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Arizona High School Students’ Racist Photo: It’s Time to Retire the N-Word

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

People were horrified Friday when six white girls at Desert View High School in Phoenix decided to spell out a racial slur on their T-shirts, then post a photo of it to Snapchat where it went viral. My children attend that school, and know the girls involved. One of them has a black boyfriend, and at least a couple of the others have also dated black students. Outrage over the photo has gone national, and a petition asking to expel the students has acquired over 37,000 signatures. It is also asking to fire the principal, because there is a perception the school is only going to suspend the students for five days. The school has not formally announced the discipline, obviously under pressure to throw the book at the students. Rev. Jarrett Maupin, a young man who has fashioned himself into a sort of Al Sharpton of Arizona, is organizing a Black Lives Matter rally at the school Monday afternoon.


Here is the problem: Why do people still think it is acceptable to use such an offensive word and joke about it? I blame their parents. Society has become so politically correct that anyone with a pulse should know that using a word that actually is offensive is going to result in a backlash. These girls are 17 and 18 years old, old enough to know better. Unfortunately, parents don’t always monitor what their kids are watching on TV, listening to on their iPods and doing on the Internet. Watch a few too many movies with racial slurs in them, with no parental guidance explaining how inappropriate they are, and a teenager may treat them as a joke.

These students were reportedly bullies who would take photos of other teens, post them on social media and make fun of them. No one ever did anything or stopped them — including their parents. So they began to feel they could get away with anything. The sad thing is, if someone had stepped in and stopped the bullying, they probably wouldn’t have ever gone this far.

While everyone has a right to free speech, there are certain things you don’t say out of common courtesy or because they would have adverse results. Shouting “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater is not protected by the First Amendment. While racial slurs aren’t illegal, they are offensive and can result in horrible consequences as happened here. This incident will follow the students around for the rest of their lives. One has reportedly lost a full scholarship to college and was kicked off the soccer team, where she was team captain. They are receiving death threats and fake Twitter accounts have been set up in their names tweeting raunchy things.


Society needs to collectively agree to retire the n-word. This goes for black people too. There seems to be some unwritten rule that it’s acceptable for black athletes and rappers to use the n-word. Keeping the word out there makes it seem acceptable and even funny to some.

The n-word is contributing to racial tensions, and giving Black Lives Matter a reason to agitate. Anyone who is serious about improving race relations should recognize how detrimental this word is. The old adage, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me,” sounds clever but it isn’t accurate. Mental abuse is a known behavior that can result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Some might say that people need to toughen up — but we can all agree that the n-word is one of the rudest words out there and can cause real pain. It is not like the growing list of “microaggressions” and “trigger warnings” the left is creating to arbitrarily and unjustifiably block off words. Whatever happened to politeness and common sense?

Some will argue that retiring the n-word is caving in to the politically correct crowd, almost as bad as banning speech and will lead to retiring more words. The fact is, if done voluntarily, it is not banning free speech. The left and the right rarely agree upon anything, much less which words are offensive. Here is one word that both sides mostly agree needs to go. It will be much more difficult for them to agree on other words. Additionally, it will stop these vicious, high-profile incidents from happening, which ruin so many lives.


Free speech purists may balk at an effort to stop using the n-word. Perhaps label the project something like “Don’t Ban It, Retire It.” The irony is, this kind of free speech is far from free, it is the most costly speech these girls will probably ever engage in.

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