Teaching The N-Word To EFL Students: Should We Or Shouldn’t We?

To begin, let me wish you and your loved one(s) a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Prosperous New Year! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this new series. So, what’s it all about?

It’s about whether or not EFL teachers should teach the n-word to our English as a Foreign Language students. It would seem that the answer is “No”, we shouldn’t. After all, it’s a taboo word, and there is no legitimate context in which our students will be able to use the word themselves, so why waste valuable class time on it, right?

Not so fast. Who says, “there is no legitimate context”… We might need to rethink that statement. I recently attended a 3-day workshop for EFL teachers, and the use of the n-word came up naturally in one of our class discussions. Being the only African-American present, I shared how the word makes me feel when I hear it. Only now, upon reflection, have I come to realize that my personal reaction should not be the end of the discussion. Everyone of us, not only EFL teachers in Chile, but also EFL teachers worldwide, should be able to articulate a personal opinion on the topic that is well-informed.

The n-word, yes, makes me feel bad whenever I hear it. It is meant to hurt you, to vilify you, to belittle you, to demean you, to attack you as viciously as possible without doing so physically. It is meant to do profound emotional damage to you.

Also, when you use the n-word, you are automatically perceived as a racist, regardless of the situation, regardless of how much and how sincerely you claim to be using it only because your black friend(s) use it with you.

Double standard? Black people can use it but white people can’t use it?

Personally, I can honestly advise you that if you are NOT black, N-E-V-E-R say the n-word, not with your friends, and definitely not with someone who is not your friend. Now, if your friend(s) are racist, disregard my advice. In that context, you can prove to your racist friend(s) that you are also racist by using the n-word yourself.

Now, here comes the fun part. What do you do if you are a comedian, and your black friend, let’s call him “Chris Rock” says to you: “You’re cool. You are the blackest white guy I know. You’re my nigger.”

As a white guy, surely now you can do it, you can smile and say to Chris, “You’re my nigger too.” Right? Right? Now you can say it…or can’t you? Why can you do it??? Ok…Why not? Why can’t you use it, if the black guy used it first with you to show they consider you to be a brother. Check this video out at the 15:00 mark and let me know what you think about what you hear…

Ok, those were professional comedians. They get paid for making people laugh. Basically, this is as unreal as it gets. Surely, this is an acceptable use of the n-word, by white guys, with their black colleague, Chris Rock, right???

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Before you answer, let’s go to the world of music, rap and hip hop. For example, here’s a song where the n-word is used an amazing 128 times: My Nigga by YG…

That’s a cool song, right. Now, if you are enjoying this music, shouldn’t you be able to say to your friend(s)”You are My Nigga”???

Let’s finish up with one last video. It’s called, “Te quiero”…It means, are you ready…I love you. So, here’s a successful Latin American singer, from Panama, whose real name is Félix Danilo Gómez Bozquez, who goes by the artistic name of, “Nigga.”

Well, we can both agree, you and I, that this is a beautiful, romantic song. In the year 2007, it went number 1 on the charts. So, Nigga had a bright future ahead of him, right? Well, to be honest, no. In the USA, you can’t sell records…I mean, it’s not a very good idea to try to sell your music calling yourself “Nigga.” So, Felix changed his artistic name to “Flex”. And Flex hasn’t been heard of since… Flex? Who’s that?

So, EFL teacher, do we teach the n-word to our students? Comedians use it, rap singers use it, so why not our students? It’s complicated, I know. Remember Felix? Do you think it would have been a good idea for his EFL teacher to teach him that no matter how cool he thought the name “Nigga” was, it wasn’t a very good career choice to call himself a name that seeks to dehumanize a human being. And saying it 128 times does nothing to change its ugliness, its hatefulness, its negativity.

So, what is it that our students need to know about this word? Its history? Its meaning(s)? Its pronunciation? Who can use it? Who can’t use it? When it can be used? Where it can be used? Can you sing it…if it appears 128 times in the song? Dear reader, what are your thoughts on all of this? Let me know your opinion(s) about the N-Word…Peace.

I leave you with my favorite song by Nigga (Flex)…
Quiero Que Me Baile Sensual…

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About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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