What’s up my _ _ _ _ _ _? Missing Teachable Moments in Education

A few weeks ago, a permanent substitute teacher, “Coach Ryan” at Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans, La. found himself in a very heated debate with a student about the use of the n-word. The student was adamant that the white teacher stopped saying it altogether and stated that it was ok for black people to use the word because when they do, it has a different meaning.

The teacher called the word “commoditized“ and said that because it is used so often, the severity of the word is not the same as it was years ago.

I see it differently. There is never a good reason to use the “N-word.” It is not a term of endearment, it cannot be reused or repurposed, it cannot be lessened in its derogatory weight by assigning an acronym to its letters. The word cannot be made whole by subtracting an “er” and adding an “a” to the end. It also cannot be used by blacks as some sort of term of bonding that shows love and affection. Let’s face it, if you are saying the n-word in that respect, then maybe you are not in slavery anymore, but your vocabulary, mindset, thought pattern and way of living are still in bondage.

I understand where the teacher is coming from, yet I disagree with his philosophy. In claiming that whites can safely use the n-word, the teacher is showing his limited ability to show restraint, and he is displaying his blatant lack of humanity. I’m not surprised. White men have historically shown us their disregard for others humanity, civil rights, and even basic human rights. They have caused horrific atrocities throughout the world including murder, rape, and kidnapping, to name a few.

The young man involved in the incident who clearly showed disgust at this white man’s (I refuse to call him his teacher) use of this word was being antagonized by someone who should be pouring valuable tools into his life.

Still, I have to challenge this student’s adamant declaration that it was ok for black people to use the word and not white people.

It’s  interesting that our young people articulate the use of this word by replacing the “er” with an “a,” and deem it acceptable.  It seems counterproductive to associate multiple meanings to a word and to offer the use of the word to anyone black and to anyone else who you feel you are cool with or has earned that “pass.”

This is a destructive action and one loaded on the back end with heavy consequences. Consequences that may depend on how you feel that day. On the other hand, if you do not allow anyone to call you the n-word, you eliminate the need to have to make a judgment call. I see the embrace of the word as the black community’s lack of basic knowledge of our past and the detriment that was associated with the daily use of such a derogatory term.

We have missed out on the conversations we had to have with the next generation about symbolism and identity. We are still failing to see that our young people are calling out for our guidance and nurturing.

The incident at Benjamin Franklin High School is yet another moment endured by our youth that we must see as a teachable moment. A moment that should galvanize positive and forward moving educators and invested people of our communities. With a smirk and look of accomplishment on his face, I don’t expect that incompetent white antagonist to pour into the lives of our children.

I do fully expect to see vested adults in our communities rally around this unfortunate circumstance, and to me just calling for that teacher’s job is the least of my worries. We must see the plea from our youth and engage them in truly meaningful and liberating dialogue.

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