Discussing the N-Word

  1. Know that the N-word is never “just” the N-word. There are many layers that need to be unpeeled for real learning to occur.
  2. Usage of the word first should always be contextualized at home. If context and meaning are not provided for children at home, children will create context and meaning for themselves.
  3. Explain to children why you want to explore the subject. Be honest with them about your own feelings, uncertainties, and learning moments.
  4. Model the behavior you expect from children. It is ok to let them know it can be a difficult topic to discuss and share your own discomfort, insecurity, and ignorance.
  5. Never assume children are unaware of race relations/realities, and cultural differences, or have a disdain for discussing these topics.
  6. If children are initially hesitant to discuss the subject, do not force it. Instead, you can provide opportunities for them to express their thoughts, feelings and experiences through art, writing, or whatever medium they prefer.
  7. Explain the nature of the N-word. It is essential children understand the dark history of the word and where it stands today.
  8. Expect that children will hear (and have heard) the N-word many times in all forms of media.
  9. These stigmas lie within each of us. Stereotypes, prejudice, lack of empathy, internalized privilege and racism aren’t going anywhere soon. When they occur, take this as an opportunity to identify and address them.
  10. When reading text or listening to something that has the N-word in it, do not tell children to say “n-word” or “blank” instead of saying the actual word without first offering context and meaning as to why they should do this. This omission is a negligent misstep.
  11. All racial groups have different opinions and experiences. Keep in mind that no group is a homogenous monolith.
  12. No one individual or group should be expected to be a spokesperson(s) for their race or any other group. That means, your one Black friend or student, does not represent the entire Black community.



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