Local Voices: Why is the N-word allowed in schools?

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Local Voices

by Elvis Slaughter

The N-word is one of the most hateful, racist, useless, and inhumane words in the English vocabulary, and schools play a big role in ensuring that the word is eliminated from their lexicon. But the question is, why is the N-word being used in some schools? Some English and reading teachers still require students to read books with the N-word. Interestingly, most of these books are no longer found on school reading lists for some good reasons.

The N-word has been used as far back as the 18th century to offend, harm, and insult African Americans. So it is a word that has an undeniable link to white supremacy, slavery, and colonialism. Racial epithets have vicarious and intergenerational consequences, which implies that they do not just harm the person the term is used against, but also are capable of hurting the entire student community. The N-word was heard from teachers using books, videos, and audio for many years, and at least 25 times this school year in just one class alone.

The use of racial epithets by educators is quite problematic, resulting from its long-term implications on a student’s ability to learn both in the classroom and institution. Based on the available data from a 2011 study in the Review of Educational Research, there is a strong correlation between the relationship between a student and the teacher and the student’s engagement and achievement in school.

It was discovered that positive student-teacher relationships often resulted in increased long-term student engagement and achievement. On the other hand, a negative student-teacher relationship negatively or harmfully affects long-term student engagement and achievement. In another study, researchers discovered that educators’ interpersonal skills are just as crucial or even more crucial than their knowledge of the subject matter. Presently, there is a need for more research on how educators’ use of racial slurs (such as the N-word) affects students.

Regardless of the context in which the N-word is used — either in the classroom or the pronunciation with a hard “r” or soft “a” at the end of the word — making use of the N-word will always be an insidious reminder of those who hold power in school and elite spaces. Unfortunately, the professional development classes, including Cultural Competency, had very little effect on eliminating the N-word at one school district, and it remains in both the curriculum and the students’ minds.

Sincerely,
Elvis Slaughter


Local Voices is our version of “Letters to the Editor.” The opinions posted here are those of the writers, and posting them does not indicate endorsement by The Lansing Journal. We welcome input from fellow residents who have thoughtful things to say about topics that are important to our community. Send your submissions to The Lansing Journal with “Voices” in the subject line.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t help but get a sense of a type of “context vacuum” after reading this article. I’m prompted to ask if there are public schools that are currently allowing staff members (specifically teachers) to call student niggers instead of addressing them by their legal name…. which would be in direct violation of existing state and federal laws? Are the per-described staff members specifically verbally abusing students? OR……does the current curriculum involve publications that contain the word nigger? Lack of clarity on such a sensitive issue will most likely be construed as intentionally suggestive and accusatory.

    But still more questions? Are the “Holders of Power” negative? Are they malevolent in nature? Or is their “holding of power” designated and necessary for the proper execution of their responsibilities? Is the author stating that schools and elite spaces are separate spaces or the same space? Are there not many African American and female African American administrations who currently occupy some of those spaces? What specific school district is being referenced in this article?

    Cancel culture is always a power play for those who perceive themselves as powerless. Is it fair to discuss the use us the word nigger (in schools-in some unclear form) and not address the fact that the word is used in the schools all across the country by the students on a daily basis? Is this article suggesting a “cancelling” of literature because specific words contained in that literature incite negative self- image among African American students? Could this article be subject to the same type of scrutiny because of its potential to describe African American students as being in need of constant coddling and unable to think critically?

    Historically the use of some words changes from generation to generation. The meaning of words can differ depending on geographics and demographics. Motive never changes. I am aware of the present and historical use of educational institutions to shape generations of students in ways that are far from beneficial. I am aware that the administrators will always execute their duties based on their particular “slant”. This is our history…and history should be part of our education. Records of the malevolence of men should not be cancelled. It is the responsibility of the educator to clarify the context and identify the literature as an historical account of inappropriate doctrine. This clarification should be immediately followed up by empowering the student to utilize their gift of critical thinking.

    Our students are not as fragile as the research that is listed in this article suggests. Students are people and people are suggestible. Suggestion work both ways. It can be used to harm or edify. Racism in America is a story of resilience. Racism in its purest form is a projection of self-hatred and we all should have to opportunity to negate another man’s projection with a sober awareness of our own true image.

    It is my opinion that we should focus more on what we can insert, rather than what we can cancel. Vacuums don’t benefit anyone.

  2. I agree with Gabriel, further why do Black people call each other that word. To me that is equally if not worse. Why we brush these offenses off is beyound me. I pray we find a better way to exist.

  3. Good point Gabriel,

    “It is the responsibility of the educator to clarify the context and identify the literature as an historical account of inappropriate doctrine. This clarification should be immediately followed up by empowering the student to utilize their gift of critical thinking.”

  4. Another Good point Gabriel,

    “Racism in its purest form is a projection of self-hatred and we all should have to opportunity to negate another man’s projection with a sober awareness of our own true image.”

  5. I want to respond to Mr. Gabriel’s comments. I’m not sure what he means by “context vacuum”, because, for Black people, there does not appear to ever have been any vacuum whatsoever. As I understand it, in that community during the last century the term was used to confront negative behaviors, and by so doing, remind a perpetrator that he or she was not acting in the most civilized manner, but acting in a way that was detrimental to their race. But outside the black community, the N-word was nothing more than a racial epithet. And in the classroom, the word was not used; at least it wasn’t in any class I ever taught, and that includes classes I taught in grade schools, high schools, community college and universities in Illinois, Washington state, and here in Nevada. Unfortunately, the current state of politics has pushed us backwards into the 1950s and 50s, when the word was often used.

