The director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at University of London has accused critics of “politicizing the issue” after coming under fire for using the N-word in a video call with students.
Adam Habib, who is of Indian descent, uttered the slur during a webinar discussion with students in response to concerns about lecturers historically saying the word without facing repercussions.
During a short clip circulated on twitter, the 56-year-old said: “The issue around that is …. firstly, even N****r , somebody making that allegation … I don’t know the case. This is the first i’ve heard of it.”
When a student took offence, Mr Habib is heard to reply: “You do? Well, I don’t actually. I come from a part of the world where we actually do use the word (…). The context matters.”
A student commented: “You’re not a black man, you cannot use that word. You have not faced the trauma and oppression of black bodies what we go through 24/7 for the last 500 years.
“You do not embody our history so therefore you cannot use the word.”
The student continued: “Many writers, even our own alumni, have written as to why – peers, non-black peers – should not use the N-word because when it comes from that perspective then it means a whole different story than when it comes from our own perspective which is the autonomy, agency and reclamation of our own history.”
Mr Habib then apologised “if he caused offence”.
However, Mr Habib has since justified his use of the slur in a 17-part thread posted on Twitter on Friday, accusing critics of attempting to “politicize the issue”.
“The question is why is it that after this apology, some are still politicizing the issue?” he wrote.
“So why don’t I think it was problematic to use the word when I did. Well, because context matters and I was arguing for taking punitive action. You cannot impute maligned intention without understanding context. Do I believe that only blacks can verbalize the word. No, I don’t.”
Mr Habib told The Independent: “A student did indeed pose a question that SOAS was not responsive to anti-black racism and suggested that a staff member who used the word is still on the payroll.
“I did indeed use the word and said the following: ‘If someone used the word against another staff member, then it would violate our policy and the case should be brought to my attention’. I also said that this is the first that I had heard of the incident.
“Another student objected, making the argument that only those who were ‘black‘ (or what I in South Africa would describe as ‘black African’) could actually verbalise the word. I was taken aback by this because the case was being argued devoid of any understanding or explanation of immediate context.
“I did say that I am surprised by the reaction because I could have easily made the same statement in the same context back home without provoking this reaction.
“I then did apologise saying that no offence was intended, and I again said that if the word was used by a member of staff against another human being, then it would be a disciplinary offence as it would violate our policies.”
He added: “I did not say we use the word in South Africa. This is a deliberate distortion.”
The Independent has queried what Mr Habib meant in the recording when he said the slur is used in the “part of the world’ he comes from.
The director was born in South Africa and was appointed as SOAS director in January 2021.
The Economic Freedom Fighters, a South Africa-based campaign group, has called on the University of London to sack Mr Habib.
A statement released on Friday read: “Instead of withdrawing his statement, he went on a maniacal rage, raising his voice to defend the indefensible. Worse (than) that, Habib goes on… to suggest that the derogatory word is used commonly in South Africa, a blatant and filthy lie.”
SOAS declined to comment.