Click to go to the Subscriber Log In Page
Go to menu with buttons for all pages on BC
Click here to go to the Home Page
Est. April 5, 2002
February 14, 2019 - Issue 776

Bookmark and Share

Official’s N-word Non-apology
Ignites Cambridge

"The 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."

What should have been an enriching classroom engagement turned instead into a public outrage that's now prompting an outside investigation.

On 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. racist language.

Dua, 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 blocked.

However, 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.

So, 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."

Many 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.”

Sadly, 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.

As 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. Please resign.”

Dexter 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.

Although 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 necessary reflection.”

The 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.

Dexter, 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.

The 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 race relations. Editorial Board member and Columnist, The Reverend Monroe is an ordained minister, motivational speaker and she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Rev. Monroe does a weekly Monday segment, “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM), on Boston Public Radio and a weekly Friday segment “The Take” on New England Channel NEWS (NECN). She’s a Huffington Post blogger and a syndicated religion columnist. Her columns appear in cities across the country and in the U.K, and Canada. Also she writes a  column in the Boston home LGBTQ newspaper Baywindows and Cambridge Chronicle. A native of Brooklyn, NY, Rev. Monroe graduated from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American church in New Jersey before coming to Harvard Divinity School to do her doctorate. She has received the Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching several times while being the head teaching fellow of the Rev. Peter Gomes, the Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard who is the author of the best seller, THE GOOD BOOK. She appears in the film For the Bible Tells Me So and was profiled in the Gay Pride episode of In the Life, an Emmy-nominated segment. Monroe’s  coming out story is  profiled in “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America" and in "Youth in Crisis." In 1997 Boston Magazine cited her as one of Boston's 50 Most Intriguing Women, and was profiled twice in the Boston Globe, In the Living Arts and The Spiritual Life sections for her LGBT activism. Her papers are at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College's research library on the history of women in America. Her website is  Contact the Rev. Monroe and BC. 
Bookmark and Share




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

Perry NoName: A Journal From A Federal Prison-book 1
Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion by Jamala Rogers