should have been an enriching classroom engagement turned instead
into a public outrage that's now prompting an outside investigation.
January 10, history teacher Mr. Kevin Dua at Cambridge Rindge and
Latin High School invited the School Committee and other elected
officials to participate in his students' final project. The project
titled, “RECLAIMING [N-word] v. Cracker: Editing Racial Context
In/For Cambridge, ” examines how the power of words - through
laws, protests, and media since the Civil War- has shaped U.S.
who is black, used the full spelling of the n-word in the project
title and also used the word during his class discussion. School
Committee member, Emily Dexter, who is white, dropped the full
version of the n-word, too. In her attempt to explain the filters
that Cambridge Public Schools puts on its school-issued Chromebooks
and Web networks, censoring students from viewing objectionable
Internet content, Dexter wanted students to know the n-word is
as a professional educator, Dexter’s pedagogical style in the
classroom was not seen as a teaching moment, but instead, it was
experienced as an insensitive and out of control rant.
if you pick up your textbook, and you look in the index, and you want
to know, if the word ‘n-word,’ there are a lot of
textbooks that you’re probably aren’t going to see the
word. So, somebody has decided for you that word is not something
that they want young people to have access to; and, you can decide
whether or not you think that’s good or not. But the filters
aren’t just on computers; the entire world is filtered for you.
And since you’re in a school, that’s done by adults."
are now asking should Dexter remain on the Cambridge School
Committee, since both her tone deafness and non-apology inflamed
rather than inform and soothe the situation. “Most students
expressed disappointment, offensiveness, and frustration, and
discontent with the insincerity of her attempted apology” was
written in a signed January 28 letter to the Cambridge School
Committee by students and faculty of CRLS. The Boston Globe reported
that "Dua said Dexter’s apology was not sincere enough. He
said she tried to explain herself for 10 minutes before apologizing
for using the word.”
Dexter didn’t recognize the deleterious impact her words had on
several Cambridge communities once word spread beyond CRLS, to
parents and throughout Cambridge’s black community and beyond.
Immediately following the incident, Jane Donohue wrote a January 11
letter to Superintendent Kenneth Salim and Mayor Marc McGovern
calling for Dexter’s resignation.
a white educator and CPSD parent, I feel sickened about your use of
the n-word yesterday during a CRLS class discussion on
censorship…Your presence on the school committee is now a
concrete example of white ignorance and cultural insensitivity at the
highest level of our district. How can staff members be held
accountable for creating a “rigorous, joyful and culturally
responsive environment and violates it? Given our district’s
strategic plan, increases in hate incidences against student and
staff, and our ongoing failure to deliver equitable access to all of
our students, we cannot afford to have you at the leadership table.
didn’t respond to the incident after both Ms. Milner, Dean of
the History Department and Dua spoke to Dexter about her remarks
immediately following class. She only responded to the incident after
Superintendent Kenneth Salim released a statement to the CPS
community. Salim, who is black, told the Boston he felt
“uncomfortable” hearing Dexter use the n-word.
Dexter’s response was tepid, slow, and perfunctory, School
Committee member Manikka Bowman immediately filed a motion to
investigate the incident since Dexter’s apology further upset
the students. In support of Bowman’s motion Councilor E. Denise
Simmons wrote Cambridge School Committee stating, "In 2019,
there is simply no excuse for having utilized such language and then
hiding behind some variant of “I didn’t realize how
hurtful this might be” to try to make amends. In 2019, in this
community, that kind of ignorance cannot and should not be excused. I
am not calling for condemnation, but I very much want us to harness
this individual’s terribly poor word choice to spark some very
n-word is firmly embedded in the lexicon of racist language that was
and still is used to disparage African Americans. The word does not
eradicate its historical baggage and its existing troubling racial
relations among Blacks and between Whites and Blacks. For example,
Salim conveyed he also felt a “level of discomfort” when
Dua used the word. Many blacks, myself included, feel reclaiming and
using racist words like the n-word dislodges the word from its
historical context and makes us all insensitive and arrogant to the
historical injustice done.
however, doesn’t stand alone in this kerfluffle. Fellow
committee member Patricia Nolan, who is also white, attempted to
“whitesplain" Dexter’s stance. Bowman, who is black,
clapped back that she, too, is tone deaf.
n-word re-inscribes and perpetuates ideas and assumptions about race
we consciously and unconsciously transmit generationally. Dexter’s
non-apology for her use of the n-word suggests she has become
insensitive and numb in the use and abuse of the power and currency
this racial epithet still has; thus, thwarting the daily struggle
many of us Cambridge residents work hard at in trying to ameliorate