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The “N-Word” Debate. Again.

(click image for larger version. Courtesy JHallComics.com)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: We struggled with a graphic for this post. Nothing new or fresh came to mind and we didn’t want to use the word that we find offensive. We found the above cartoon and feel that it illustrates the issue of this post rather well. And we say that as proud nerds.)

Principal Shannon McParland of Metcalf Middle School in Burnside, Minnesota (and is a white middle aged woman) after being cursed at and verbally abused by a student asked the student a relevant, rhetorical question:

In the email, she described the exchange with the student in which “the student directed profanities and racial epithets toward me and other staff members.”

In a video circulating online, McParland is shown asking someone if he or she is going to call her the N-word following an expletive.

“Are you seriously going to call me a f—- — n—–?” she says in the recording.

McParland is the only person shown in a seven-second clip that appears to be taken from a longer recording.

Let the angst and calls for her firing begin.

Generally speaking, we are against the use of the “n-word.” While we are for protecting speech – even speech that is highly offensive as the “n-word” is – we know that once people start throwing the word around, you lose the audience. By that we mean that words are not just things we say to create noise in our ears. Words and languages are something that convey messages and ideas. For the most part, when you use the “n-word,” you are going to have the listeners stop listening to any ideas you may be putting forth. In other words, of you are out, talking and conversing and you throw the “n-word” out there, people are going to close their ears off to you. Perhaps rightfully so.

We can think of a few exceptions to that general rule. One would be when discussing the history of the word and why it is offensive. You cannot teach or explain why the word is offensive without using the word and the etymology of the word. It simply cannot be done.

The second instance would be in trying to teach a lesson to someone – to try and educate them or show them the errors of their ways.

That’s what happened here.

A student in a middle school went on a rant about a white woman and called her and her staff a “f—- — n—–.”

The principal repeated the statement back to the kid to hopefully get him to think about what he said, the ridiculousness of the name calling and inappropriateness of his language.

Instead of the student being the subject of the incident, the principal is the subject because she dared to use the very words that had been hurled at her.

No one has even begun to address whether this 13 or 14 year old kid needed to be figuratively slapped around and woken up about what he had said.

Of course, McFarland apologized:

At a meeting held to discuss the incident and its repercussions, Principal Shannon McParland twice apologized in brief statements.

The most important thing I need to say is I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart,” she said in tearful opening remarks. “I’m sorry I wasn’t fully understanding the power of words I said and the impact that resulted, which has caused pain and harm to this community.”

The video has elicited reactions ranging from some teachers’ fear of being recorded and falsely represented by students to the contention by some students of color that it’s a symptom of a racially hostile school climate.

McParland, who’s in her first year at the Burnsville school, offered no excuses and asked for healing.

“As a leader in this building, my words impact our school — every moment, every day,” said McParland, who was principal of another Burnsville school, Sioux Trail Elementary, before coming to Metcalf in a series of principal reassignments. “Harm was caused to my students.”

The school district investigated the incident and issued a summary at the meeting. One of the things the summary said was dead on:

“Districtwide, families of all backgrounds, as well as staff, fear being authentic when having racial conversations because they feel they will get in trouble,” the summary said.

We can’t imagine why these people would feel this way. (/sarcasm) After all, all that happened to the principal was that she had to apologize for defending herself and her staff by using the same words that had been thrown at her. Furthermore, she wasn’t even directing them at anyone, but rather using them to show how ridiculous the student was being.

No wonder people worry about having a racial conversation because you cannot.

This incident proves it.

All teachers can improve their cultural proficiency, said Leah Bourg, Metcalf’s dean of students.

“Professional development needs to happen,” she said. “All staff — no matter where you are on the spectrum of culturally proficient school systems — everybody can make improvements.”

While we understand the idea that the school can only hold their employees accountable and force them into more indoctrination training, we still wonder about the student himself. Where are his parents in this? Where is the community rising up and saying “that’s not who we are and what we accept?” Where are educators telling students that if you want to go to college or get a decent job, you can’t use that type of language because you will find yourself out on the cold streets?

This is a case where the educational system failed. (Again.) The wrong lesson is being taught here.

If the “n-word” offends you, then don’t use it. If the “n-word” is offensive, then speak up and say so when it is used as a pejorative toward someone else.

Just don’t try and take the moral high ground when your words are used to show how ridiculous you are.

You don’t have it.




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