White teacher sues to use “N” word in class
By Gary Anthony Ramsay
Chicago, IL - Use of the "N" word in a public school setting, even if it is part of the lesson, is being played out in Chicago. A 48-year-old teacher has filed a federal lawsuit against the Chicago public schools district after being suspended without pay for five days for using the "n-word" as a part of a lesson highlighting the "perils of racism," the ChicagoSun-Times reports.
According to Lincoln Brown's suit, the incident occurred last October when he used the n-word after two of his students were passing notes with rap lyrics that included it. The lawsuit alleges that Brown used the word during a "teachable moment" in the context of the book Huckleberry Finn in order to show how such language can hurt. But as the words left Brown's lips, the school's principal walked in to the Murray Language Academy classroom.
Principal George Mason charged Brown with "using verbally abusive language to or in front of students" as well as "cruel, immoral, negligent, or criminal conduct or communication to a student, that causes psychological or physical harm."
Brown has just served the first of his five days of suspension, but the teacher told WLS-TV he's worried that this has ruined his reputation as a teacher.
"My character has been assassinated." Brown told the station. "This cannot be a part of what people think I am."
In response to the lawsuit, CPS Director of Communications Robyn Ziegler issued a statement.
"The principal determined that the way the teacher used the word was improper and imposed a short suspension.... The teacher has received sufficient due process. In our opinion, his federal lawsuit is without merit."
CPS didn't specifically accuse Brown of racist language, but officials noted sensitivity to issues of race across the country.
Last year an 18-year-old Arkansas student filed a lawsuit against McGehee Secondary School after four years of nearly straight-As, honors and Advanced Placement classes had placed her at the top of her graduating class. The suit alleges that though she earned the marks, the school denied her valedictorian status because she is black.
A seperate suit filed against a Minnesota school district last August claimed that a Red Wing High School homecoming event called "Wigger Day" caused a black student "severe emotional distress including depression, loss of sleep, stress, crying, humiliation, anxiety, and shame.
"Wigger is a pejorative slang term for a white person who emulates the mannerisms, language and fashions associated with African-American culture," the complaint explains. Students were encouraged to dress in oversized sports jerseys, low-slung pants, baseball hats cocked to the side and 'doo rags.
Most recently in Norcross, Ga., a Beaver Ridge Elementary School teacher resigned after outcry over a third grade math assignment that used slavery examples in word problems. Parents were outraged at both the assignment and the school district's response to the reports of those math problems, which included references to cotton, orange picking and beatings.
Before entering the Chicago lawsuit, ABC News reports, Brown, the Murray Language Academy teacher, first appealed his suspension to the Chicago Board of Education, who denied his request.
"It's something I can't accept and can't have on my record and more importantly it's not who I am," Brown told ABC News. He has taught in predominantly black schools for more than 25 years.
Brown's attorney William Spielberger says his client's First and Fifth Amendment rights were violated, as well as his rights to free speech and due process.
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