So when I saw the story about the white teacher who has filed a federal lawsuit against the Chicago School District because they fired him for using the n-word to teach his students, I was immediately drawn to the story. I thought that we could be looking at another one of those "teachable moments" when it comes to race relations here in A-merry-ca.
"The incident occurred last October when Brown said he used the n-word after two of his students were passing notes with rap lyrics that included it, according to the Sun-Times. The lawsuit alleges Brown used the word during a "teachable moment" in the context of the book Huckleberry Finn in order to show how such language can hurt. But as the words left Brown's lips, the school's principal walked in to the Murray Language Academy classroom.
Murray Principal George Mason charged Brown with "using verbally abusive language to or in front of students" as well as "cruel, immoral, negligent, or criminal conduct or communication to a student, that causes psychological or physical harm."
Brown has just served the first of his five days of suspension, but told WLS-TV he's worried that this has ruined his reputation as a teacher."
Oh my! What to do? Principal Mason, a black man, knows the pain that the word can cause, and he has probably experienced it personally. Teacher Brown, on the other hand, probably wants to do the right thing, and he wants, in his own way, to teach his class about that horrible word.
Problem is, of course, that teacher Brown is white. And we live in a very race conscious and "color aroused" world. Teacher Brown doesn't have a black card which allows him to use the word even if he is using it to teach his students not to use it.
I am quite sure that if teacher Brown was a black man there would have been no suspension. To white people, this is unfair. To black folks, on the other hand, that is the reality. The word coming from you is different than when it is coming from us.
This is a white person's take which I suspect represents the popular view:
"COMMENTARY | The n-word is an ugly, hateful word. Any negative descriptor of race, creed, characteristic, religion, ideology or lifestyle choice is. Lincoln Brown, a white teacher in Chicago Public Schools, tried to teach his students why the n-word is wrong and got suspended. Brown had found a student note with the word quoted from a rap song. The principal walked in and heard Brown say the word as part of a sixth grade language arts anti-racism lesson, says ABC.
The principal, Gregory Mason, who is black, called Mason's lesson "cruel, immoral, negligent and verbally abusive." Brown is suing CPS, according to Fox Chicago News, saying this is damaging to his reputation, which it is. Teaching jobs are hard enough to come by with all the axing of educational programs. If you're 48 like Brown and you get a smudge on your record, fairly earned or not, you might as well kiss your career goodbye.
It's not even Brown's career that is the crux of the issue. Nor is it the fact Mason suspended him in such a back-door way. The principal didn't just walk in, hear the word, assume it was used as a slur and confront Brown. Mason listened in on the lesson (which dove-tailed negative historical, literary, film and music references to blacks to show why the word is so problematic). Brown thought Mason approved. Apparently not. Two weeks later, Brown got suspended.
The core of the matter is, as Brown put it, "We can't solve these issues if we can't discuss them," according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Clearly, the word and all shaming comments are "cruel and immoral." It's not a "sticks and stones" thing; words hurt more than physical injuries because they don't heal. Brown wasn't fanning the flames, though. He was trying to teach kids not to fan it. In order to do so, he had to use the word.
History can't be sanitized in retrospect and silencing issues negates them. Hiding from problems makes them loom larger. The Minotaur gained power skulking in his labyrinth. It was only when Perseus ferreted him out that he was able to vanquish the beast.
Brown should be congratulated for turning swords into plowshares and giving us all a positive learning experience." [Source]
I don't know if it has been positive. But at least we are learning.