Suffering a slur

Two Vero Beach High School students are in counseling to deal with the trauma they suffered when their teacher read a racial slur used by a black character in an award-winning novel, A Land Remembered, that depicts the rise of a Cracker family over three generations. The parents have contacted a civil rights lawyer. Via Tongue Tied.

I wondered why an 11th grade teacher is reading aloud in class. Can’t the students read for themselves?

About Joanne


  1. Ken Summers says:

    I hesitate to ask this (not having read the book and going only by the supplied links), but did the Crackers take offense too?

  2. The book gets rave reviews by Amazon readers, with a few exceptions. It sounds like a classic family saga that tells a lot of Florida history. Pioneer family starts out poor, eventually becomes rich . . . You know the thing. Like Michener’s “Hawaii.”

  3. PJ/Maryland says:

    “I used the language of the times, and it’s the black character himself who uses the word,” said [the author Patrick D.] Smith, who lives in Merritt Island.

    Does it make a difference if the teacher who was reading aloud was white or black (there’s no mention of it in the article). If a black teacher reads a black racial slur from a book where a black character is using it, you have to wonder who is violating the kids’ civil rights. Oh wait, the author is white, so we can sue him. (And his publisher, and the school dustrict…)

    Melvin Yorker said his son Demario, 17, who is in a different class, also felt humiliated when sections of the book containing the racially offensive word were read. He said his son was sent to the office after he stood up and objected to the teacher.

    I’d be interested in knowing what Demario said when he “objected to the teacher”. (Can’t fault his courage, standing up in a classroom to complain. Though it makes you wonder how wounded his fragile self-esteem really is.) Did he complain about something substantive, or just claim that it was wrong for the teacher to read something so insensitive?

  4. I always skip or substitute for racial slurs. No point making my life difficult.

    I read aloud in class for various reasons.

  5. I guess the parents are counting on a big settlement to pay for that counseling. Because that’s a pretty frivolous way to waste a lot of money. God help those kids if they pull up at a red light in my city, with their window open (or not) and have to hear what the car next to them is blaring out. I guess they’d be catatonic.

    (I occasionally read to my sixteen-year-old, who can certainly read for herself.)

  6. I sometimes read aloud to my students, and they’re in college. Some things need to be read aloud.

  7. Insufficiently Sensitive says:

    Obviously the political tides have reached an extreme level, where he who professes the most exquisitely injured feelings is immediately yielded command of the social situation plus the ability to reap unearned financial reward from the accused ‘injurer’ by abuse of legal process.

    Laura shines a useful light on the tilted legal playing field – those CD blaring from the loud cars use far worse language than some bespectacled teacher reading in class. Yet no one sues them. Why not? Is there no Princess to be made distraught by those amplified Peas of crude violence? Or is the classroom situation just a case of acting out a passion play in hopes of looting the taxpayers?

  8. Steve LaBonne says:

    Jesus. This world is getting too insane- when’s the next shuttle to Mars?

  9. Hi, Joanne!

    Reading aloud is a great learning tool for any age. 🙂

  10. When I was in 11th grade, the students would take turns reading out loud in class, a page at a time. I don’t know if this would have been enough to shield the teacher from criticism, though.

    I remember when we read “The Contender,” and I used what I thought was an appropriate accent for a Harlem drug dealer (more Bill Cosby than anything else). Did I put my school at risk for a lawsuit?

    That is if there were any black kids in my class?

  11. Counseling.

    Because of truama suffered.

    From hearing a racial slur.

    Found in a book.

    Yeah – it makes sense, because, you know, no black person would ever and has ever used the “N” word in any context ever, so, naturally, the two sensitive children in question, whose only contact with black culture must come from Bill Cosby, absolutely should be horrified – traumatized, in fact – at the notion that a person of color would ever use a self-hating racial slur.

    Or, as a lawyer may put it, ka-ching!

  12. Alex Bensky says:

    No doubt their trauma is being carefully cultivated.

    The funny thing is the kids professing to be shocked when they hear “n.” I’ve taught black students and live in a mostly black neighborhood. Use of the word is not, shall we say, uncommon, and I have actually had to argue with black students when I rule the word unacceptable, even if they use it.

  13. Bigots, bigots, everywhere…
    Under the floorboards, and under the bed
    Can’t walk without stepping on their heads

    Bigots in the morning
    Bigots in the eve
    Bigots in my dreams

    I’m so very saintly
    Oppression makes my heart ache
    Everybody but me’s a bigot
    Bigotry 24/7 for goodness sake

    Everything is bigotry
    Nothing exists but bigotry
    Don’t talk to me about anything but

    Thank you, thank you
    Anybody want to fondle my halo?

