White teacher shouldn’t have used N-word, which still carries hurt and shame
By MARY MITCHELL firstname.lastname@example.org February 17, 2012 7:30PM
Lincoln Brown, 48, A white teacher at Murray Language Academy in Hyde Park, says he used the n-word in a teachable moment, about the perils of racism while teaching his sixth-grade class. Brown has filled a federal lawsuit, alleging his black principal violated his civil rights by suspending him without pay for five days. February 16, 2012 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: March 20, 2012 8:17AM
It is hard for a black person to embrace a “teachable moment” from a white person who actually says “n-----.”
That’s why if Lincoln Brown, a white teacher at Murray Language Academy who has filed suit against Chicago Public Schools, really wanted to have a healthy discussion about racism, he shouldn’t have used the slur in his majority black sixth-grade class.
The word sounds ugly enough when black people say it, but it is especially demeaning when it slips through white lips.
Still, I understand that a lot of white people can’t appreciate this point of view.
So let’s start there.
I agree that it makes no sense that blacks can use this slur with impunity, while there is hell to pay when a white person uses it.
But nothing about this vile slur makes any sense.
It doesn’t make sense that at one time even white people who treated blacks with kindness used the n-word with the nonchalance of racists.
It doesn’t make sense that a word that used to bring colored folks to blows, today is being defended by some African Americans as a term of endearment. But when an angry black person calls you n-----, you know that person isn’t calling you a brother or a friend.
And it certainly doesn’t make sense that whites, Asians and Latinos have adopted the racial slur. That’s the reason why a recent mob attack in the Bridgeport neighborhood was initially reported as a possible hate crime.
Throughout the beating, which was videotaped and posted on YouTube, the attackers kept calling the victim a “n-----.” The victim is Asian. All of the attackers are also Asian, except one, who is Caucasian.
If this cross-pollination of language represents progress, we’re moving in the wrong direction.
In the past, African Americans have acted as a traffic cop when it comes to who is punished for the n-word.
That’s why Chris Rock could say the n-word like a mantra and laugh all the way to the bank, while Michael Richards — Kramer from “Seinfeld” — was nearly run off the stage and out of Hollywood after he taunted an audience member with the epithet during a stand-up comedy routine several years ago.
Brown filed a lawsuit last week in federal court that essentially tests the unwritten rule covering the n-word.
In an exclusive interview with the Sun-Times, Brown said “he used the n-word in front of his majority African-American class at Murray Language Academy on Oct. 4 last year after one of his students passed a note to a girl with rap lyrics including the n-word.”
Brown used the incident to talk to his 11-year-old students about the negative impact of the racial slur.
Brown’s lawsuit alleges he was using the n-word when the school’s principal, Gregory Mason, walked into the classroom.
Brown was later cited for using “verbally abusive language to or in front of students” and “cruel, immoral, negligent or criminal conduct or communication.”
A CPS hearing officer ruled Brown had “engaged in inappropriate discussions with sixth-grade students during instructional time.”
Officials with the Chicago Board of Education issued a statement Friday saying Brown’s lawsuit “is without merit.”
Obviously, most sixth-graders have heard the ugly slur.
Still, Brown overstepped his boundaries.
The fact that Brown grew up in an integrated neighborhood, was among the few whites who attended Kenwood High School; that he taught black children in a school that served the Robert Taylor Homes; that his father was the former dean of Rockefeller Chapel at University of Chicago and a supporter of the civil rights movement, doesn’t exempt him from the unwritten rule when it comes to the n-word.
Most black people are offended when white people say n----- and it really doesn’t matter that Brown was trying to make a point.
Despite how far we’ve come as a nation, the n-word still carries generations of hurt and shame.
Unfortunately, even our best intentions haven’t been enough to scrub that away.