Opinion: Racial slurs at Greenbrier West not a happy After-School Special

By Crystal Good, Black By God: The West Virginian

Normalizing racial slurs as “protected speech,” and a gubernatorial candidate’s rhetoric on racism, need to be addressed for the issues they are.

A recent story emerged with the headline: “Greenbrier West High students claim staff deemed the n-word ‘protected’ speech,” evoking the feeling of a distressed after-school special. 

“After School Specials,” aired from 1972 to 1997 on ABC, focused on educating children and teenagers about controversial or socially relevant issues. The special often concluded with moral and life lessons, but this Greenbrier West story doesn’t feel like it will have a “happy” ending. 

Allegedly, the so-called cool jocks at Greenbrier West targeted a Black girl with racial slurs. These racial slurs were etched into a school wall and as well as spoken. Then, a public relations officer from the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department allegedly informed students that the use of the “n-word” is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

This situation raises questions about the perceived protection of hate speech under the guise of free speech, especially after students reported racial slurs etched into a classroom wall.

See the WVNS story.

Unlike after-school specials, where lessons are learned and conflicts are resolved, the reality at Greenbrier West High School seems grim. The story might end with the brave students enduring this ordeal, eventually graduating and leaving West Virginia behind.

The future seems uncertain, especially with Chris Miller’s gubernatorial candidacy and his rhetoric on racism, anti-critical race theory (CRT), and so-called patriotic fearmongering. High school students aren’t taught CRT, but the tone of Miller’s messages — and those of many Republican candidates — criticizes CRT as a catch-all term for opposing concepts like white privilege, systemic inequality, and inherent bias.

Chris Miller’s X (Twitter) post and video.

Such incidents affect the individuals involved and damage the state’s reputation, potentially deterring people from making West Virginia their home or visiting. The path to progress and prosperity involves building foundational values rooted in creating a culture of respect, dignity, and equality. Addressing these issues for what they are, racism is critical to growth.

But I  fear this “after-school special” won’t end with inclusivity that triumphs over prejudice. Maybe the next episode? 

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