By Carol Elizabeth Owens
DeAnna Nix grew up in the Greece Central School District. She works at West Ridge Elementary and has an 8-year-old son in the district.
“I have been called the N-word many, many times growing up and experienced the negative effects,” Nix said. “When I graduated from Greece Olympia in 2002, I was one of 10 African Americans in a class of about a thousand students, so it was very different than what it is now.”
On Feb. 3, the district hosted “The N-Word: Origins, Ownership and Impact of Language,” a community discussion at Greece Olympia High School.
“It was important for me to come tonight and have some insight about how the district has changed,” Nix said.
The conversation grew out of concerns from students hearing the word and how it affected the educational environment.
“As a result, we invited our students to the table, we wanted to listen to what their concerns were, and our teachers and administrators reached out to me and asked me for suggestions and supportive ways to address use of the N-word in their schools,” said Tasha Potter, Greece CSD Principal on Special Assignment for Equity and Family Engagement.
“As a district, we decided to take the stance that it is a word we are not going to use and we want to disrupt that language here,” said Potter.
On a personal level, she said, “I am strongly, strongly against use of the word by anyone – that is by our Black community, our White community, our Latino community. I am very uncomfortable with the use of that word, just in general. I feel it is a very derogatory term in nature; I feel that because of its origins it is a word that we should not tolerate.”
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, in 2013-2017 the Greece district was 82% percent White, 7% black and 6% Hispanic/Latino.
Sean Eversley Bradwell, director of programs and outreach in educational affairs at Ithaca College, led the discussion.
“Most racial slurs, most slurs about any identity are a gross attempt to de-humanize people,” he said. “That is the origin of the word ‘nigger’, an attempt to remove ourselves from those folks who we see as sub-human. … It is a term that carries weight because it carries all of our history with it, and most folks know that … the origin of the word ‘nigger’ is deeply, deeply problematic. Its use shakes us to our core.”
Eversley Bradwell said that viewing people as not human makes it easier to use violence against them. “In the United States in particular, we have centuries of unfortunate history of exacting violence upon Black and brown lives.”
Eversley Bradwell told attendees that schools are responsible for the physical, emotional and social well-being of students. “Schools have the right, the responsibility to tell students that given the unhumanity of the N-word, given the harm that it does, given the injury, it is not an appropriate term for school usage.”
Nix said that a lot of parents have concerns about present-day use of the N-word, adding that her son has heard it used, but not in a derogatory term. “He has never been called the N-word in that way. But they use it, like in music and songs.”
“We’ve got a generation who have grown up with the N-word in constant use and I think have no idea about its origins, its meaning, its impact, especially on Black folks and people of color,” said Erin Thompson, finance and operations officer at the Gandhi Institute in Rochester. “We try to increase the peace in different ways, so this discussion about language and mindfulness around this word is consistent with our goals. I am hoping this session will spur meaningful conversation.”
Kylie Anderson and Gary Manuse are White. Anderson is a teacher and member of the Equity Team at Greece Arcadia High School, and Manuse is a school administrator and assistant business official at Monroe 2 — Orleans BOCES. He also serves on the diversity committee of the School Administrators’ Association of New York State, where he is a board member.
“I have young kids that are also asking me, as they hear that I am coming to this tonight, ‘What is that word, Mom?’ Anderson said. “And I have to have that discussion with them, too. My 5-year-old is the one who asked me about the word because she does not know what the N-word is yet and it was , do I tell her, do I not tell her, how do I tell her?”
Manuse said that it’s important for educators to discuss any type of bias or stereotyping. “It is also important to me because I just finished writing an article about love and how it doesn’t matter what people look like … you can still fall in love with them.”