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The Real Side | Commentary by Joe Messina
| Monday, Jan 27, 2014

joemessinamugI’ve been sitting here trying to figure out what to write about that has nothing to do with the president’s lies, or the State of the Union propaganda we will be asked to buy on Tuesday, up to and including global cooling. No, make that global warming. No, wait, climate change. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Climate change.

Then I read an article about an elementary school principal who was suspended for using the N-word. Well, she sort of used the N-word. In a nutshell, the teacher was getting the kids ready for a play about Martin Luther King Jr. After using the word “Negro” several times, one of the children said he was uncomfortable with that word and refused to participate in the play.

Ultimately the principal was called in for backup, and during the course of explaining the differences between the two N-words (one being Negro), she ended up getting herself in trouble. She has been suspended pending an investigation. But why?

I am at a loss here, to a degree. The word “Negro” has been an acceptable descriptor for many years. I have had not a one black friend tell me it was a bad word. It’s the Spanish word for black. Martin Luther King Jr. used the word several times in speeches to help explain or add understanding.

But when the principal used the other N-word, well – I’m not going to judge her attempted explanation. It isn’t available for us to critique. But if it went something like this, is this really a problem?

“Now, some people use the word Negro and some use the terribly, derogatory word, ‘n—-r.’ That second word is a word you should never call or refer to someone. It’s a hateful word and has no place in society. It was used in a hateful and mean way in this country in at a time when slavery was practiced. It was used to try to make black people feel like less of a person, even sub-human. It wasn’t right then, and it isn’t right now, or ever.”

I need help here. Educators have asked that the (real) N-word be removed from Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, but if we don’t remind ourselves of the hate that was taught at a period of time in this country, how do we avoid it again in the future?

Have the word police gone too far? So many terms and words have become taboo. But why? I am not suggesting all words are OK to use in general conversation. What I am saying is that we have gotten so concerned with hurting someone’s feelings and how they perceive us that we want our kids to avoid unpleasant things.

I am an American of Italian decent. My grandparents spoke and wrote Italian. It was their first language, as it was my mom’s. When my mom moved me to a “white” neighborhood so I could have a better life, I was called all kinds of colorful names: dumb Dago, WOP, Guinea and Greaseball. (Sorry if that offends, but it is my column, and it really is what they called me.) Did they make me feel good? No. Did I think it was no big deal? No. Do I want them taken out of references in today’s literature and books? No.

Let’s get one thing straight. I am not comparing my school experience with slavery. I am comparing hurtful words. I want a generation 100 years from today to know how others were beaten down with words – Italians, Japanese, Irish, blacks and others. I want them to read about it in books, on tablets, via text and Tweets so they can see and maybe feel for themselves how distasteful it is and was and will continue to be.

Think of all the horrible things that have happened in history. The Holocaust has gone from a full chapter in many history books to a page or a few paragraphs. How do our kids learn and understand the impact in that short account? The Japanese internment camps that were here in this country are down to a bare mention because they are distasteful and uncomfortable for our young kids. The history of slavery and the way we treated black people in this country is also being taught less and less.

History, no matter how uncomfortable, needs to be taught. Our kids and their kids need to know the mistakes of the past to ensure they don’t repeat them in the future.

When I hear the N-word spoken, whether from a black person to a another black person or someone trying to start a fight or even just to be funny, I cringe – not out of fear, but because I know what that word represents.

It isn’t funny. It’s hate. Plain and simple.

Our youth needs have that same feeling. These words aren’t cool. They’re cruel, and they need to know that.


Joe Messina is host of The Real Side (TheRealSide.com), a nationally syndicated talk show that runs on AM-1220 KHTS radio and SCVTV [here]. He is also a member of the Hart School Board. His commentary publishes Mondays.


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1 Comment

  1. Another commentary I don’t have to read to know that Joe isn’t getting enough attention. Yawn.

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