For the Love of God, Don’t Say the N-Word

And stop defending people who do.

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When a student (“Martha”) was suspended recently for filming another student saying the n-word (and egging on that student) on her “finsta,” there was a swift and surprising reaction from some students on Facebook. The students were understandably upset and angry over the incident, but they weren’t upset and angry at the slur-slinging students—they were upset at the administration for its harsh punishment. In a post that appears to have been since deleted, one student wrote “#freemartha” and proposed a tenth period walkout the next day to support her. Though the student intended his post as a joke, the comments were filled with unironic apologists. No walkout was ever seriously in the works, but with everything they wrote the commenters on that post showed that they still don’t understand how much weight that word carries.

So let’s start from the beginning, again, because apparently we haven’t done this enough. Stuyvesant is a school in a country that was founded on anti-black oppression and that continues to struggle with it to this day. One of the many ways that anti-black oppression has manifested itself has been through the educational system, which has been deeply segregated for as long as it’s existed, from the de jure segregation of the postbellum era to the de facto segregation that panicked white people set up in the wake of Brown v. BOE. Stuyvesant, a highly selective, high-level school, is part of the long-standing American tradition of segregation. Its miniscule black population, which represents about one percent of the student body, is the result of vast inequality at the elementary and middle school level, and perpetuates further inequalities at the high school level.

That is not to say that the SHSAT should be abolished. It is not even necessarily to say that the admissions process needs any major change, though that has been the conclusion of Mayor Bill De Blasio. It is not to say that the students who have gotten in didn’t work extremely hard to get in and don’t deserve their seats here. One need not take a stance on the Specialized High School Admissions process—a whole other can of worms that we have no intention of opening today—to recognize that the dearth of black students at Stuyvesant is the result of systemic inequalities and that it’s a serious issue.

It’s not hard to learn about the problems that arise from Stuyvesant’s bleak demographics: a recent New York Times feature on Black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant exhibited the weary pain that often comes with being Black or Hispanic. In its magazine last winter, this paper published an article by former Arts and Entertainment editor William Lohier on the “demoralizing and exhausting” experience of hearing the n-word daily at Stuyvesant.

The white and Asian students at this school should be doing everything they can to make it a physically and emotionally safe school for Black students at this school, and making active efforts to fight racism. That’s why it’s so deeply disappointing when they don’t just fail to condemn racism but actively defend racists and arguing that the punishment for perpetuating racism is too severe. As one black student commented, it “demonstrates how little Stuyvesant kids seem to care about their Black peers.”

The situation is dire. It certainly doesn’t need you making it worse.