Official’s N-word Non-apology ignites Cambridge

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Official’s N-word Non-apology ignites Cambridge

What should have been an enriching classroom engagement turned instead into a public outrage that's now prompting an outside investigation.

On January 10, history teacher Mr. Kevin Dua at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School invited the School Committee and other elected officials to participate in his students' final project. The project titled, “RECLAIMING [N-word] v. Cracker: Editing Racial Context In/For Cambridge, ” examines how the power of words - through laws, protests, and media since the Civil War- has shaped U.S. racist language.

Dua, who is black, used the full spelling of the n-word in the project title and also used the word during his class discussion. School Committee member, Emily Dexter, who is white, dropped the full version of the n-word, too. In her attempt to explain the filters that Cambridge Public Schools puts on its school-issued Chromebooks and Web networks, censoring students from viewing objectionable Internet content, Dexter wanted students to know the n-word is blocked.

However, as a professional educator, Dexter’s pedagogical style in the classroom was not seen as a teaching moment, but instead, it was experienced as an insensitive and out of control rant.

“So, if you pick up your textbook, and you look in the index, and you want to know, if the word ‘n-word,’ there are a lot of textbooks that you’re probably aren’t going to see the word. So, somebody has decided for you that word is not something that they want young people to have access to; and, you can decide whether or not you think that’s good or not. But the filters aren’t just on computers; the entire world is filtered for you. And since you’re in a school, that’s done by adults."

Many are now asking should Dexter remain on the Cambridge School Committee, since both her tone deafness and non-apology inflamed rather than inform and soothe the situation. “Most students expressed disappointment, offensiveness, and frustration, and discontent with the insincerity of her attempted apology” was written in a signed January 28 letter to the Cambridge School Committee by students and faculty of CRLS. The Boston Globe reported that "Dua said Dexter’s apology was not sincere enough. He said she tried to explain herself for 10 minutes before apologizing for using the word.”

Sadly, Dexter didn’t recognize the deleterious impact her words had on several Cambridge communities once word spread beyond CRLS, to parents and throughout Cambridge’s black community and beyond.