Education Editorial: Prejudice and words

Paula Deen has cooked up a mess and not a mess of greens!

She has quickly lost big dollar endorsements and a gentle image. As stars like Michael Richards and Charlie Sheen, she used the n-word. It is a word so derogatory and demeaning that we now have a euphemism to acknowledge it. While any use of words that are hateful should be purged from our language, Paula Deen did what many have done and admitted it.

The PR spinners are now saying that she didn't apologize quickly enough. It is grossly oversimplified to blame this debacle on timing. My grandmother, Mama, frequently said to my brother and me, "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me." It's the rare principle that she offered that I have found not to be true.

When we want to hurt someone, we use words. A fist to the lip will heal, but a word piercing to the heart hurts for a long time. Young people seem to attract slang at an early age. Movies, TV shows, and video games toss language like well designed and launched missiles. As a high school principal with 2400 students who were 50 percent White and 50 percent Black, I frequently explained that any use of the n-word would send you home. Yes, any use!

While the language of racism is frequently debated, (and despite an argument to the contrary) bigotry actually has no race. As a principal I never asked anyone to say, "I'm sorry;" I never knew when they meant it. Just as prejudice is a learned condition, young people should be taught that an offensive word to someone is an offensive word to everyone.

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