New Paltz Middle School students learn the history of the N-word

New Paltz High School Social Studies teacher Albert Cook answers questions from New Paltz Middle School students following a presentation during which he explained about the negative meaning of the N-word and how it has been used throughout history to hurt people of color.

New Paltz High School (NPHS) Social Studies teacher Albert Cook paid a special visit to New Paltz Middle School (NPMS) recently to give students in grades 6-8 an important and timely lesson about the history of the N-word and why it should not be used. Cook, who teaches Black History classes at NPHS, began his lesson by explaining the negative meaning of the word and how it has been used throughout history to demean, disrespect, abuse, oppress and hurt people of color.

“European-Americans began using the N-word in the early 1600s to try to justify the brutalities of slavery,” he said. “When the world started looking at them saying, ‘What are you doing?’ their answer was, ‘[The slaves] are no one. They are nothing.’ If you can convince other people that they are nothing, you can commence violence.”

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According to NPMS Principal Ann Sheldon, the November 12 assembly was coordinated in response to reports that some white students were asking their black friends for a “N-word pass,” which essentially means they were asking permission to use the racial slur. The reported incident was addressed directly with the parties involved, but asking for a “N-word pass” has become a growing trend across the country. 

“Given the widespread nature of this troubling behavior, we felt it was important to broaden awareness of the situation and remind students that it’s not appropriate to use this kind of racially charged language,” Sheldon said.

Cook told students that there should be no desire to have a “pass” to say the N-word to a person of color. “There is always another word you can use,” he said. “Even if someone tells you it’s okay. There is a history to the word, there is a power to the word and there is a pain to the word.”

Sheldon was pleased to report that students were attentive and respectful during the presentation. “We appreciate Mr. Cook coming in and speaking about such an important topic,” she said.

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