Princeton Professor Asks If The N-Word Can Be Protected Speech . . . Students Walk Out and Protest To University

220px-Princeton_shield.svgPrinceton Professor Lawrence Rosen is facing protests after various students accused him racist language in a recent class.  What is different about this controversy is that the class was on racist language and oppressive symbolism. In an effort to discuss the limits of free speech, Rosen used the n-word and asked if it is protected speech.  Some students answered that question by walking out and protesting to the university.  It is concerning that even a discussion of this word in a relevant class is now viewed as worthy of discipline by some faculty and students.  This controversy is occurring after more schools have banned Huckleberry Finn due to the use of the n-word.  

According to The Daily Princetonian, Rosen used the word in his anthropology 212 course, “Cultural Freedoms: Hate Speech, Blasphemy and Pornography.” He is quoted as saying “What is worse, a white man punching a black man, or white man calling a black man a ni**er?”

The class is on oppressive symbolism.  It is not like this is a class of pottery or modern dance.  Philosophy and legal classes routinely deal with troubling language and cases, including racist, anti-Semitic and other prejudicial terminology.  Is it necessary to say “the n-word” when everyone understand you are using . . .  well  . . .  the n-word?  An important distinction in this case is that the language is being used in a relevant class to adults, not high school or elementary students.  There are dozens of racists and offensive terms that arise in such classes.  Do academics have to use substitutes for everyone of the terms or can graduate students address the offensive terms in the academic setting?

So does this blog.  Usually, I use “the n-word” to avoid what is clearly a hurtful word for many. However, in this context, I used the word because it was relevant to the story as it was to Rosen’s class.  What concerns me is that we are removing language that is important to discuss our history and our language, including the ill-advised banning of books like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird which convey important social and historical values.  We have discussed this troubling trend in literature and academia.

My concern is that we are limited academic discourse and creating barriers to good-faith discussions of language and meaning.

Do you think the use of this word in any context is racially insensitive?

55 thoughts on “Princeton Professor Asks If The N-Word Can Be Protected Speech . . . Students Walk Out and Protest To University”

  1. Last week the Duluth, MN school board withdrew Huck Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird from the list of required readings. Ironically, I remember participating when the Duluth, MN public library sponsored a citywide reading of Mockingbird. Times change and sometimes ignorance advances. I lived in the city from 1969 to 2005 when I moved to St. Paul.

  2. My first thoughts are who really cares especially after reading the “course” title.
    “Cultural Freedoms: Hate Speech, Blasphemy and Pornography.”
    It sort of sums up the whole problem. This is a stupid course to teach and it is classes like this that are spawning useless degrees attached with a house payment after 4+ years.

    Second thought is, yes the kids are to blame, but are they really?
    jamed – “There is something profoundly lacking in these young people, and it doesn’t bode well for them.”
    This is only true if the adults around them succumb to their b.s. If a child throws a tantrum after learning they can win by throwing that tantrum, there is no one to blame but the parents. The “students” in this case should be heard, then told to go back to class or get a failing grade. The problem is, is the colleges will not take a stand because they are rotten at the core.

    1. Jim22 – if you take a course with a title like this you have “assumed the risk” of hearing something you might not like. 😉 It is on you.

      1. True enough, but the fact that a course like this is even offered explains a lot about the problems with “education”.

  3. If they did not like the professor saying the full word, then they should have talked to him privately. Rather than protest him, they should have stated that the discussion could be just as easily had without the full term.

  4. Universities were not built for the average student they were supposed to be for the best minds. It is not surprising that the weaker children cannot handle the material.

  5. The result of 8 years of fundamental transformation is that I can turn on the radio or TV and find songs premised around use of the n-word and that’s ok…but a professor can’t use the word in academic setting.

  6. The following words have “Gone South”: F word, White Women (where dey at?). Huck. Jim. Jim Crow. Hillary. Donald. Billy. Goats R Us. Erection. G Spot.

    How many women on the blog know what a G Spot is? How many of your husbands know where it is?
    We had a class at our mental ward about this. The class was composed of male and female inmates. The responses from both sides of the aisle were astounding. Which is why the statement “don;t know nuttin bout birthing babies” is so relevant. America is going to Hell in a handbasket. The snowflake generation will perish. In fifty years we will be south of Mexico. Nigerians will be leading the pack.

    1. Liberty2nd – I thought scientific studies had decided the G-spot was a myth again.

    1. Fascists suppress free speech. Now you “get” the American Founders. It’s the “freedom”, stupid!

  7. I don’t understand. Negro comes from Latin languages, meaning black. Nigger is a creole form of the same. I never understood why this might be offensive. It certainly isn’t in “Huckleberry Finn”.

    What about New Orleans jazz?

    1. The word is offensive because it was used throughout the days of slavery and Jim Crow by whites to imply that blacks were inferior. It was used by racists to express their racist attitudes and beliefs.

      1. So how is not “black” equally demeaning?

        The correct term is African-American, although that doesn’t describe the several different cultures, so-called ethnicities, involved.

        1. David Benson – isn’t the correct term American? Africa is a big-a$$ continent. Are they Saharan or sub-Saharan African-Americans?

  8. I don’t see how this instance of modern youth being incapable of coping with even did ussing a subject with maturity is different than any other instance. There is something profoundly lacking in these young people, and it doesn’t bode well for them. It is impossible to understand or question anything deeply that one is forbidden to address, and I suspect these faculty and certain people in the public sector are fully aware of this fact. Between the legitimate betterment of students and wealth and a false sense of power, the latter are the bigger seduction at present. It is both pathetic *and* alarming.

  9. If it is good enough for black rappers, it is fair game for a sociology class. Grow up!!!

  10. Only if it’s used only by the “N’s” and the same applies to L words for Latinos, H for Hispanics, G for greens, W for whites and FP for f’n politicians.

  11. Uh, hum. “Crazy Abe” says you’re not listening.

    Go ahead, Abe.

    “If all earthly power were given me,” said Lincoln in a speech delivered in Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854, “I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution [of slavery]. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land.” After acknowledging that this plan’s “sudden execution is impossible,” he asked whether freed blacks should be made “politically and socially our equals?” “My own feelings will not admit of this,” he said, “and [even] if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not … We can not, then, make them equals.”

    Fun fact: When the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the Naturalization Act of 1802 required citizens to be “…free white person(s)…” requiring deportation of freed slaves, and their descendants, whose status changed from “property” to “illegal alien”.

    Looks like a whole lotta law breakin’ ben goin’ on for a long, long time in these United States.

      1. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

        Stay thirsty, my friend!

  12. Yes, I do think their are more contexts in which that word is racially insensitive than not.
    This class was designed for discussion of this honest measure.
    The fact that some students couldn’t think past triggered is pathetic.

  13. It will never end. The ‘Do as I say crowd not as I Do’ has taken over. No hope! ‘Screw’m if they can’t take a joke’

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