America’s racist past is no secret, at least to students of Palos Verdes High School. Today, teachers, administration and students alike have done their best to promote curriculums in which truthful reflections of history and society are given priority over narratives that are perhaps more comfortable.
Our school isn’t unique in this regard.
In our school’s history there have been a multitude of incidents in which racial slurs, predominantly the n-word, have been used by students, forcing PVHS to reckon with racism both inside and outside of the classroom.
Though this reckoning may have changed some practices and behaviors at school, the n-word persists in a familiar form — its oral usage in the classroom setting when reading literature.
At times, the word has been verbally read in English and social studies classrooms when it comes up in articles and district-approved books to maintain “authenticity” or preserve the author’s “intent,” making many students, especially Black students, extremely uncomfortable in those circumstances.
“Authenticity” seems to be the main justification of the word’s verbal usage.
That word, in its “authentic” (aka historical) “intent,” was used to denote Black people as subhuman in the most vile, diminishing way imaginable. “Authentic” also describes the word’s violent and painful history, from its usage by slave masters in the 1600s to white supremacists in the Jim Crow era of the 1900s.
Though today we are living in a greatly reformed society moved beyond the pervasive usage of the n-word, past progress is no excuse to ignore the context of verbal violence the word has historically (and currently) been used.
That being said, the spoken usage of this derogatory weapon in all forms at our school should end.
We recognize that generational differences present a current barrier towards changing acceptable usages of the n-word.
However, it’s imperative that the voices of already-underrepresented Black students at PVHS, led by the Black Student Union (BSU), be acknowledged when discussing future practices.
We implore members of staff and students alike to heed the charged nature of the n-word, educate themselves and others on it, and promote a safe and comfortable environment for all by ending its verbal usage entirely.
In some classes, teachers have prefaced books containing this slur with the aforementioned context, educating students on its pervasive usage in racist contexts (both modern and past), reclamation by Black people in the last half-century and the reasons why it is not acceptable to say even today.
We believe that this practice should be adopted at PVHS.