How About We Save Our Outrage for Issues We Can Actually Impact?
The State of Public Education for Example
It seems that all of New Orleans (at least the circles that we travel) has been in a tizzy.
Everywhere. . .and we mean everywhere, there appears to have been no neutral bystander. With apoplectic passion, people have weighed in on the most recent controversy (as if we don’t have more important things to tend to). You know what the clamoring is about—the fury over the use of the n-word in a locker room chant by St. Augustine coaches and players before a recent game.
As we understand it, this sort of raucous behavior by sports teams in locker rooms as a way to get pumped up for games is not uncommon. We are certain this is not the worst thing to ever go down in a high school football locker room.
That being said, let’s get this out of the way now.
Here at The New Orleans Tribune, we do not condone the use of the “n” word—no matter who says it, no matter how it is said. Because of its history and legacy, implied racism or, at the very least, a pejorative inference is nearly inescapable with its use.
Of course, the thought of the word sliding off the tongue of a bona fide racist makes us hotter than firecrackers. No one who is not Black should ever, ever utter the n-word. We don’t care how many times White folk hear Black people use it in person, in music, in a movie—don’t do it.
Still, whether it is the venomous, abusive, racist slight, n-word-“er” or the neutral, colloquial n-word-“a” that supposedly denotes affection or at least does not possess any real malice when used by Black folk with and around other Black folk who are convinced that they have successfully re-appropriated the term—we don’t approve.
However, we also have an affinity for the truth over here at The Tribune, so we must admit that we (members of this paper’s staff) have regrettably used it.
Our managing editor says she has made deliberate efforts to remove the word from her vocabulary, because unlike many other Black folk who claim to use it as a colloquial term of endearment, she laments that her infrequent use of the word is not meant that way at all.
“When I have used it, it has been with vitriol and bitterness. When I have used it, it was because I was angry and outraged, for whatever reason, at people that look like me. When I have found myself drawn to that word, it is because the very essence of my being is annoyed, and I don’t like that feeling.”
So she and the rest of us here consciously strive to remove it from our vocabulary. And we urge others in our community to do the same. We know it will not be an easy task. That word is embedded in American society. And that’s just the ugly truth.
But we’re not obtuse. We know that in 2019—nearly two decades into the 21st Century—the word is still used by racists as an attempt to demean Black people. And we also know that our own people use the word loosely and casually either with cool indifference or with genuine affection—the re-appropriation we referred to earlier.
This damned word—it permeates hip-hop music and culture. But don’t for one second think we are just singling out young Black people and hip-hop as the only culprits of intra-racial n-word use. Come on now…admit it. From 18 to 80, if you are Black in New Orleans, you have heard another Black person use the n-word this year, this month, this week. Hell, either you said it or you heard someone that looks like you say it yesterday.
We suspect that 90 percent of the Black people reading this column have—at the very least—made the n-word an intermittent part of their lexicon at some point in their most private conversations. No, not the ones you have at the office or in boardrooms or at cocktail parties in mixed company. But in the banter with Black friends or colleagues, neighbors or relatives, it’s been used—benignly or pejoratively.
Oh, what is that? You say you don’t use the n-word. Not even n-word-“a”. People fought, marched, went to jail and even died fighting for your freedom. And because of that, you could never say the n-word.
So…you have never been in what you thought was a safe space—one far away from mainstream scrutiny and outside interference, in that place of comfort and familiarity and said the n-word because you were with your people with whom you share common experiences and a mutual understanding of just how and why that word is being used?
Your answer is still “no?”
That brings us to one point of this column.
We, too, have been talking about the fallout over the use of the n-word by the now fired St. Augustine football coach and two assistants as they led players in a pre-game locker room chant.
Without espousing the reckless use of the n-word, we have no doubt that the coach and his players believed they were in a space where they could freely express themselves without worrying what others might say or think about their expression.
And after 400 years of oppression in America, we say Black people deserve that much! Damn!
That is why it is incredibly important for our community to have those kinds of spaces of our own—spaces where we can just BE without considering that double consciousness about which W.E.B. DuBois wrote—that “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”
Why do we, as Black folk, allow outside mainstream commentary that emanates from the very inventors of the foulest, vilest use of the n-word dictate how we act and react to and treat our own when it comes to the use of the n-word or anything else, for that matter?
We speculate it is that feeling, that double-consciousness, that drove a Black judge to hug a White, convicted murderer when the only thing she should have been doing was sentencing her for murdering an innocent Black man in his home.
In that moment that the convicted murderer, ex-cop Amber Guyger, reached out her arms to ask presiding Judge Tammy Kemp for a hug, we can only surmise that it was the question of what will “they” think of me if I don’t hug her that compelled Judge Kemp to wrap Guyger in her arms.
And that is what we believe happened here. Let’s tell the truth and shame the devil. Once this use of the n-word by St. Augustine coaches and players came to light, the issue was not with the Black community as much as it was with what would mainstream media have to say, what will Whites and other non-Black people say, what will the archdiocese or the Josephites say.
There is always this need to make sure that “other” folk know we are not okay with this or that because what “they” think of us is the most important thing.
Don’t misunderstand. Our point is not to legitimize, justify or even denounce the use of the n-word in any circumstance because that would be futile. The reality is the n-word is still used (by White people and among Black people) frequently and often with little fallout. Nothing we write will change that. And neither will firing three Black men.
Here’s What Should Have Happened
How we wish officials at St. Augustine would have stuck to addressing this incident in-house and without firing the coaches.
How we wish school officials and alumni would have refused media requests for interviews on this issue. A simple, well-crafted statement from the school that declared that “it was investigating the matter and would handle it appropriately; but that no further comment would be made as it was a personnel issue” would have made us so happy.
