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Private school teens held an Instagram debate on the n-word. It went as well as you’d expect.
In mid-June, a group of white students at a Christian school in Orlando went on Instagram to debate the best way to use a racial slur.
“So….I have a question for all my fans,” a rising First Academy junior wrote, starting the conversation. “Everyone contribute even if you wouldn’t normally. Is it ‘n—a’ or ‘n—-r’ … I think n—a is more respectful and (another student) thinks it isn’t supposed to be used as a respectful term.
“So. Like for n—-r comment for n—a. Thanks everyone.”
Later, the teen offered a hypothetical situation to explain her thinking.
“OK. Here’s a scenario for ya,” she wrote in the comments. “You’re driving down the road and u see a group of black people on the sidewalk. Do you say ‘n—-rs or do you say ‘n—-as’ because to me, saying n—-rs seems like ur being negative and rude while saying n—-s sounds like you’re messing around and being silly.”
The discussion continued. Some comments contained a single racial slur. Others provided details about why one form of the indignity was more acceptable than another.
“From my experience you should call a n—a a n—a only if you are close to that n—a and u should say ‘my n—a,'” one person replied.
The public Instagram exchange went viral last week after New York Daily News reporter Shaun King shared it on Facebook and Twitter, overshadowing the start of school at the First Academy, where officials say many of the teens involved in the debate are enrolled.
On the post, there are more than 40 comments from the teen, her friends and her followers, according to King, a journalist and Black Lives Matter activist who posted images of the exchange after somebody sent them to him.
Although the Instagram conversation presumably took place off-campus, the school addressed the swelling controversy: On Friday, a statement about the racially charged debate was featured prominently on the First Academy website, above enrollment details and the school’s mission statement.
Officials at the school, a ministry of First Baptist Church Orlando, have “unequivocally” denounced the Instagram debate and said the students who participated in it could face disciplinary action.
First Academy officials also said the conversation doesn’t reflect the private school’s commitment to inclusion and racial reconciliation.
“TFA is appalled by such inappropriate comments posted by some of our students,” Steve Whitaker, the head of school, said in the statement. “TFA does not condone or support this conduct, and will not tolerate this type of behavior.”
The exchange was yet another example of young people stumbling over the line between freedom of expression and insensitive speech, said Jody Armour, author of “Negrophobia and Reasonable Racism: The Hidden Costs of Being Black in America.”
“It’s a process that we go through every generation — reteaching and relearning what the linguistic boundaries are,” Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California, said on Monday. “It’s like every year or two I turn on the TV and I see, yet again, some college students learning that you can’t wear an Afro and blackface to the Halloween party.
“It’s something that should be part of cultural literacy. We should be teaching it at high school level, to freshmen and sophomores.”
[German soccer team takes a stand against racism … with blackface]
America has used the n-word for centuries and debated it for decades. It has been used as a “strongly negative term of contempt for a black person since at least the 18th century,” according to the Oxford English dictionary. But the term has been reclaimed as a term of self-reference, the dictionary says, in the same way “🤬 ” has been adopted by some 🤬 and lesbian people.
The lesson for youths, Armour said, is that hateful words that have been re-appropriated by members of an oppressed group can’t be used by outsiders without a whiff of discrimination.
“Black folks have been on the receiving end of that word, the object of it, going back hundreds of years,” Armour said. “They are in a position to use it with a special sense of irony that someone who isn’t black simply can’t, and everybody sort of understands that.”
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