Rocanna Bennett in Conversation with the Giller Prize
A few weeks ago, Gordon Hill Press was in conversation with Roxanna Bennett and the topic of #crazyforcanlit came up. Roxanna expressed an interest in engaging with the Scotiabank Giller Prize people to try to educate them about the ableist overtones of the “c” word. Next thing we knew, well . . . we don’t want to tell Roxanna’s story. Read on!
Content warning for triggering, ableist language: the “c” word, the “r” word.
I’ve asked Shane Neilson to share this post on my behalf since I no longer use social media.
A few weeks ago I came across the hashtag #crazyforcanlit in a news story. It originated with the Scotiabank Giller Prize to promote Canadian literature. I like Canadian literature as much as the next person but was horrified by the ableist language. I am, for better or for worse, (but on days like today, wonderfully better), a member of CanLit. But more importantly, I am a member of a world community of billions of human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity, kindness, and respect. In that spirit I contacted a representative of the Giller Prize and sent the message below:
I am writing in regards to the #crazyforcanlit campaign. While I understand you are using the word 'crazy' to mean intensely passionate, and of course we can all agree that we are intensely passionate about CanLit, the word crazy is extremely hurtful and harmful to those of us in the CanLit community who are mentally ill, neurodivergent, neuroatypical, and Mad.
I am sure it was and is not your intention to cause anyone harm, I realize it might be difficult to understand why this word is so upsetting without a lived experience of mental illness or neurodivergence. It is an ableist word, similar to the word 'retarded', and one that is no longer polite to use. There is a long history of the word crazy being used to denigrate, oppress, incarcerate, confine and restrain people against their will. Yes, words have multiple meanings, but please consider the usage of the word crazy in the same way you would consider the word retarded; while it has several meanings, we would not want to misconstrue its meaning or hurt anyone's feelings inadvertently.
I realize that the campaign is in full swing, but respectfully ask you to reconsider your usage of this extremely triggering and degrading word. Would it be possible perhaps to choose a synonym for passionate to denote your ardent devotion to Canadian Literature? Is it possible perhaps to be #hotforcanlit or to feel #canlitlust? Are there other words that could be used that are not as insulting and alienating to those of us who have very good reason to take issue with this word?
Thank you so much for your devotion to CanLit and for taking the time to read this message.
What follows is an amalgamation of a brief and encouraging email exchange.
Dear Roxanna –
Thank you very much for taking the time to write to us. We truly appreciate the valuable coaching that you have offered. You are very right. It was never our intention to offend or harm anyone.
Before we roll-out the 2021 version of the offering we will take into consideration your teachings and contact local organizations who specialize in this area to ensure our messaging is inclusive. While we understand your feelings about this, this has been a very popular feature on the site and it may be that we find that the current title is the best to go forward with. We certainly don’t want to make any promises that we cannot keep.
It is always our intention to be inclusive and we will certainly move into the future with this in mind. Thank you for your understanding, for your support of the Scotiabank Giller Prize and for taking the time to write.
I hope you are keeping well during these challenging times.
Scotiabank Giller Prize
We have evolved so much as a species, check us out: mindfully responding to a global crisis like a pandemic with calm resolve instead of mass anger! A message like this one is proof of the mutability of human nature and the potential we have to include and welcome every single member of our human family. I am choosing to believe the kind Giller people will find it in their wise and compassionate interests and hearts to rename the prize next year. Thank you, Giller Prize, for listening and responding with honesty. Good job, citizens of Earth!