We would have been glad to see them stand up to whatever outside forces they faced and say “No, we’re not firing anyone and no we’re not engaging in any discourse for public consumption about the use of the n-word.”
We are not suggesting that some form of reprimand was not in order—an apology to his players and the school, perhaps a suspension from head coaching duties for a game or two.
But we already have a double-digit unemployment rate among Black men in New Orleans. We suspect that if folk went around firing every Black man that used the n-word, it would be triple-digit (or darn close to it).
Canada’s prime minister and Virginia’s governor, both of whom are White, have admitted to wearing blackface in the past. Yet, Justin Trudeau is still prime minister of Canada (at least for now) and Ralph Northam is still Virginia’s governor. The sitting president of the United States degrades women and insults minorities daily, at least three times in the morning before he eats breakfast and another six times before he goes to bed, and his followers still think he is the bee’s knees. Think about it: a full 52 percent of White woman gave Trump their votes even as he was proudly bragging about grabbing them by the pussy.
We get it! It’s not a myth or just some adage our parents told us for no good reason. We’ve always had to hold ourselves to higher standards. We have always had to work twice as hard, be twice as good just to get half as far. We have always had to be unblemished and resilient. That burden is real. It is also unfair.
Of course, the argument that adults should not be encouraging the use of the n-word or any inappropriate language around young impressionable boys and girls is not lost on us. Of course, adults should be setting examples and leading the way.
But if we really care about impressionable young folk, there is a whole bunch of stuff we could be doing—if not instead of, then at the very least in addition to falling out over the use of the n-word.
Instead of squirming at the use of the n-word by a Black man, we wish Negroes would seriously consider taking up the fight to wrest control of the public schools that are failing them from the vice grip of corporate reformers that have plundered and pillaged our schools and the tax dollars that fund them while our children suffer.
Instead on wincing because the n-word was used in a locker room by a Black coach and players, let’s demand accountability from the Black elected officials who set the hijacking of our public education system in motion in the first place and from leaders who still unapologetically support the botched reform efforts such as charter schools and vouchers.
It had to be some sort of poetic injustice or at least a sick, twisted coincidence that a week of debate surrounding the n-word incident by St. Augustine coaches and football players was punctuated by the Oct. 12 primary. BESE board members that have been bought and sold by corporations pushing the privatization and dismantling of public education in New Orleans to detriment of our children were re-elected in landslides. A woman—a Black woman at that—who reportedly has missed one-third of BESE meetings and who didn’t bother filing the mandated tax returns that needed to be filed before she could qualify for office until one day before the qualification deadline earned just over 60 percent of the vote in Orleans Parish and across the seven-parish BESE District 2. Maybe it was the costly primetime commercials (paid for by the all the outside money from New York and Arkansas) that aired during Sunday and Monday night football games that swayed voters. Or perhaps it was the endorsements of elected Negroes and other so-called leaders who obviously don’t really care about the future of our children or the quality of the schools they attend that helped Jones hold on to her seat.
Anyone that supported Kira Orange Jones is fighting against us. It’s one thing for Negroes not to fight for us—but when they fight against us and the best interest of our communities, it’s enough to make us want to holler. But we are doing our very best not to use the n-word over here, so forgive us for shouting out “Negroes…please!”
Not a single soul who currently serves on BESE should have been re-elected. Although they are coming soon, SPS scores have not yet been released for 2019 as of press time. So we will refer to data released in 2018.Based on the pre-Katrina SPS standard of 87.4, only six of 74 public schools in Orleans Parish graded in 2018 (including those that were just “returned” from the RSD) would be considered as “passing schools” today. In other words, only six of 74 schools earned an SPS score of 87.4 or better in the 2018 SPS assessment. The rest of the lot—68 schools—earned less, in some cases way less than 87.4, and would have been considered failing even before Katrina. In fact, 40 of those schools would have been taken over without the help of the legislature lowering the failing SPS to 60 (a underhanded move made in the wake of Katrina to facilitate the takeover) .
By the way, those six top performing schools in 2108–Lusher, Franklin, Hynes, Lake Forest, Karr and Warren Easton–were top performers before the takeover.
So Negroes, please stop getting all excited when the pro-reform pushers spin their murky, mucky narrative about OUR schools and OUR children doing so much better since Katrina. The fact is at least 5,000 mostly African-American veteran educators were wrongfully terminated and replaced by non-accredited Teach for America recruits. And while these TFA recruits happily pay off student loans debts, most of the schools where they teach are failing. Negroes…please.
Since the post-Katrina reform movement, public schools in Orleans have only become more racially segregated. White students make up roughly 10 percent of the public school student population in New Orleans; yet, they comprise nearly 64 percent of the population at the top performing schools in the city, according to a 2018 report released by the Cowen Institute.
So no, of course, we don’t want folk going around using the n-word; but what has taken place in public education is New Orleans is exponentially more deleterious to our youth than hearing the n-word uttered a thousand times. Those of you who want to protect children, guide children, help children—raise your voices about what has happened to our schools. Please, Negroes.
You want to do something to uplift and strengthen the community? Support Black businesses regularly. They are the second largest employers of Black people. They are community pillars and a source of resources for efforts that support important activities throughout our neighborhoods. Please, Negroes.
Instead of spending money on fancy award ceremonies and ritzy parties, invest in a program that serves and inspires Black youth. Please, Negroes.
Support and protect Black-owned media—you know those outlets you turn to every time you are under attack. Please, Negroes.
No really, that isn’t meant as a sarcastic retort—at least not this time. It is a genuine plea. We are begging you.
Please, Negroes, please. Let’s focus on issues that really impact our community and address them in ways that serve our interests. And let’s not worry about what anyone else might think of us while we do it.