Black students at a Georgia high school claim they should be able to say the “n-word” if they wish, but want a white teacher sanctioned for using it in a disciplinary context.
According to Atlanta News First, after two (black) Decatur High students allegedly were saying the epithet to each other, physics teacher John Chesnut told the duo to stop using the term — while saying it himself.
This led to student and community outrage, including a forum with the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights on December 21.
Students in attendance said there needs to be a school/district policy “to ensure teachers are held accountable for using racial slurs in the classroom.”
As for black students, the n-word “has a negative history but [blacks] are using it in a positive light to build their community,” said student Lindsey Davis. Her peer Kadence High agreed, saying “Black people have reclaimed the word and if they want to use the word among themselves and their friends they should be able to.”
However, it’s “not a white people thing,” Davis said.
Others said Chesnut should have known better: “He’s a grown man he knows what he said was wrong, he’s educated enough to know what he said was wrong. He went to middle school, he went to high school, he went to college,” one student said.
[S]tudents and community members want Decatur High School to implement a policy that outlines consequences for teachers that use the n-word on campus and in front of students.
“[Chesnut] needs to be held accountable,” Kadence High said.
Many of the students who attended said they should not have to be the ones acting like adults and addressing this situation and they should be able to focus on their education.
Students said they shouldn’t have to feel unsafe going to Mr. Chestnut’s [sic] class, but by the district making light of these situations and staying quiet about it, students don’t feel supported.
Several teachers and staff members also attended the meeting and talked about the way it was handled behind the scenes among staff.
“When it happened they didn’t tell teachers and we had to find out from students. This was something that they were very much trying to sweep under the rug,” a staff member who did not wish to be identified said.
“Hundreds” of Decatur HS students held a walkout following the Chesnut incident with some demanding his termination. Chesnut ended up being suspended for one day without pay with Decatur Principal Rochelle Lofstrand apologizing to students and parents on his behalf.
Some students accused Chesnut of “mak[ing] himself the victim” with his post-incident response.
“It was harmful for me to say it,” Chesnut reportedly told one of his classes. “For me as a middle-aged white man to say it. It hits in a different way and it’s almost like it’s cool and it’s definitely not and I could have thought about that at the moment and done something different.
“I had the opportunity to think about how and why that got past the filter. It’s easy for me to wonder growing up in this country at the time I did start in the past that I have absorbed some racist nonsense that’s still plumping around in my brain.”
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