  14. I would expect the counseling is to validate the extent of the lawsuit.

  15. Our son John, a most social little guy, was the only white kid in the entire thrid grade. One day, later in the school year, a little girl referred to him as a ‘cracker.’ The teacher took her out into the hall for a bit of discussion. She told the child to go back home and speak w/ the person that she lst heard uttering that word. The to come back to school and measure John against whatever description she had for the word. Happily, the next day, the child proclaimed that John did not measure up to the word as it had been presented to her at home. She said she had only used it b/c she heard an older relative say it and she thought it made her sound big. We had no problem at all the entire year- just this one and it was nipped so completely in the bud as to die a quick death in the hallway. The way the teacher handled it was superb. Everyone got a bit of education from the whole affair and John and the girl, tho they did not become fast friends like in a Disney movie, remained in their small learning group and both did well in the class.
    I think it says a lot if one recognizes that neither John nor the little girl had any inkling what a ‘cracker’ was.
    There was also an incident when a little boy called out to John-‘hey little white boy.’ When John turned around, the little boy asked him his name. He had wanted to talk to John but didn’t know his name and used the most obvious way to get his attention. No umbrage was taken, we’re talking 9 year olds here. Once the boy knew John’s name, all was well. I saw it happen, so I can say that it really was harmless. If John had been wearing a red shirt, the boy might have yelled, hey you in the red shirt. It just happened the way it did and there was no offense intended.
    John’s 2 brothers were also in this school. That made 4 little white boys in the whole school, counting the one in 4th grade, no relation. Those were the only incidents the entire school year. A neighborhood school. In N.C.
    Believe it or don’t.

  16. You did all wrong! You don’t solve things by having friendly discussions between people. You solve things by making a federal case out of it! Honestly, it’s sensible people like you who are going to ruin this country if you insist on taking hate crime matters into your own hands.

    Oops! Sorry – I left my sarcasm switch on.

    What I meant was, you handled that just right. No sarcasm this time.

  17. Thanx ccwbass, but the big point was that the teacher herself did the right thing. Amazing, huh? A school in NC where the teacher sis the right thing? in a ‘racist situation’, a possible hate crime in the making? No lawyers involved, no money changed hands.
    There is hope out there but don’t tell anybody, ok? It’ll mess up a lot of those tidy misconceptions that a lot of people cling to so tightly.
    Now if NC could just get it’s academic standards up as high as the standards of some of the teachers I’ve had the great good fortune to work with ….

  18. It’s good that the teracher did the right thing, but there’s still a question left hanging. What would have happened had the situation been reversed?

    Not to ruin your story, but tales of black people using racial slurs in reference to white people usually are handled in the way you describe. The notion that the idiot teacher would…

    “>tellIt’s good that the teracher did the right thing, but there’s still a question left hanging. What would have happened had the situation been reversed?

    Not to ruin your story, but tales of black people using racial slurs in reference to white people usually are handled in the way you describe. The notion that the idiot teacher would…


  19. Jack,
    You miss the point of the teacher’s well-crafted educational exercise completely. By sending the girl to investigate for herself what was meant by “cracker” and asking her to compare that to her knowledge of the boy, she taught the girl to think critically. Having learned the lesson, the girl will now similarly evaluate every white perosn whe meets in the same way and come to realize that the term is indeed a racist generalization that has no real bearing in truth. Furthermore, as she gets a little older and understands social relationships and word connotations, she will also understand that “cracker” is a derogatory and impolite word, and will most likely not use it.

  20. I agree with Jack.

    If a term is derogatory, then a civilized person doesn’t use it. There’s no need for judging an individual to see if he deserves the label. I wouldn’t throw the book at a little kindergartner, but I would tell her that that’s not a nice thing to call a person and I don’t want to hear it again. Suppose that she maintained that John did fit the definition she was given of “cracker” – then what?

  21. What if the relative simply said that a “cracker” was a white person? The girl would have come to school and said, “Yep, he a cracker.”

  22. They need counseling after hearing a reading from a book? I’d hate to see what would happen if these poor offendable people ever listened to popular rap music.

  23. Two comments: First, I’ve known racists who would have been shocked to hear themselves described as racists because they only referred to black people who listened to rap music and acted surly with racial epithets. That little girl will eventually meet people who seem to fit the stereotype: It will still not be productive to aapproach those individuals as caricatures rather than individuals. The teacher helped her take a first step toward critical thinking, but there will come a time when that ability is challenged.

    Second, something else we don’t know, that also matters, is whether the teacher prepared the students to hear the word and put it in context. Delivery matters. Reading that racially-charged word without explaining the author’s usage would be pretty obtuse. Or, at worst, if the teacher didn’t even understand that the word was potentially infalmmatory, then there IS a larger problem here that needed to be examined. The facts don’t tell us any of these.

