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May 23, 2003 by AK

Brian Emanuels, the teacher who used the n-word to address a student before the class, has resigned. If you ask me, this comes down to a couplet: common decency and a teacher’s responsibities.

Obviously, simple decency dictates that the n-word not be used unless in a quote. Obviously, a teacher is supposed to set an example of good manners, civility and respect for his audience.

Emanuels broke both basic principles. If he were a gay student and “gay” a rude and derogatory term in that juvenile subculture, his word choice would be forgivable. Not commendable, of course, — the n-word wouldn’t stop being taboo — but forgivable. If he were a practicing psychotherapist using a shock method to treat, say, an aggression disorder, fine. But a teacher cannot afford letting infantile impulses to prevail over her sense of responsibility, no matter how offensive her students’ words seem to her. And of course a gentleman would never utter such words; but if he for some inexplicable reason should, only a sincere apology could save his gentility. Brian Emanuels should have simply apologized.

Once again, we may all be racists at heart — but if we let our innate biases loose, how much is our great civilization worth?

As for Emanuels’ motives for becoming a teacher in a minority school, well, they are irrelevant but still curious. It is not necessary to presuppose a belief in black people’s genetical inferiority on his part; their perceived class/cultural/civilizational inferiority would do the trick. But then, it’s not about race, but about class and culture.

One more thing: perhaps his black students kept referring to each other as “n—s”, and it made him deaf to the word’s offensive ring? Perhaps he considered himself one of their race already? Improbable — he should have put forward this defense otherwise — but still possible. That wouldn’t make his name calling acceptable anyway.


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