Teachers need to stop using the N-word

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New Trier has a racial slur problem. In 2018, a student was caught after writing a racial slur, the “N-word”, on a bathroom stall. There were several copycat incidents afterwards.

This week, advisors are discussing the N-word and the use of it at school. The school hopes that these conversations will inform students about why it is bad to use slurs and will produce a safer environment among students.

Yet in an environment in which the use of the N-word is treated with proper hostility, the issue of teachers reading the word out-loud to students hasn’t been fully addressed. The sophomore English curriculum includes books such as “The Other Wes Moore” by Wes Moore and “The Intuitionist” by Colson Whitehead, both books which contain the slur. There have been several instances accounted by students of white English teachers at New Trier reading this slur to their students.

This is an injustice to the black students who attend New Trier and could be sitting in those rooms. The word is not from the teacher’s craft, but the act of reading it out loud realizes strong imagery of violence which could severely damage student’s safety in the classroom.

Though the English department has recently asked teachers not to read the word out loud, they have not gone far enough. Non-black teachers must be banned from reading it.

Gabby Manna, a black student at a college in Connecticut, describes the issue eloquently. In her essay, “To the Lecturer Who Read the N-Word Aloud in Class”, she exclaims, “You forced these students, without warning, to hear a word stirring up memories of slavery, violence, murder, rape – the history of violent racism that continues today for black people in this country… speaking it out loud is performance. It is the intentional act of making that word heard – of stirring up a violent past and present that is not only directly harmful to your students but could be putting their lives in immediate danger. When the word is on the page, it has no owner – you wanted to own that word.”

There is very little educational value in reading the word out loud. I am not suggesting the abolition of teaching all works of literature which contain it but teachers do not lose anything from simply skipping over it or replacing it with N-word.

But there is much that is suggested by a teacher in class reading it out loud. It suggests that it’s okay to say the word if it’s not their own words. By this logic, that means it’s okay for non-Black individuals to use it when singing songs which contain the word, or when reading out loud a Twitter post to their friends.

Those practices are not acceptable. When a non-black person uses the word today, it is ridden in a context of hatred and violence. The fact that some black people use it doesn’t mean white people can.

The teachers who have used this word in school likely do not have malicious intent. By teaching books that contain historical situations using the word, they invoke important conversations about race writ large.

But they still have a commitment to their rainbow-colored safe space posters on the wall, and by using the word, they can make the classroom an unwelcome area for students of color.

In a school where 83% of students and 90% of teachers are white, teachers must foster discussions of the N-word and other slurs. In order to best realize an educational environment that is safe for all, non-black teachers must set a good example for their students and not speak the word.

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