What would you do if you heard a student call another student the n-word in a cavalier and friendly manner? What would you do if a student called you the n-word? I would imagine the tone of the child, the color of the child, and the color of your skin would play major factors into your response. The reason this is even a subject that I am writing about is that I was in a public Voxer group last week and a gentleman who is white used the entire word numerous times repeating what a student allegedly called him as well as their friends.
I side voxed the person and told them that although I was not personally offended by the word I did not think it was a poor idea for them to say it. Every adult in America knows what word someone is referring to. It does not need to be used in its entirety. I personally thought they overstepped their bounds by using it. This person was open to my dialogue but ultimately disregarded my words.
I discussed this story with a friend of mine who is black and they asked me why I was not offended by the word. This forced me to figure out why I wasn’t offended? I know the word has a steep history of hate and violence behind it. I consider myself a humanitarian. Why am I not offended personally by its use? I came to the conclusion that the word has no power over me directly and that is why it didn’t offend me.
I also realized that on some level I should be offended by it because it hurts people I care about. This was an awareness that grew because I was challenged.
This brings us back to the original reason why the word was brought up in the Voxer group. What would you do if your students were using the n-word to each other and neither party was offended by it? I listened to numerous black people speak up about what they would do as well as what they have done in the past. They were all in agreement that the word in any form should not have a place in school.
How would I react if one of my students called me, a white male, that in school? I don’t know.
I have a couple of major takeaways from this exchange over the last week. The first one is that anyone who is not black should not be using the word in any form. Secondly, it is about the students comfort more than my own. Lastly, if you do hear the word it is a great time to grab that teachable moment. Ask the students do you know the history of the word? Does it make any of the other students uncomfortable when they use it? Why do they feel the need to use it? This could be the start of a great discussion and gain an insight into our student’s lives.