At their best, schools are supposed to be training grounds for critical thinking. But if your official bylaws preclude using context, it's a pursuit bound for failure.
We take you now to Madison West High in Wisconsin's capital city. That's where Marlon Anderson works—or rather worked—as a security guard.
He was escorting an unruly student out of school. The kid, hoping to present young and tough—though not particularly inventive—called Anderson a “bitch ass nigger” and shoved and threatened an assistant principal.
“Every type of n-word you can think of, that’s what he was calling me,” Anderson told the Milwaukee Journal.
He demonstrated the patience and restraint required for working in a school these days. But Anderson did let the kid know he was out of bounds. “I responded, 'Do not call me a nigger.'”
And that, weirdly enough, would get him fired.
Madison West is the kind of place with those “zero-tolerance” policies, popularized by authority figures in the Reagan era to show you mean business, but that you're much too lazy to factor in context or much of anything else. It doesn't work very well in the messy governance of human behavior. Yet then again, life is much easier when you don't have to think.
Madison West has a zero-tolerance policy against using the n-word. So Anderson was promptly fired.
“As you know, our expectation when it comes to racial slurs has been very clear,” Principal Karen Boren wrote to parents. “Regardless of context or circumstance, racial slurs are not acceptable in our schools.”
Fortunately, the students of West are not as enthused about the rote life. They left school to march on the district's administrative offices, demanding Anderson be reinstated. The school board says it will reexamine the matter, and Anderson plans to appeal.
In the meantime, a much less sphincterized entity has come to his rescue. He's working security for the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County.
As Anderson told the Journal: "I feel I was being called a derogatory term and I don’t want to be called that because my mother, my father, my grandparents—they were called this word and could not say, 'Don’t call me that.' I'm the first generation in my family who can literally look you in the eye and say don’t call me that word. I don’t think it’s fair to try to take that from me."