During a history class lecture about slave rebellion in the 1800s, and historical greats like Frederick Douglass and David Walker, former slaves who sought freedom and the end of slavery through education and resistance, my instructor used a term that this country has deemed the most offensive: the “N-word.”
One may say, ‘In the context of a history class the language of the time consisted of that word so you would have to expect to hear it in a race and gender history class.’ In most situations, people would agree with that if the instructor used the word in quotes, but in this situation the instructor used the “N-word” to generalize what The South may have said about an African American preacher in The North. The instructor could have easily said “That African-American man is making trouble,” but the instructor chose to use the N-word. In fact, the instructor warned ahead of time of offensive language. The instructor obviously had enough time to determine the language offensive so the instructor also had enough time to choose another word.
In this situation, the word was unnecessary. If the instructor was quoting from the text and said ‘so-and-so in The South claimed the N-word was causing trouble,’ the class would not have been shocked and the speech would not have been better received.
Did the instructor do it for the shock factor to make students realize that the “N-word,” was the language of the time to show the darkness of America? Was it simply unnecessary? Is it only right to use that language with attribution? When does it become offensive? Did the instructor only feel comfortable saying the term because there was only one African-American student in the class? Would they have said it at a historically black college like Howard University where over half the class would have been black? Is it useful language when relaying the time period, or do college students already know the common language of the day? These were the questions that swirled around as I digested the language.
The initial shock of hearing this word was overwhelming. The wheels in my brain started to turn as I tried to think of reasons to defend the comment. This was the language at the time and many southerners were probably saying that, but that cannot have been true for all and instructors should know over-generalizations are dangerous. Where is the line? There are reasons for quotes and textbooks. We use textbooks to cite information and to support claims which protects us from ignorance and, in this case, from offending others. There is more respect in knowing someone used offensive language because we can look at the ignorance of the historical figure and say ‘look how far we have come.’ However, when you don’t attribute your paraphrase or quote, you look like the ignorant one and as an instructor that should be the farthest thing from your desires.
Nigger, according to dictionary.com, is a black person, a person of any race who is referred to as ignorant or inferior, a person who suffered prejudice similar to blacks economically, politically and socially.
This word is probably the single most offensive word in American history due to what it has done to segregate the people of this country and the way we use it is key to how we grow and heal from its use and the context of its use.
We still battle with who should say it and how. No one should use it.
In slang, with the ‘a’ at the end of the term, it only negates the suffering African-American ancestors endured to get rid of the horrible term and using it today celebrates it and the word continues to tear the users of the word down as they believe they are bringing each other up.
As a teaching tool, this word may be necessary as you show how far we have come as a country. It is true that addressing our past will only help us grow in the future, but when an instructor has failed to back up r statements with historical text, he or she has failed students and they have crossed the line of being informative and insightful to becoming offensive and ignorant.