    If I’m reading this article correctly, Mr. Gabriel is promoting the idea of not leaving anything out. This ideas has merits, but it won’t be recognized in our current society because of the concept of “critical race theory.” This “theory” describes how to avoid teaching the true history of American racism by calling it something bad. White parents are worried that their children will be traumatized if they are given accurate information about how racism has damaged us and our society, but somehow it is perfectly all right for black children to endure racism every day in school and in life. This a deeply serious issue because, when we oppress any element of our population, including those who are racially different, those who are women, those who speak a different first language, those who practice a different religion, those who are handicapped, and those who are same sex-attracted, the people in those classifications rarely reach their full potential. And in a country where that occurs, that country itself is diminished. If you need an example of what I’m talking about, consider this: Ludwig Beethoven had African ancestors on one side of his family, but he was allowed to receive an education and discover his his full potential as a composer of great classical music. In a society where he would not have had this opportunity, his great talent would have been lost to to the world.

    I mean no disrespect in anything I say here. I am simply advocating for a better society.

    Sincerely,
    Frank Fetters

    • Mr. Fetters, always good to here your input. Disrepect was never a thought in my mind. The world is composed of different people and equally different thoughts. We can all benefit greatly from a better society. The “context vacuum” that i mentioned in my previous comment specifically addresses getting clarification on whether or not the article was specifically referencing teachers that were breaking the law (calling students the “n” word) or books that were studied in school that contained the “n” word.
      As a black person(speaking only for myself)…I do not agree that there is no “context vacuum” for 100% of all black people. Vacuums created in writings is a very common and current tactic. Where there should be context; there remains an intentional, empty space….. that sucks in the intended, cultivated predispositions of the targeted demographic. This can be done intentionally(this is where targeting applies) or unintentionally. It is also my understanding that the “n”word has had more than 2 specific uses since the beginning of it’s use. I would agree that politics does affect the culture but not as much as monetary policy controls the world. Racism has always served the financial powers….1st. Division is lucrative for the private banking organizations. Factions are a lot easier to maneuver than large bodies of mixed people. Example: when they needed the votes of women or when they needed the votes of blacks…to tip the scales in the favor of the politicians who they needed elected to appropriately legislate their future parasitic monetary policies. These situations are always proceeded by “movements” that attract a dissenting group that is groomed to be exploited in the near future. The Civil Rights “Movement” used teenagers because the (northern)public would not accept media coverage of children being attacked; no matter what color they were. The 1989 Democracy “Movement” in Tiananmen Square(China) used young students who were slaughtered in a similar situation. The Women’s Suffrage “Movement” is cut from the same template. The predescribed exposition is also a critical component of racism that is……. “left out”. It is my opinion that your comment regarding the thoughts or motives of “white parents” does not accurately represent white parents as a collective nor as individuals. I also have a congruent opinion regarding your comments about the collective thoughts and motives of our current society as a whole….of which we are both currently members. The proponents of “oppression” intentionally present it in a way that is inaccurate. Oppression is always an individual(spiritual) occurrence. “Jews” did not die in the holocaust. Millions of individual Jews(and other people) died in the holocaust. Mao murdered millions of individual Chinese citizens. Often people group individual human atrocities together for the purpose (gaining traction / awareness) of (more easily)validating them as being heinous malevolent acts. The predescribed grouping sets the individual occurrences up to be easily dismissed. The grouping also eliminates accountability on all sides. Most importantly….the grouping insures that the true causation remains perpetual as the original problem is never examined and therefore neutralized. Chemotheraphy drugs attack individual cancer cells(and other non-cancer cells). No one is oppressed because of the color of their skin. Hate is a projection. The cause of the oppressor’s oppression is always contained inside the oppressor. It is everyone’s personal responsibility to not be oppressed. Even Harriet Tubman insisted on not being a victim. Today we have many more advantages an opportunities than she and others like her did.

  6. It is true that black people do refer to each other in this way….I do it myself. White people and people of all other ethnicities refer to black people and other ethnicities in this way as well. Language and communication is much more than audible sound. Boundaries being crossed without familiarity will most certainly produce contention and malice. I have no interest in judging if using the “n” word in general is appropriate or not ….as external behaviors can not determine genuineness or the true state of another man’s heart. How ever; this very subject does reveal how defeating thought processes of hate (such as racism) have been subtlety woven into the fabric of our society. Its in schools, media, business and everywhere people are. It only takes one generation to forget the deep original meaning of something…..but the behavior can continue for centuries. If we cancel enough, fast enough… true meanings can be forgotten in a matter of weeks. What we have in common is that all of us have experienced hatred in some form or another….it is not unique to one race, gender, etc. ( “Common ground”…pun intended)The pain of such experiences naturally will cause us to focus more on the pain…rather than extracting the lesson associated with the pain. Malice and malevolence is a dark energy; not an audible sound. Hate is temporary. It will exist until God removes everything that is temporal. While hatred exists…sealed in our heart is our true identity. Hate seeks to crush this heart. This heart contains and broadcasts to us our true identity. This heart is also equipped to discern between those who are for us or against us. Someone being against us should never alter our self value. Instead it reveals the low self value that those who hate attempt to project onto others. Also people can exhibit behaviors toward us that are against us while not voluntarily being against us. Such ignorance of our own toxicity can hurt people as well. My hope is that a movement towards nurturing the inner self will gain momentum and become the next contagion.

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