So, What about the N Word?
Two kids are jostling in the hall. One is calling the other kid the N word. Does your reaction matter if both kids are white? How about black? How about one or two of several races? For some reason the racial mix of the group will make a difference to how people will react. How do families, school people and folks in the community treat the word?
Is it profane and always unacceptable as a racist slur? If so then the make-up of the group of kids in the above example does not matter.
Should schools have absolute policies where the use of the word is just not allowed, period, end of sentence.
The Madison Wisconsin school district made an absolute rule. The word was not to be used, no way, no how. If staff used the word that staff member would be fired. A school security guard who had been with the system for 17 years, was called the N word by a student. The guard, who is African American, responded by saying to the student, “Do not call me a ‘nigger’. That is not who I am.” The guard was terminated! Within in days, there were demonstrations, complaints, letter campaigns. He was rehired. Prior to the word being forbidden to be used by anyone, that event would have been followed up by a meeting in the principal’s office where the seriousness of the situation would be explained to the student, there would be a mediation and end with a handshake or a hug, and hopefully some education.
Managing the use of the N word is just one instance in which schools (and families) have shown their unwillingness to wade into the difficult discussions of bigotry around racist words. While it may be true that this current political atmosphere has given license to the use of bigoted language and behavior, these problems have been beneath the surface for as long as we have had a country. Outlawing the use of any profane word doesn’t solve the problem of why it is being used. We just drive folks back into their hole in the ground.
We need to teach our kids empathy. As the Native American proverb, do not criticize until you have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes. Our students need to be taught the reasons why bigoted words are bad, and about the psychic damage they can do to the recipient of these words. Then we can move on to conversations about how much alike we are and stop emphasizing how different we are.
Banning the N word, or any other bigoted racist word is really easy. What is hard is trying to figure out why people want to use that word at all!