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‘The N-Word’ dissected

Olivia Goodrow, Staff Writer

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Smith College History Professor Dr. Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor delivered a thought-provoking discussion about the mostly taboo ‘N-Word’ at a recent visit to the AIC campus.

In a packed, overflow crowd in the West Wing on Oct. 16, she shared a few specific examples of how the word has caused controversy – and firings — at some college campuses, and delved into her own research on the word, without uttering the full word a single time.

Samira Abdul-Karim

The event, during a C-hour, was sponsored by the AIC Lecture and Forum Series.

In her talk, Dr. Pryor gave insight on the background, the origin, and the past and present meaning behind the word.

With bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees on her back she is most importantly knowledgeable in how to appropriately use the N-Word in her classrooms to maintain a comfortable environment. She has been doing research on the word for the past decade, and has written and spoken publicly about it.

The N-Word is used quite frequently in history books and academic writings, she noted When teaching a class where the student must speak out loud and read the slur, many students feel uncomfortable. In her own classes, Prof. Pryor asks that students not use the full word, to avoid offending others or causing controversy.

Use of the actual word in classrooms has caused problems for professors, even at Smith College.

In 2017, a teacher at Smith College was addressing the subject of racism. In this discussion he used the N-Word, which immediately made some students feel uncomfortable. The teacher was a bit shocked and defended the history lesson.

He told students that this is all a part of the lesson and if the student cannot get over that then they could leave the room. Seventeen people later found themselves walking out of the room, and the professor ended up leaving the school shortly afterwards.

Due to this “insensitive” instructor, as Professor Pryor described it, the course was also cancelled.

Incidents like this are popping up more and more, she noted, as the “current climate makes racism okay,” she said after her formal talk.

Over the years the N-Word went from meaning slave to meaning brother in the black communities. Many say that the reason they still use the N-Word s because they took it from the privileged white man mouth and turned it into something that was smore soft.

Making the N-Word into a normal word defuses the hate upon the word and makes it less of a slur. In fact, Pryor believes that the N-Word will lose all meaning once there is true equality among the races.

YJ Staff member, Olivia Goodrow, going over her notes!
Photo by our very own: Samira Abdul-Karim

Prof. Pryor did not only touch upon the meaning of the word but also how to teach it appropriately. During her speech she began to talk about how the instructors who were fired and had their class cancelled could have handled the situation better if they were a bit more mindful.

When dealing with a topic so touchy and sensitive, many instructors want to just talk about it early in the class and get it over with, she said.

But this method has failed.

Prof. Pryor sees this topic to speak about history in the way it was lived. Speaking about racial injustice and all the slurs is hard for people of color and people who aren’t. She wants the students to recognize that the topic is hard, but said you must know your audience.

As an instructor you cannot assume that a crowd of students in the first few classes will be comfortable saying or talking about the N-Word to their group of peers that barely know each other.

Even a situation with Kendrick Lamar caused an uproar in the community, raising questions such as “Why are we offended?” “what is the N-Word doing?” and “Who can and cannot say the N-Word?”

But out of everything that this professor has said, her focus point to share with the audience at AIC was to inform the college students about the importance of black history, the meaning of the N-Word and how to properly treat this sensitive word.

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‘The N-Word’ dissected