]s" (the latter being your suggested formulation), which blunts the slur but allows the reader to "guess" the original word and so properly understand the scope of the book. That is probably a reasonable redaction if you choose to proceed by that route.

Personally, I would not do any redaction; my view is that it is useful in academia to create an atmosphere where adults can engage in open discourse about topics, without falling apart if they hear a nasty word. This is encouraged by citing works like this without redaction. In any case, if you decide to fully or partially redact the original slur word in the title, you should make sure that the reader understands that this is your edit. Using square brackets for your redaction, plus an explicit statement alerting the reader to the redaction (e.g., "[Title partially redacted]") will be sufficient to ensure that you are not misleading your reader about the true title of the work.


Is this for a class? If so I would ask your teacher directly for advice (the way you wrote this question seems appropriate for such an email).

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    Good idea. If you ever in the future face criticism or other consequences from using such a word (or indeed not using it), being able to say "I consulted university authorities" would be useful.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 21:36
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    True, but being able to develop your own judgment in the absence of explicit instruction from an authority figure is also useful.
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 0:09

Maybe sic would help here:

The Latin adverb sic ("thus", "just as"; in full: sic erat scriptum, "thus was it written")[1] inserted after a quoted word or passage indicates that the quoted matter has been transcribed or translated exactly as found in the source text, complete with any erroneous, archaic, or otherwise nonstandard spelling, punctuation or grammar. It also applies to any surprising assertion, faulty reasoning, or other matter that might be interpreted as an error of transcription.

The typical usage is to inform the reader that any errors or apparent errors in quoted material do not arise from errors in the course of the transcription, but are intentionally reproduced, exactly as they appear in the source text. It is generally placed inside square brackets to indicate that it is not part of the quoted matter.

Sic may also be inserted derisively or sarcastically, to call attention to the original writer's spelling mistakes or erroneous logic, or to show general disapproval or dislike of the material

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sic

(note: Take into account https://academia.stackexchange.com/users/25/noah-snyder comment, I know nothing about writing papers in Humanities context)

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    An interesting approach, but I don't think that absence of [sic] would cause anyone to assume that you inserted the n-word into a citation! That way lies madness!
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 10:54
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    @Ben Let's hope nobody randomly enters words into citations! Not to mention insults of any type :-O
    – malarres
    Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 15:24
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    @Ben: The [sic] is important, because the reader needs that context to determine the actual name of the citation, in order to track it down. Was the Book actually called "White N-----" with hyphens, or is it actually the slur? Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 16:30
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    @MooingDuck: Your example shows how the “[sic]” would be useful if OP were citing a book whose title was literally “White N-----’s of America”. But it’s not needed in either of their scenarios — either quoting it unredacted (where “[sic]” would be redundant as @ Ben says) or quoting it redacted (for which “sic” is not applicable).
    – PLL
    Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 21:47
  • @PLL: You are 100% correct. My bad. I got it flipped with [Title Partially Redacted] Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 22:33

While looking at things like Vallières' book, I think it's important not to be projecting 21st century American values onto a situation in early/mid 1960s Quebec.

As the 1960s started in Quebec, the frustration of the majority French-speaking population with the economic and political situation in the province and in Canada began to boil. Since the British takeover 200 years earlier, economic and political power were concentrated in the hands of English-speaking businessmen.

After Maurice Duplessis died in 1959 and the Union National was defeated by Jean Lesage's Liberals in 1960, there was a feeling that change was coming. To some, though, change wasn't coming enough.

From what I remember (I was in grade school at the start of the Quiet Revolution, but politically aware by the time the October Crisis arrived), Vallières's intent with that title was poke a stick in the hornet's nest, not to be racist.

The book came out in 1968, at the peak of the civil rights movement in the US. Vallieres definitely wanted attention, he wanted to offend, but did not want to offend others who were part of the "struggle". It was intended to signal that he felt that the cause of French Quebec had echoes of the US civil rights movement. Others identified with the struggles of blacks in southern Africa (in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa). The situation in Rhodesia was often cited (white farmers in Rhodesia owned most owned most of the land and controlled the economy).

You can see this in the symbol that "Westmount" became. Westmount is an inner-city suburb of Montreal - if you walk across the street from the old Montreal Forum (downtown, where all those Stanley Cups were won), you are in Westmount. Upper Westmount is also where rich English businessmen traditionally have their mansions. In the 60s, Westmount and Rhodesia became synonyms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpDV2E6dKLg. When the FLQ planted bombs in mailboxes, Westmount was a favorite target.

Before I moved the US, I new that race was an important topic here. It was only after I immigrated 30 years ago, though, that I understood how race shapes a significant portion of American history and contemporary American society.

