Opinion: Students need to understand the impacts of the N-word

Anna McCarthy, Reporter

The N-word. It is a word that can be heard in the hallways of the school at least once a day. Even though teachers establish time and time again the origins of the words and why it is unacceptable to use, students are still being heard using the word in a derogatory way. 

The N-word comes from the Spanish and Portuguese words for black. The word started being used in the United States when the first documented ship of slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619, according to the British Broadcasting Company. 

“Going back to the early 1800’s, that word has firmly been established as a derogatory term. Over time, it has carried with it much of the hatred directed toward African Americans. Historically, it has been used to make fun of, ridicule, exclude and verbally discriminate against African Americans,” history teacher Jared Marshall said. “Whether it was used as a noun, verb or adjective, it strengthened derogatory stereotypes. There is no other word in the English language that carries as much purposeful hate and cruelty.”

Historically, the N-word shows up in many literature pieces as it was part of common usage. English teacher Erika Pethan reads Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird with her students where the N-word occurs multiple times. 

“To completely ignore its use in the book would be historically inaccurate. It was used freely and often during the 1930s (the time period of both of these novels). However, I make sure to have a conversation about the use of this word,” Pethan said. “We will read it, we will understand its derogatory use, but we will never say it out loud in class, including myself. We refer to it as ‘the N-word’ and discuss how it is used in the book and how it affects the dialogue and characters to say it/hear it/be called it.” 

Students know that using the N-word is wrong, but they continue to use it regardless. The word is often used with no regard for their classmates and the feelings that they may have about the word. 

“Honestly, not many students use it around me and if they do, it is either what they think of as a joke or they just do not realize the impact of it. I feel like as soon as they see that I have heard it they will become quiet and almost ashamed that they have said it. I feel like a lot of people, at least around someone who is colored, know that it is offensive, but they do not feel like it is awful” senior Gabi Reiser said. 

Some students tend to use the N-word around their friends as a joke. What they do not realize, however, is that the word should not be used as a joke and that the word is actually hurtful.

“I just do not think they realize the power of the word or maybe the feelings that could be brought up because maybe they have not experienced it or they do not know the background. I do not think they are using it to hurt anyone, or I hope they are not using it to hurt anyone, but just having the knowledge that words are powerful and this word in particular is considerably powerful is something that not everyone thinks about,” Reiser said. 

Not only is the word inappropriate, it is demeaning towards an entire group of people. When a student says this word they do not realize the meaning behind the word.

It kind of reminds me of back in time when things were segregated and I know it is not and I know things are a lot better now but those feelings still come up of ‘oh sometimes they do not think that we are equals,’

— Gabi Reiser

Senior Amirrah Hudson says she feels like she is put in an uncomfortable situation when students use the word around her. At her previous school, the students were predominantly black, and the students would not use that word.

“Most of the time I try not to give it power. I will try to talk myself out of feeling some type of way about it by being like ‘okay well they did not use it towards me so I can just ignore it.’ I try not to let it get to me but it makes me feel weird. It puts me in an uncomfortable situation. I do not really know what to do,” Hudson said.