Saturday, May 2, 2015

"Smarty-Pants Sam." The Return of Suzy! A Weekend Thirsty.

Sam made a great first impression. We were doing little hand-holding exercises, getting the flakes to know each other and not be so scared like we are told to do. They were doing pair introductions and Sam was paired up with the woman unlucky enough to sit next to him. When it was his turn to introduce her, he stood up and boomed "Let me introduce you to Laura, my future wife!". I gave him the evil eye, he kind of giggled and then carried on. Laura, great girl, slapped right back at him: "Let me introduce you to Sam, who will not be my future husband."

During the first weeks of lecture he tried all sorts of jokes, some with personal jabs in them. I tried to ignore them and carry on with our basket weaving. Of course, he is always 3 1/2 minutes late to class so everyone sees him saunter in. He walked into class this past week five minutes early for a change and stated, loud enough for all to hear: "Man, what's with all the [N word]s sittin' in the front row?" Now Sam is himself a person of Asian extraction. I didn't care, I don't stand for such language. I gave him a stern dressing down, loud enough for the class to hear (who were all suddenly perfectly quiet so they didn't miss a word), stating that if I ever caught him saying that again I would throw him out of class and then marched out. I needed to splash water on my face to calm myself down enough to teach. I returned on the dot of the start of class and carried on with the instruction, making it a point to include him in my usual attempt to catch every pair of eyeballs at least once during the session.

After class Smarty-Pants actually apologized. He meant it as a joke. He didn't mean to insult me. He's a person of color himself. But everyone uses that word now and it's not a bad name anymore.

Q: I'm pushing 60, so can the younger colleagues here please tell me: Is this now acceptable speech for a college student? Did I overreact?


  1. What did he say that was offensive? "What's with all the s sittin' in the front row?" He called his classmates "shit"? That's unambiguously unacceptable. If he said something else, I'm lost.

    1. I'm trying to imagine the word that "everyone uses . . . now and it's not a bad name anymore." I can pick several options, but I could be right on or way off the mark with any of them.

      The student's reaction suggests he thinks he only insulted Suzy. Perhaps the only way to have reacted better in the situation would have been to indicate that the epithet is something that many people find offensive, thus it can't be accepted in class, which makes it not about any one person's reaction to it. Hopefully that message has come across.

    2. Sorry, got eaten by Blogger. The "N-word".

  2. Sorry everyone. A crucial detail from Suzy's post was missing because it was in angled brackets - Blogger won't read them. It has been repaired.

  3. I'm not sure I'm completely up on this, but it's my understanding that young people (especially young non-African-American people) who see this as an acceptable term of reference and/or address also see/use it in an inclusive way: anybody can be a n---- . So if the people sitting in the front row to whom he was referring were "of color" (by some definition of that term), and especially if they were black (also by some definition of that term), then I don't think he was using it correctly, even in the way his generation uses it.

    More to the point, you modeled for him the reaction that a very large portion of the population, including, I'm willing to bet, the great majority of those with power to hire and fire (and grade), are likely to have to the use of that word in any context (save,perhaps, quoting someone else's use of it for purposes of precision, in circumstances where that would be necessary/appropriate, and then a good many people might still, as you and I are, use some sort of easily-translatable euphemism). He needs to be better at judging his audience (and to realize that that audience will often include people of varying generations as well as degrees of power, and that, when in doubt, unless he's staging a deliberate protest, he should modulate his language to suit as much of the audience as possible, and at least consider whether it would be wise to favor the preferences of those with greater power).

    Or, to put it another way, would he greet the President of the United States, the Attorney General (present or recently-retired), or retired General Colin Powell that way, and, if so, how would he expect any of them to respond? Since all of the above are gracious as well as powerful folks, used to handling difficult situations, I'm sure they'd find a way to handle the situation gracefully, but I'm also pretty sure that it would not be a form of address likely to win their favor.

  4. No, it's not acceptable to use that word. It's still a bad word. You did the right thing. Because it abounds in rap music doesn't mean that it's been sanitized.

  5. Absolutely. And every student in that room knows it.

  6. Cassandra explained how the word is used inclusively. I'd say you did overreact, but with the best of intentions. Whatever the color of the kids in the front row, he meant it in good humor, no ill intent.again, as CC said, his worst mistake was a failure to realize youd misunderstand because of the generation gap.