Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Funeral for the N-Word

The Student Athlete Advisory Council at Mount Olive College recently held a funeral for the N-word to “to celebrate a death – the death of a hurtful and offensive word.” The funeral included a hearse, casket, obituary and euology to educate the campus community about the history and negative impact of the N-word. At the end of the service, everyone was invited to write on a small slip of paper why they were burying the N-word. The casket was opened and everyone tossed their slip of paper into the casket to symbolically bury the N-word.

Wow. What a great idea. What an original and creative way to educate people and invite them to reflect on the language that they use. How refreshing amid the stories of sports fans screaming racist, sexist and homophobia names at athletes on opposing teams.

We might be closer to achieving a social consensus (at least in the public discourse) that the N-word is hurtful and offensive than we are on the use of sexist or homophobic epithets. It’s difficult for me to imagine fans shouting the N-word at opposing teams without an immediate reaction from school officials. This doesn’t mean that racism isn’t lurking in the stands. It just means that white fans are more likely to self-censor when it comes to the public use of the N-word.

Piggy-backing on the Mount Olive funeral, what if student-athletes at other schools followed the example set by the Mount Olive SAAC and held a service to “bury” all name-calling and taunting at athletic contests. Hearing student-athletes and coaches speak out could have an impact on fans’ behavior. That coupled with a more forceful response by school administrators to offensive fan taunts could be a great way to “take back the stands” for all fans.

Student-Athlete Advisory Councils are community service-oriented groups on college campuses that enable student-athletes to work with community groups and take leadership roles within the athletic department. Planning a funeral for name-calling and taunting of all kinds at games, in the locker room or anywhere on campus would certainly be a community service that would benefit everyone.

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