Marlon Anderson, a Black security guard at Madison West High School, was terminated this week because he used the n-word during a teaching moment with a student using the same word.
Anderson says that while he was trying to engage a disruptive student, the student called him a “bitch ass n—-” and several other variations of derogatory terms. In response, Anderson told the student, “do not call me n—-!”
Despite over 11 years with the district at both East and West High Schools, Anderson was fired for saying the n-word.
As an MMSD alum and a student of Marlon’s, 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.
What’s even more troubling is that this is a district whose white educators have been accused of using obscenities towards students or trampling Black girls on tape, and were met with slow-moving investigations that did more to protect the staff than the students.
The fact that Interim Superintendent Belmore fired Anderson signals to the Madison community that even its best educators of color are not valued by our decision-makers.
Not only should Anderson not have been fired for this kind of infraction, he should have been promoted years ago. This district is in desperate need of people like Anderson. As long as the district continues to push talent of his caliber to the outskirts of situations like this, our students are in danger.
As the district twiddles its thumbs with fruitless, surface-level zero-tolerance tactics, it continues to perpetuate a jarring level of ignorance towards the fact that blanket punishments like this (without consideration of context) are inadequate and inherently anti-Black.
You owe it to Madison’s schools to be leaders who support critical race theory and radical justice, that can call attention to the nuance of language and the reality of microaggressions. You can’t keep begging Black leaders to “fix” achievement gaps and then police the way they engage with their own people.
Simply put: Black people can say n—- when teaching a lesson. White people can not. One example exudes a history common strife, the other is an example of outright violence. To be so narrow-minded that you refuse to see the difference is a problem. In the case of the white woman who said the n-word at Hamilton, she deserved to be held accountable–because it’s true that any white person saying it in any condition is an act a violence against Black students but that does not mean that the word cannot be used in an intimate, correcting moment between one Black person to another.
As educated professionals you owe it to yourselves and the city of Madison to actually interrogate the history of the n-word and its actual impact on students.
According the District’s website MMSD is committed “to anti-racist, culturally responsive teaching and leading for equity so that Black excellence becomes a reality…”
To be anti-racist and culturally responsive, the District must comes to terms with the flaw in this zero-tolerance policy and stop hiding behind a veil of cowardice that undermines the work of our Black and brown leaders.