Teacher defends using N-word: ‘I’m getting slandered’

Justin Chan
In The Know

A Florida high school teacher who was caught saying the N-word has fired back at his critics, WUFT reports.

On Feb. 12, Robert Cecil, a 56-year-old English teacher at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, was caught in a 12-second video lecturing two Black students on the use of the N-word. The students had been using the N-word with the soft-a ending when Cecil intervened.

“If you’re black, and you say ‘n***a,’ but you don’t say ‘n****r,’ ’cause that’s like …” he says before trailing off.

“We can say it,” one of the students says in response.

Still, Cecil gets noticeably agitated.

“It’s a free country, freedom of speech, right?” he asks.

The video went viral in the following days, prompting an unidentified member of the public to bring attention to the episode at a school board meeting on Feb. 18, according to WUFT. When Eileen Roy, the chairwoman of the board, responded by saying she could not comment due to a preliminary investigation into the incident, another person at the meeting, Julie Crosby, scolded the board.

“There’s a connection between student achievement and the valuing of students of color,” Crosby, whose grandchildren attend the district’s schools, said. “There is a connection between a student’s self-worth and achievement. And the fact that you can’t just simply give a public apology and give a statement … there’s a connection.”

The incident was also brought to the attention of Evelyn Foxx, president of the Alachua County chapter of the NAACP, WUFT reports. That same day, Foxx called for Cecil’s removal.

“We won’t let Mr. Cecil ruin our Black History Month, but something has to be done about any teacher that uses that type of language in the classroom,” she said.

In response to the backlash, Cecil wrote a lengthy statement to the news station, apologizing for what he had said but arguing that his message had also been misconstrued.

“I detest the N-word more than any other word in the English language,” the teacher wrote. “It represents the greatest sin our of country when we enslaved other human beings.”

Cecil, who has taught at various schools for 16 years, claimed that he had been trying to use the conversation between the students as a “teachable moment” and that he had said the N-word to “demonstrate how it has shock appeal.” He further noted that the viral video was “edited so that my disapproval of the word and its attendant racist connotations were edited out.”

“This is, of course, an abrogation of my rights,” he wrote. “In no way was this response to my students using this word, which was videotaped without my permission, meant to be disparaging to anyone.”

In a follow-up interview with WUFT, Cecil said he decided to stay away from Buchholz in the incident’s aftermath to protect his son and other teachers at the school. The 56-year-old, however, maintained that he was also a victim despite his “lapse in judgment” in using the word.

“I’m getting slandered on the internet, you know, being accused of being racist, but I’m far from being racist,” he said. “And that’s unfair. That’s a negative consequence. And, of course, I partly take responsibility for that.”

Cecil also claimed that his generation had a better understanding of the weight the N-word carries, citing the civil rights movement.

“This word is full of negative connotations for many, many people, blacks and whites … and I don’t think it has a place in polite society,” he told WUFT. “You know, whatever they do among their friends, that’s their business. But once you go to school, it’s a public venue.”

When later told that Essence magazine had accused him of “whitesplaining” when to properly use the N-word, the teacher stood his ground.

“Let’s find another way to talk to each other, you know, and it’s not just my white opinion,” he said. “If I can’t say a word because I happen to be white … well, isn’t that reverse racism?”

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