Four of us—three university professors and a high school English teacher—were talking enthusiastically right through the last call in an ale house across from the Baltimore Convention Center hosting the 2019 National Council of Teachers of English annual conference.
Fulfilling stereotypes of those who would attend such a convention, we were hotly debating the place of racial slurs in academic spaces. One of the university professors argued for the distinction between using a racial slur (the n-word) and voicing a racial slur included in an instructional text.
He believes voicing that word in context is not only acceptable, but necessary.
The other three of us, notably all teaching in the South, were leaning strongly toward never voicing the n-word—especially as a usage but even when reading a text aloud.
While some white people still want to argue that if Black people can say the n-word, then white people should be allowed as well. I think in schools and colleges, this flawed reasoning is fairly universally rejected, and using the n-word is not allowed by white people and possibly banned entirely across campuses (zero-tolerance policies).
However, what has increasingly become an issue is challenges to voicing of the n-word as well as referencing to the use of the n-word.
Below is a reader that highlights the current controversy along with the unintended problems with zero-tolerance polices connected to the n-word:
The Idea That Whites Can’t Refer to the N-Word, John McWhorter
It’s Time to Completely Ban the N-Word in Schools (Education Week)
N-Word at the New School (Inside Higher Ed)
Too Taboo for Class? (Inside Higher Ed)
2 More Emory Law Professors Reportedly Said the N-Word in Class (Inside Higher Ed)
How a Dispute Over the N-Word Became a Dispiriting Farce (The Chronicle of Higher Education)