Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Freedom Riders. Freedom Writers. Freedom Bloggers?

Today, I stumbled upon the PBS Channel, and they were playing a great documentary about the Freedom Riders of May 1961. Over the course of 2-3 weeks, several busses traveled from Washington DC and Nashville, through the Deep South in hopes of arriving in Louisiana for a conference. They were brave folks (White and Black, male and female, young and old) who endured beatings, verbal abuse, and death threats just to spread the message of desegregation.

As I watched in awe, I was reminded of a book I read a few years ago for an education class, titled Freedom Writers. It has since been turned into a movie with Hilary Swank playing the role of Erin Gruwell, a teacher faced with a tough inner-city classroom deemed “unteachable” by the school and principal. The class adopted their name in honor of the Freedom Riders; they used the power of their voice and the power of their words to fight against the racism and discrimination surrounding them. The book had such an impact on me as a future educator that I still strive to be an advocate for all students facing bigotry.

What’s next for the Freedom Rider/Writer movement? Is it possible for today’s generation to take up the torch and continue the journey towards a more equal world? I hope so, but I am especially concerned when I stand in the lobby of my residence hall and hear groups of Black students call each other N****. Although I have had conversations where students have explained how they have molded this word into a powerful statement against the original use, my skin still crawls every time it is uttered. I worry that their grandfathers and grandmothers who rode those first integrated busses through Ku Klux Klan territory, both literally and figuratively, did so in vain.

What would the riders or writers say to these students if they heard them casually toss around one of the most hated words in the English language? Would they accept the use of the N-word as a simple greeting among “homeboys”? As a White person, is it acceptable to ignore the use, out of fear of being labeled a racist who does not understand that it can be used within the race, but not outside of it? Either way, I think students, rappers, and society needs to reconsider the N-word's use. It’s not a greeting. It’s not an effectuate term. It’s not a rap lyric. It’s a horribly outdated, offensive term that should have been abolished with slavery. 

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