Teacher Files Lawsuit to Justify His Use of the N-Word in Class

February 20, 2012  |  

Every so often white people take a chance using the n-word to either see if they can get away with it or to try to make a point. A Chicago teacher tried the latter last October and it ended up getting him suspended for five days without pay. Now he’s suing the public school system for his right to use the word during what he said was a “teachable moment.”

The situation occurred after two of Lincoln Brown’s students were passing notes with rap lyrics that included the n-word. According to the lawsuit, Brown then used the word in the context of Huckleberry Finn to demonstrate how such language can be hurtful, but just as the word came out of his mouth, the Murray Language Academy’s principal, George Mason, walked into his classroom. The principal accused Brown of “using verbally abusive language to or in front of students” and charged him with “cruel, immoral, negligent, or criminal conduct or communication to a student, that causes psychological or physical harm.”

So far, Brown has only served one of his five days of suspension but the 48-year-old who says he’s taught in predominantly black public schools for 25 years, is concerned about what this punishment will due to his reputation as a teacher. He told ABC news:

“It’s something I can’t accept and can’t have on my record and more importantly it’s not who I am.”

Despite the pending legal matter, Chicago Public School Director of Communications Robyn Ziegler appears to be unfazed by the lawsuit. According to WLS-TV, she issued a statement saying:

“The principal determined that the way the teacher used the word was improper and imposed a short suspension…. The teacher has received sufficient due process. In our opinion, his federal lawsuit is without merit.”

I’m curious what sort of reaction students had to Brown’s use of the word. While it’s always a little unsettling to hear a white person use the n-word, it doesn’t appear that this teacher was using it in a malicious way. Still, there are ways to make a point without actually saying the word, most people should know that’s the safest route by now.

What do you think? Does Lincoln Brown have a case? Was the school right or wrong to suspend him?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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  • TK

    I don’t think ANYONE should use that word, I don’t care what colour they are. Its an awful awful awful word that has not been “reclaimed” as some black people say, it still has the power to shock and offend and rappers should be fined $$$$ for evry n – word they put in a song!

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  • Rah Truth

    I definitely don’t think he should be fired. But, he COULD use some diversity training. WHEN will white folks learn that you just can’t say that word. Don’t try to understand the reasoning. And, yes, SOME of us use it. But, they can’t. That’s all there is to it.

  • “…the Murray Language Academy’s principal, George Mason, walked into his classroom.” Dang talk about bad timing!

    I really don’t know what to say. Those kids are dumb for using that word. Okay, kids, especially black kids need to know how hurtful that word is. Stop being stupid. As for him…Idk. This one is hard, so I will fall back now.

  • FromUR2UB

    This is a bunch of bull.  This is one of those knee-jerk reactions where people don’t take time to consider the context in which something occurs.  It would be necessary to actually speak the word in a classroom, to teach students about the history of the word.  Now, if he were using the word to address students as if it were their name or in reference to race, then it would be highly inappropriate.  I also take offense when blacks, whites, hispanics or anybody else, want to call someone n***a “affectionately”.  That’s like calling someone idiot, but lovingly.

    I agree that whites often seem to look for an acceptable way to call us ‘n****r’…sometimes sneaking ‘boy’ in there when addressing our men, and our women always have to be called ‘gal’.  But I don’t believe that was case in this situation. 

    When whites have black friends, I’ve wondered why some of them seemingly feel friendship should come with the privilige of referring to us in less than respectful terms.  Even within the familiarity of family, people understand that there are some things you don’t joke about, things you don’t say…topics you don’t touch if you care about that person.  Even if you’ve been married to your spouse for 40 years, it doesn’t mean you get to rag on your in-laws.  So why try to push it?

    Some people think the same thoughts as their ancestors when it comes to racial matters, but believe themselves to have evolved simply because racial epithets aren’t part of their vocabulary. But, the attitudes and feelings behind the word are not changed, merely by forbidding the word to be spoken.  People don’t become more sensitive simply because they say ‘N-word’ rather than “n****r”.  I appreciate the attempt to be respectful, but the nebulous ‘N-word’ reference has done no more to eradicate racism, than zero tolerance has done to eliminate bullying and troublemaking.    

  • Msmykimoto2u

    If he “truly” was using the word for teaching purposes and to express how it was used in the book to hurt or discriminate against someone, then I see nothing wrong with it and see it as him doing his job. He was just trying to teach these boys how it was used in the past and that whether its in your favorite song or not, it still has a derogatory meaning.