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  • Writer's pictureCharmaine 'C-Maine' Jennings

How Do I Get My Black Scholars To Stop Using the N-Word?

Updated: Aug 25, 2021


Educator Empowerment | August 2021 | by Charmaine Jennings, Ed.S.

BLOG | How Do I Stop My Black Scholars From Saying the N-Word?
IMAGE by Ospan Ali

Summer 2021 concluded like a fast and furious rollercoaster ride! After a full year of twists and turns, the field of education is settling back into its traditional norms. More American educators are getting vaccinated. COVID-19 cases are decreasing and increasing. Conversations about Asian Hate, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter and systemic racism are taking a back seat to the Olympics. Everyone seems to be healing... but wait! There is always a surprise in the shadows.

I was scheduled to facilitate a training called Black Lives Matter at School in order to prepare district administrators, coaches and teachers to support scholars and their families. Before the session began, I noticed within the pre-registration survey that several educators asked the same question. "As a white teacher, how do I get my Black scholars to stop using the N-word?" Several non-BIPOC (i.e. Black, Indigenous, People of Color) teachers expressed the same dilemma. During the training session a very brave teacher shared:

"So I am a white teacher and I really love teaching at my K-8 school. Most of the scholars are African American with a few Latinx and white scholars. I am really bothered when my African American scholars call each other the n-word. I always try to correct these behaviors by telling them that the n-word is horrible. I ask if they know the history and ask why using the n-word doesn't bother them? They generally reply by saying..."
"Ms. XYZ, we can say the n-word and it's okay! But if you say the n-word, that makes you a racist!"


Professional leadership and learning sessions (i.e. PD) can provide the mirror and window of support that educators truly need. Quality resources and strategies give teachers the ability to confidently re-enter the classroom with a solid action plan. In this case, help means to empower the teacher with a new relationship building skill and resource. I immediately applauded her willingness to address the n-word issue. Next, I cautioned her about getting too distracted by the language registers her scholars used and why.

The journey toward understanding why groups reclaim certain insults and slurs can be long. This same type of behavior surprised Oprah Winfrey during a 2009 interview with rapper Jay Z. He admitted that utilizing the n-word was a term of endearment, thus removing the ugly intent and powerful sting of racism. Although Oprah and Jay Z agreed to disagree, these permissions and/or rejections of the n-word still continue. N-word hall passes are given to some individuals while others are excluded. The brave educator in this PD session crashed into this contradiction and genuinely wanted my professional opinion and support.

I said, "Kill your ego!"

"A relationship never dies a natural death. It is murdered by ego, attitude and ignorance." -Srinivas Shenoy-


Educators must seek first to understand and then to be understood, which is habit #5 of Dr. Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Derogatory language is toxic within the school environment. We seem to understand the consequences of the n-word, but fail to understand our scholars. How many scholars get bullied for utilizing formal language in their local neighborhoods or homes? How many of them get accused of acting and for thinking that they are better than everyone else because they are using proper English (i.e. formal language)? Do we know their local environments? Have we done our homework and heart work?

Most scholars don't have a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air plan B option. Unlike this 1990s TV sitcom, most scholars don't have a rich uncle Philip or aunt Vivian Banks coming to their rescue. Who will speak for them when the neighborhood bully questions their community membership card? Code switching equals survival. Educators need a better approach! Firm speeches, long lectures and zero tolerance policies don't work! History has revealed that adult talk plus adult-led policies will result in scholar rebellion and academic failure. The behavior of Gen Z scholars is not positively changed by lectures. They are justice-seekers, digitally independent and eager to share their own experiences and opinions. Let's ask compelling questions. Let's challenge them to argue both sides in order to discover the truth. Let's use our wisdom to get-to-know them!

BLOG | How To Stop My Black Scholars From Saying The N-Word
IMAGE by Yingchou Han

Culturally responsive educators take strategic steps toward building healthy emotional bank accounts. There can be no withdrawals without frequent relationship deposits. Especially when some scholars are living off of the insufficient relationship funds of adults who previously closed their account. The efforts of non-BIPOC educators will not appear genuine until trust is established and respect is earned. Do not be viewed as having "the white savior complex" or as a self-appointed judge, jury and investigative reporter of racial hypocrisy. This is not the impression a culturally responsive educator should want to make.


Shift the focus! Non-BIPOC educators should not rush to engage in teaching scholars the history of the n-word as a first and/or last step solution. Instead, create a mirror, window and door into the true identities, core values, brands and legacy of the scholars. Begin by making a deposit into the relationship bank account.

No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship. -Dr. James Comer

Do this by facilitating a series of reflection techniques and discussion exercises called, "The Talk"

The goal of this strategy is to (1) get-to-know the thoughts, hopes and dreams of all scholars, (2) to create a brave space community agreement (e.g. What is respect and what are your pet peeves?) and (3) to develop a poem about the scholars' collective identity and legacy. The Brave Space Community Agreement and Identity & Legacy poem will be visual reminders of who they are as a community. Scholars will eventually self-govern these agreements and hold each another accountable for meeting and exceeding the group expectations.

The four activities of "The Talk" generally include:

PART I: Respect

PART II: Pet Peeves & Triggers

PART III: Who Do You Admire & Why?

PART IV: What are your interests? What are your future career goals? How do you want to be remembered?

(Sample Brave Space Community Agreement Below)

IDEAS FOR TEACHERS: Display a few guiding questions surrounding these topics on the classroom whiteboard. Facilitate a reflection followed by a group discussion. Early primary teachers (i.e. K-2nd grade) may choose to read a book (e.g. The Day You Begin). This will permit scholars to think about the goals for building an inclusive classroom community. Consider displaying the "Brave Space" agreement and having each scholar sign it as a demonstration of their commitment.

Other Articles to Gain More Ideas:



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[Life will give you an opportunity to learn something new. You are being called to action. Challenges will develop that force you to ask compelling questions. Be patient! You are on the journey towards real change. "For many are called, but few are chosen." -Matthew 22:14 Accept the call, embrace the challenges and unveil the change that will happen as a result.]


Charmaine Jennings, Ed.S.

Educator Consultant, Life Coach & Artist

A national professional leadership and learning trainer for K-12 district administrators, principals, coaches and teachers. A champion for diversity, equity and inclusion.


1 Comment

Charmaine Jennings
Charmaine Jennings
Aug 03, 2021

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