Politically Correct Language – When is the “N-word” not actually the N-word?

Politically Correct Language – When is the “N-word” not actually the N-word?

A elementary school principal has been temporarily removed from her duties in the North Kitsap School District in Washington state, but after some long and hard  thought, I am not sure who is actually to blame here as more details come to light.

The crux of the matter is this: Claudia Alves, principal at Poulsbo Elementary School, said the n-word to a biracial 5th grade student.  Now, before you get outraged, here is the more complete version of the story.

A fifth grade class was rehearsing a play about Martin Luther King, Jr., in which the word “negro” is used.  Apparently, the students in the class were either confused or upset (the district is currently refusing to comment, and the information for the news article is coming from the aggrieved parent involved) about using the word negro, because they were unsure if it was the actual n-word.  The upset parent who took this to the media, Shawna Smith (who is a white woman married to a black man) says that her son refused to be in the play and that other students would “look at him and another student” whenever the word was used.

Finally, after acting up during one of the play’s performances, Smith’s son got sent to the principal’s office, where he was told by Principal Alves that “negro” was not the same word as n***er, and yes, she actually said the real word.  She then repeated said word in conversations with the boy’s parents (after they were informed by him that the principal had actually said THE word), and so the district superintendent gave Alves a leave of absence.  According to the superintendent, Patty Page, n***er should never be spoken by a district employee, ever, not even when explaining the context of the word.

This whole situation has me baffled, because no one involved seems to have any common sense left.

Let’s start with the 5th grade kids and their belief that “negro” could potentially be THE n-word.  On one hand, society has done a good job banishing that word to the context of history.  On the other hand, what good does that do us when we can’t even explain the word to kids in that historical context?  If Mrs. Smith’s son had a problem with the word negro, why did he never tell his parents about it?  And why did he feel like, after being excused from participating in said play about Dr. King, he should get to act up and be disruptive during the play?

For those out there who are wondering why “negro” should even be used, Dr. King used that particular word 15 times in his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.  It’s kind of hard to have a play about Dr. King without using that particular speech, I’d think.

Next, let’s move on to Principal Claudia Alves.  If what is reported is to be believed, she used the n-word in a teaching moment, in trying to explain the differences in these words.  This is, after all, a school, and not a game of Taboo.  She did not use the word in a derogatory manner, or call the student a n***er (and you can bet the story would be all about that if she had).  However, if I had been in her shoes, I think I might just have let the student sit in her office until his mother showed up, and had that conversation with both of them, not just him.  And then let the mother do the explaining.  However, hindsight is always 20/20.

The parents are also at fault here, as Matthew and Shawna Smith are the ones talking to the media.  They want “sensitivity training” for district employees.  Perhaps they would like to ban a few books as well, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (which I read as a 6th grade student myself) , or perhaps they would like to censor some history about the civil rights movement, or American icons and heroes like Dr. King, Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver or Jackie Robinson (and for goodness sake, don’t let any kid ever see the movies Glory, Gods and Generals, or 42).  And have they checked the music out there that their child might be exposed to at some point?  These parents ought to be much more concerned about the number of rappers and musicians using the n-word than this one school principal.  But it’s okay, because they say they have “no intention” of suing the district.  Good to know!

And finally, there is Superintendent Patty Page.  Maybe she would like to join in the book banning and historical censorship as well.  To make the inane statement that the n-word should never be used by any district employee, EVER, not even to explain it, tells me quite a lot about her perception of what an “education” really is.

At every point along the line in this story, someone had the chance to deflate the situation and inject a little common sense.  Everyone failed.  And education has failed, because no one has learned anything, except that you have to be politically correct at all times, and in all ways – even when history itself isn’t.

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  • Dana says:

    Uhhh, were you actually expecting common sense and the education system to have any connection at all?

    One imagines that they can’t teach the words for colors in Spanish classes.

  • FatFreddy'sCat says:

    No more language police between adults, please! If we are not swearing or demeaning someone cruelly, we need to be able write out the word “nigger” and to say it, loudly and clearly. No more mush-mouth ‘n-word’ horsepuckey. no more cowardly n****r BS, none of it!

    When you quail in fear of a common word (nigger) that has been written and spoken millions of times, and still is used daily (by black people at least) you give it a shocking power it never had and does not deserve. And what is much worse, you give the sanctimonious race-baiters a free hand to take a moral high ground they certainly do not deserve in any way.

    You are submitting to the PC tyranny when you refuse to write out the word nigger, even when you are simply discussing usage as you have above. Please to not submit to the PC tyrants striking words from history. Nigger is a well-worn word. It can be used offensively, or it can be discussed plainly, with candor and forthrightness. Let us at least speak plainly. We don’t owe the race war-lords a thing, and I refuse to bow down to their tyranny over my mind.

  • GWB says:

    According to the superintendent, Patty Page, n***er should never be spoken by a district employee, ever, not even when explaining the context of the word.

    Wow. That has to be one of the stupidest bits of Zero Tolerance I’ve ever seen. Just wow.

    So, could she have written it down, instead? (Oh, wait, these guys are only 5th-graders and probably can’t read. /s ) And you know these kids have heard the word – they just don’t know it’s that word when they hear it because noone will say “that is the bad word that ‘everyone’ says but noone is supposed to.”

  • Piroko says:

    “(and for goodness sake, don’t let any kid ever see the movies Glory, Gods and Generals, or 42)”


    It worked in Blazing Saddles.

  • Roman says:

    With the left in charge of public school edcuation for about two generations now, did anyone expect a differant result? While I was in grade school in the 50’s, in a school about 30-40% minority students, some learned early that accusing a teacher of racism got easy treatment for the rest of the school year. It hasn’t changed much, probably for the worse.

  • Nina says:

    Here’s another problem. There are teenagers and young adults out there who think it is perfectly fine to use the n-word in reference to each other. I’ve seen it in action on FB and when they are all talking with each other. Keep in mind that at, of the group of young adults I know, at least half of them are white. Oh and some of them have bi-racial babies nd toddlers, and their parents call the child the n-word at times slightly modified though *rhymes with piglet.

    Yet some of them got all bent out of shape with Paula Deen and other more recent *gasp!! YOU said the N-WORD! You must be punished!! *

    I had the opportunity at one point to say to a couple of them

    “A. You use that word all the time. So aren’t you in the wrong too?

    B. That word has always had a derogatory connotation to it. Why do you think the use of foul and mean language is ok?”

    “BUT! But! But .. . THAT’S DIFFERENT!” was their reply

    “Oh – so its ok to have double and triple standards for everyone else but yourselves. Really nice guys”

    Yes, y’all – there IS a culture out there, groups of young adults who think that that word is A-OK. For THEM.

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