Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Education

Ernest Hooper: Rethinking a racial epithet

RECOMMENDED READING


When it comes to the n-word, I want to trust those in the next generation who insist the horrid hatred the word represents to so many can be erased.

I want to hope that their attempts to defuse its explosiveness will succeed. I want to believe integration's impact on yet another generation will continue to improve race relations.

But I still won't use the n-word.

Earlier this year, I wrote in a column that if more students studied the history of the n-word, they might be less inclined to let it evolve into some kind of warped term of endearment.

Sickles High School English teacher Ron Medvin challenged his students to send me responses, and they delivered a provocative stack of letters. Generally speaking, about a third agreed it shouldn't be used but conceded they hear it daily in hip-hop music and the hallways of their school.

Another one-third expressed mixed emotions. They understood why I detest the word but remain unfazed about hearing it in their personal lives.

And about one-third argued the times have changed, the word has evolved and the youth of today will move forward without the controversy.

"Even black people my age call each other the n-word without getting offended in any way, shape or form," wrote sophomore Rebecca Watkin. "Our generation is the future and by the looks of it, the n-word is going to lose its effect and people will be using it in their normal, everyday language."

Others explained how they can live with the rules of usage that have emerged. First, blacks can use it when referring to each other, provided that they say it with an "a" at the end instead of "er." Second, some whites can use it in mixed company, but only after they have earned the respect of their black peers.

Third, it's perfectly acceptable in today's music. In fact, they argue the hip-hop artists lead the campaign to change the word's meaning.

"I prefer it in a song," wrote sophomore Zach Pullaro. "The word only has power when you give it power. I do not give the word power. To me, it's just a word. If you ... had never heard the n-word used so publicly, you most likely would have never written this article. That fact that you did take time out of your life to write about this has made music artists richer and 'cool kids' cooler."

I wondered if they were right. I worried that perhaps I'm too sensitive.

Then I heard Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Devil in the Grove, speak at the George Edgecomb Bar Scholarship Dinner last week. King explained the climate of the late 1940s and how racists lynched black U.S. soldiers because they protested Jim Crow laws after tasting freedom in Europe during World War II by continuing to wear their uniforms.

He explained that white families dressed their kids in their Sunday best and picnicked at the lynchings.

He described his book's true-life account of how notorious Sheriff Willis McCall rounded up four innocent black men and charged them with the rape of a white woman in Lake County, just an hour north of Tampa.

He explained that NAACP attorney and future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall risked his life defending the suspects despite death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

He detailed how McCall made it appear he had to shoot two of the suspects because they tried to escape, though they were handcuffed together.

And with each account, the repeated use of the n-word I know those racists hurled at innocent victims echoed in my mind.

So no, I won't use it today or tomorrow.

But I'm rooting for you kids looking to make it a term of endearment and a less harmful word. Honest. Maybe you can succeed where we've failed. Maybe you can turn the page and create a more harmonious society.

In some ways, you already have. But don't believe your work is complete.

"If you're Middle Eastern, you're a terrorist," wrote freshman Xavier Nazir. "If you're Asian, you instantaneously become Chinese. This goes on for just about every ethnic group. People should stop making such a big deal over just one word and start focusing on all the other words."

In the end, I encourage you to take on this challenge with the broad perspective expressed by Nazir. And always remember the history you must overcome.

That's all I'm saying.

Comments
10 African-Americans named Rhodes scholars, most ever

10 African-Americans named Rhodes scholars, most ever

Associated PressThe latest group of U.S. Rhodes scholars includes 10 African-Americans — the most ever in a single Rhodes class — as well as a transgender man and four students from colleges that had never had received the honor before. The Rhodes Tr...
Published: 11/19/17

Class notes

School Calendar• Nov. 27: School resumes after Thanksgiving break• Dec. 22: End of second grading quarter.• Dec. 23-Jan. 7: Winter Break.• Jan. 8: Teacher planning day. No school for students.Arts/Music/TheaterCenter for the Arts at River Ridge Middl...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Makerspace lab exposes Eastside students to tech skills and fun

Makerspace lab exposes Eastside students to tech skills and fun

BROOKSVILLE — The lab at Eastside Elementary School looks high tech, featuring new flooring, cabinets and furniture. Assistant Principal Michael Lastra calls it cutting edge."It’s not like your typical classroom," Lastra said. "The school wanted it t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pasco school district proposes future changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones

Pasco school district proposes future changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones

Plans to erase the attendance boundaries for Ridgewood High School have grabbed all the attention.But the Pasco County school district also has proposed changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones for consideration this fall.They’re just ...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
At St. Petersburg High, alums push to complete private funding for home field improvements

At St. Petersburg High, alums push to complete private funding for home field improvements

ST. PETERSBURG — The athletic facilities at St. Petersburg High are just like Bob Carter remembers from 50 years ago.He recalls it all fondly: The concession stands, ticket booths and bathrooms are still the same. The track is still outdated asphalt,...
Published: 11/15/17
In union push at USF, adjunct professors strive for more respect and a living wage

In union push at USF, adjunct professors strive for more respect and a living wage

TAMPA — Robert Ryan cleaned out his office in May. He knew he was dying.He had kept driving to the University of South Florida even as he lost the use of his left arm. He had kept teaching English, even as tumors ravaged his mouth so that he could ha...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Hillsborough Education Foundation, Yoobi team to surprise students

Hillsborough Education Foundation, Yoobi team to surprise students

The kids at Bing Elementary knew something special was about to happen when a six-foot white dog with a "target" over his right eye walked into the classroom.And they were right.On Tuesday (Nov. 14), volunteers and corporate supporters joined the Hil...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/16/17
New aviation programs at PHSC help propel students toward dreams

New aviation programs at PHSC help propel students toward dreams

DADE CITY — Dustin Snodgrass has a photograph of himself as a child in the pilot’s seat of a kid-size model airplane. Snodgrass, now 28, recently took a big step toward his goal of flying real aircraft with his first solo flight through a new profess...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Hillsborough teachers show up in the hundreds to clamor for promised raises

Hillsborough teachers show up in the hundreds to clamor for promised raises

TAMPA — A weeks-long salary standoff between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers hit an emotional peak Tuesday as hundreds of teachers and students turned out to ask the School Board for their promised raises."War has been declar...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/15/17
Romano: Sorry teachers, you simply can’t win this one

Romano: Sorry teachers, you simply can’t win this one

When it comes to your principles, there is no shame in putting up a fight.You can fight City Hall, and you can fight the power. According to the song, you can fight the law. You can even fight the good fight, whatever that means.But you cannot fight ...
Published: 11/14/17