I know the Anderson family — Marlon, his wife and three respectful, intelligent sons.
I have known them for years from church, community and working together in various projects. I watched their sons grow up; one is an amazing artist studying in Milwaukee, while the other two gifted sons are in Madison schools.
They are a creative family, full of faith and humor. Both Marlon and his wife are longtime community advocates for youth. They don’t only respect youth, they genuinely love and care for young people over decades. Neither of the adults shared the incident when Anderson, as a West High security guard, was fired. I read about it, like most people, in the local media. The dreaded N-word rears its historically derogatory self again in the public consciousness, causing mayhem.
Anderson has worked 11 years for the Madison Metropolitan School District, but that doesn’t nearly speak to the importance of his career, first at East High School and currently at West High School. Anderson is legendary in our community for his regard for and commitment to students. As writer Kynala Phillips wrote for Madison365, “I can tell you first hand that the district has not only lost an amazing asset, but has also committed a major disservice to the students of West High School. Anderson was not a security guard. He was a beacon of light and understanding. His presence allowed students to feel seen and respected.”
Phillips contends — rightly, as a former student of Anderson — that he should have been promoted long ago. Yet, he was fired because he told a student not to call him the N-word. Anderson said the actual word in an Oct. 9 incident with an African American student who is reported to have used the word and cursed at him repeatedly. Anderson also reported that the assistant principal, Jennifer Talarczyk, who he was assisting with the unruly student, not only did not try to get the student to stop saying the racial slur, she turned on the microphone on her radio and broadcast everything to other staff with radios. Anderson was fired the following week.
Once again, MMSD has let students and staff down by not taking time, effort, research and thought into making policy and interpreting that policy within the specific context that is needed.
All of us understand that underneath this “zero tolerance for racial slurs” policy is the threat that if a white teacher gets fired for saying the N-word, then everyone else must get fired, too. White teachers have been fired under different circumstances regarding their use of the “n” word.
More important in this discussion is who gets to use the word and in what context. UMOJA Magazine founder Milele Chikasa Anana held a funeral long ago for the N-word and said it should disappear from public use. Some African Americans use the word in a process called “inversion” — where you take a negative word and give it positive connotations to remove the stigma. Clearly the student verbally abusing Anderson used the word over and over as the ultimate insult.
The student should apologize to Anderson for his foul language and behavior. Talarczyk needs to apologize to Anderson for not supporting him and his work in security.
I have never been verbally abused to the extent that Anderson was, and I believe that he proved himself strong when he didn’t respond to the student in an unprofessional way, as we have witnessed other teachers do in the past. Anderson, as an African American man, in the context of the Oct. 9 confrontation, had the personal, historical and racial right to tell the student to stop calling him that derogatory name by using the derogatory name. And I’ll add that no other racial group should have this word come out of their mouth, for any reason.
Fabu, Madison’s former poet laureate, is a consultant in African-American culture and arts. She writes a monthly column for The Capital Times. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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