    It’s not okay to use a racial epithet in all circumstances, nor is it actionable or reprehensible in all circumstances. I think most of the posters here have a picture in their heads of what they assumed happened: Those assumptions, on both sides, should be challenged.

  24. Personally, I think we should lobby the ACLU to sue all non-white, non-protestant people – this would be a class action suit – for not being able to come up with something more derogatory than “cracker” or “haystack” when making fun of white people. C’mon, minority Americans! Is that the best you can do? I demand equal treatment under today’s hate crime laws! I demand a better anti-white slur!

    Thank you.

  25. John didn’t fit the description, but what about rude little Billy? He sure does. Let’s call him a cracker–and now we know the proper meaning of the word, confirmed by both the teacher and some other adult authority figure. Yay!

    I’m sorry that this is so confusing to some of you. The teacher told this child to seek out the valid definition of a racial slur–and then commended her for realizing that she hadn’t used it correctly.

    Think little Johnny would have gotten that reaction had he called the racial slur using girl a nigger?

    Think someone would be commending him for learning to use the term properly?

  26. Let me state is a more direct way. The teacher assumed that the person the girl heard using the term ‘cracker’ actually had an understanding of the term. It was feasible that the person she heard use it may not have had any definition other than it being a term for white people–say it was an older brother or sister.

    Another possible definition could have been “an ignorant white guy”, hell that one fits 1/2 the white male population at some point or another. So Johnny is not a cracker, but Keith flunks every subject, he must be a cracker.

  27. Actuallly, when I was growing up, the term was “Georgia cracker” which, being a Mississippian, I was confident I was not. Redneck, maybe.

  28. jeff wright says:

    > Second, something else we don’t know, that also matters, is whether the teacher prepared the students to hear the word and put it in context. Delivery matters. Reading that racially-charged word without explaining the author’s usage would be pretty obtuse.

    These are 16, 17-year-olds, presumably getting ready to be productive members of society. Think they’ve never heard the word before? Maybe they don’t know any history, either. Nah, this is all about victimology.

    I agree with Jack and the others supporting him. Now at least one little kid knows exactly how to use the word “cracker.” Namely, whenever a white kid disagrees with her or otherwise interferes with her view of herself in the universe. Use of such terms is uncivilized and kids should be taught exactly that. The teacher blew it.

  29. Trout Almondene suggests that the teacher should have prepared the class for the use of the word in its context as read. These are 11th grade high school students for crying out loud! They should have been prepared already for it in society and by their own damn parents!! Whatever happened to raising your own kids instead of expecting the schools and lawyers to do it for you?

    I think the teacher hit the nail on the head for 9 year olds. Too much critical thinking would have caused a mental shut down for the child. This way her critical thinking on the subject (racism) will increase as her mental abilities increase. However, a good point was made that the same would not have been done if the word used was “nigger”. Perhaps a better route might have been to suggest the same thing, but also let the girl now that it is a racial slur and polite people do not use it.

    Additionally, it should be noted that since racism general starts in the home, and usually unbeknownst to the adults who are acting in this way that their children pick up on, by requiring the girl to go home and ask for clarification, it lets the adult role-model become aware of his/her influence on the child and perhaps allows for him/her to be more careful with their words. A ripple side effect that improves not only the future generation (the little girl) but also the current one (the adult from whom she heard it).

  30. It has been decided that nigger is a word wholly devoid of merit. That it should not be uttered. That the utterence of a word that merely sounds like it is grounds for serious investigation (the ‘niggardly’ flap)

    Spic, kike, wetback, redskin and a whole host of other words a merrily making their way to this anti-sainted status.

    But not ‘cracker’. Not words that slur whites.

    This incident–and the responses highlight this horrid double standard.

    But here’s the true irony. Cracker–as a slur–does have a valid meaning. So does nigger. So do all those terms. They’re insults. Like stupid. Like geeky. Like asshole. Insults, not mortal sins

    They’re not okay to use in polite company–take the initial incident, change the word to ‘fuck’, as in ‘John’s a fuck’. What would any normal teacher have done? Requested that the child learn the ‘real definition’ before using the term? Or contact the parents?

    We’ve given these words so much power in our society–so much that they can highlight a societal dysfunction all by themselves. But they’re just words, swear words, crude words that you say when you’ve hit your thumb with a hammer, or when you want to hurt someone–or when someone’s hurt you.

    What the teacher SHOULD have done was tell the child that what she said was rude, that nice people don’t talk like that, and stood her in a corner or time-out or whatever the school does. And they should do the same for nigger, and fuck, and all the other little oddments of language whose barbs can hurt us.

  31. westwood05 says:

    Im in the 12th grade and am amazed that the kids felt “violated:”. Thats such a load of crap. Kids now and days are very aware of the word “nigger”and other insults and i seriously dobt they felt that way. Those kids and their parents just wanted some easy money. Good lesson to show their kids.