If you grew up in Montreal (particularly if you are my age and lived through the 1960s and 1970s there), you understand how language shapes Quebec history and contemporary Quebec society. Yes, the domination of the French-speaking majority by a small English-speaking business class doesn't compare to slavery, but it can define a "struggle".

  • While interesting background on this one paper, it doesn't attempt to answer the question, and certainly not in general.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 20:47
  • @Buffy: agreed. But I hope that it does provide some context.
    – Flydog57
    Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 21:26

Throwaway for obvious reasons:

a homegrown Quebec terrorist organisation in the 1960s.

I would thread carefully here; the judicial system does not agree with the label you used. That might stir more controversy than the choice of words you end up using to quote a text. And of course discredit you, your advisor and your lab quite badly. Of course, if you possess new evidences, the police would be the correct place to disclose it, not an academic paper. But unless you are capable of obtaining a conviction, I would abstain from such a term.

As for your question, that highly depends on your audience and who you are. If it's an undergrad paper that will only be read by your professor just ask him, otherwise it's best to bring it up with your advisor. Ultimately, he or she should know enough about the field and the journals to know what's appropriate.

  • On the one hand, -1. On the other hand, this answer is such a hilarious illustration of how demands for self-censorship multiply when one gives in to one; in a sense this is the best answer to OP's question. Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 9:16
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    Are you arguing that the FLQ was not a homegrown Quebec terrorist organisation in the 1960s. That's a pretty good description, and you would probably find that many of the members of that organization would be comfortable with that adjective. The FLQ grew from a frustration with the slow pace of change during the Quiet Revolution and a desire to radically change the status quo (in those days, much of the power in the province was in the hands of English speaking folks). But, an organization that grew from Molotov cocktails and bombs to political kidnapping is, well, terrorist.
    – Flydog57
    Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 13:54
  • @Flydog57 I am not arguing anything, the courts did. A lot of criminal acts were attributed to the organization. Most of it still remains allegations since almost none of them ended up in convictions or successful investigations. You and the OP are entitled to your opinions, but in OP's case this might immediately flag him and his paper as biased by a reviewer. Therefore I would advise a more neutral term. Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 18:58
  • @darijgrinberg, the downvote won't make it any less true. Quoting a book a certain way might result in a request to censor the tittle by a reviewer; an obvious slant will most likely end up in a rejection from any serious journal. Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 19:00
  • It appears (from my very cursory research) that the concept of a terrorist activity entered the Canadian criminal code only in the aftermath of the September 2001 airplane hijackings/World Trade Center attacks. So, from a legal standpoint the FLQ was not a terrorist group. But, in the discussion of those laws, FLQ activities are nearly always mentioned. Bombing, political kidnappings, a political killing and a response that included the peacetime imposition of the War Measures Act makes it terrorism in my eyes. It should it the eyes of a reviewer as well
    – Flydog57
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 22:49

It should be the case that a published title is an established fact, to be debated on its merits. That's supposed to be a crucial part of the difference between academia and the mundane.

Since in today's world, politics has become at least as important as any kind of research, you should be taking this Question and all its ramifications up the chain of command in your department particularly, as well as to your institution generally.

Right or wrong, both either have or badly need detailed procedures for this hugely important Question.

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    An interesting idea, but part of the academic ethos is that we should all try to protect the academic freedom to make these decisions without "taking it up the chain". I personally find the idea of seeking permission from the Department to use a word in my work to be sycophantic and unbecoming of an academic.
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 10:56
  • @Ben Precisely and haven't you recently felt academia second to none in putting woke PC ideas above inconveniences such as the fact that a title 'White (n-word)s of America' exists? Here in the UK loosely-related cases hit the national press about weekly, or more and teachers and lecturers are threatened and dismissed for saying little more than we are here. "Taking it up the chain" should be abhorrent and the more so should be anyone feeling a need for validation from any group of colleagues other than recognised experts, whatever their skin colour. Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 20:38
  • As if to prove the point yesterday's (June 20) Mail on Sunday reports a geography teacher is being investigated for speaking the N-word while telling his class that Niger, West Africa, is pronounced not that way, but 'nee-zher.' The MoS says in a later lesson, children were given complaint forms and asked to comment if they were unhappy. A letter from the head is cited as saying "A member of staff used racist language…" and that "students and their families have, justifiably, taken great offence to this and that there was no reason for the term being used." QED Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 15:13
  • I take your point re dangers to teachers. In a university environment, academics possess freedoms and discretions that a school teacher does not, so we're naturally quite protective of the right to make our own decisions on these matters.
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 23:11
  • @Ben Thus far… Here in the UK, the national newspapers report almost daily on university cases bordering on that Niger nonsense, not infrequently as bad and sometimes worse. How thick d'you think is the line between academic freedom and complacency nd more to the point, what lies on the other side? Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 23:50

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