I am a regular reader and when I feel necessary commenter of your blog.  I’m also a teacher.  I wanted to ask you is some advice on how to handle what for me is a delicate situation.

The other day after the lunch break I needed to brush my teeth, but had forgotten to bring some toothpaste.  Knowing that my students all had a stash of  toothpaste and other items, I asked one if I could borrow some toothpaste.  As she handed it to me she said, “It is Darlie.” Her next sentence stopped me cold, “You know, the brand with the N-word on it.”  All I could do was look at her and ask where she learned that word, it certainly wasn’t from me.  I think I scared her because she was suddenly afraid she had made me angry.  I assured I wasn’t angry, just surprised and disappointed she used that particular word. She said she read it in her US history text-book, but she also hears it in music and other venues.
I took the time explain how it was a word that wasn’t proper to use especially in normal conversation because it is an offensive word, but I fear my explanation may have been lacking in some real substance.  I would like to know how you would handle a similar instance and might have a better argument to explain why it isn’t proper to use it.
-Elite Teacher
Being a Black woman, I really take the extra time to explain the history behind the word.  Referencing the slave situation in America… (which most Chinese are familiar with) and the 1960’s civil rights movement (they know Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) … I explained the situation in the past and the scars it left on my people.   I told them about the KKK (which they are familiar with) and how this word was used as a form of insult and degrading of the Black American race.   I actually held a class about it.  Answering all questions, with clear and concise answers.  While telling myself.. they don’t know and I need to make sure they know not only that the word is not good but the stigma behind the word.

I compared it to the horrors that were done to China by the Japanese… so they could get the full feeling and pain that Black Americans felt during that time.   This gave them a clearer picture of why it would not be good or safe to use this word.   You know .. Chinese people are afraid of almost everything… so I mention that if they were in the states and they used this word … they could get hurt.   This pretty much killed the thought of ever using the word again.

It might be a little overkill.. but… some of these students will go abroad… and I would really hate to see something happen to them .. just because they were ignorant of the fact that the word has bad connotations.

Sometimes as a teacher in China you have to not only educate them in English but you have to educate them in social norms and diversity.   I include this in all my classes, on every level.  They are the future of China.. and I would like to feel that I played some small part in a better China.

What do you guys think?