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So you have a book or an excerpt of text that you plan to share with your students and there is a racial slur. Maybe you are reading Huckleberry Finn, to kill a mockingbird, or another document which uses racial slurs. What do you do? Let’s talk about it. In this episode, I’m going to share with you 5 tips on how to address reading assignments that have a racial slur in the text.

  1. Do not avoid text because it uses a racial slur. There is value in reading text that was written decades ago that provides a historical understanding of how racial slurs were used to refer to particular groups of people. Not addressing this issues and why using these words to refer to people does not help your class understand the concepts of White supremacy.
  2. Take adequate time to warn students. In your preparation with your class to read an excerpt of text that uses racial slurs, before you begin the lesson. Take the time to explain that the students will find words in today’s lesson that are rooted in hate and disdain for a group of people based on the color of their skin. Start a discussion on while these words might have been acceptable at the time to white people, they were and are offensive to people of color.
  3. Don’t single out any students. As the teacher was trying to explain why the word Negra is a derogatory word towards Black people, he pointed to his Black student say that her people find the word offensive. This made the student feel embarrassed and singled out as she felt the eyes of the rest of her class looking at her. Instead, make your teachable moment inclusive and welcoming of all students in the discussion. Never should a student of color feel like they need to be the spokesperson for their race when it comes to racial issues.
  4. Don’t modify the text. One of the things that the teacher shared with me was his consideration of changing the words Negras and Injuns to African Americans and Native Americans. I cautioned him not to make alterations to the text but to keep the text as is. It is important for students to see the improper ways people of color were referred to and that changing the text for the teacher to feel comfortable with the lesson was a form of whitewashing that we see a lot in education and our society as a whole.
  5. The final point that I gave him was work on being comfortable with having a discussion on race. Researcher and Author, Dr. Robin DiAngelo, uses a term called “White Fragility.” Through her research, she has found that white people find discussing race a difficult conversation to have. “White Fragility is the discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.” I shared with him that even though he might find it hard to discuss racial injustice, it is his duty as an educator who has the power to influence his classroom to take a brave stance on these issues.
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