PC Too

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I work in a school in a poor rural district. Most of the teachers are
kind, caring, and dedicated professionals. The few that are not are
given a very wide berth by the rest of us, so it is very uncommon to
hear racial slurs or other forms of insensitivity. A colleague just placed
a problem in my lap involving two friends. One, A, my friend who
works in a different classroom reported that the other, B (one of my
best friends), said something close to the N-word and that she was
horrified and wanted to report her. A said that B said it in a joking,
almost friendly context, referring to her weekend as “I’m going to go
out in my yard and work like a field hand.” A is from South Africa of
mixed race and very sensitive. B has never, ever, ever exhibited any
racist tendencies. If anything she’s among most politically correct
people I know. But A was legitimately shocked and wants to make an
object lesson of B as a warning for the real racists. If she succeeds in
getting something put in B’s permanent file, B might never work again.
I think it was a very unfortunate slip of the tongue, and I don’t want to
see her chastised too harshly. What, if anything, can I do as an

PC Too

Dear PC Too:

You can sit down with the two of them and hope that the conversation
works. The message you want to deliver is: You may have thought you
were joking to a friend, but you are not black and you cannot know the
impact of hearing a word that’s been used not just as a racial slur but
is also close to a word that’s been used as a form of violence and
intimidation for centuries. Please apologize now. Please promise you’ll
never do this again. Please ask A’s forgiveness. Then be quiet and let
B speak for herself. A is going to have to hear the sincerity in her
apology and a deep desire to participate in some form of remediation,
not just to A personally but as part of a social context.


The three of you might also go to the administrative powers that be
and ask that the whole school (teachers, staff, students) receive some
racial sensitivity training. You don’t have to go into the details of the
incident. Rather declare it a matter of common concern that you would
like to see addressed by the whole community. Ask for a special
assembly with invited speakers, and workshops where teachers and
students from mixed age groups can participate. Also ask that a
procedure be put in place where violators of the no-insults policy by
given a graduated series of warnings and censure. I doubt that B will
repeat the offense, but think a permanent mark on her record is too
great a price to pay for misspoken attempt at bad humor.