"A teachable moment"

DC-area middle school investigating video showing students chanting the n-word on the school bus

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Officials at a DC-area middle school are calling video of students participating in a chant that includes the n-word a “teachable moment for the community.”

In footage shared widely across social media, a group of children on a Montgomery County, MD school bus can be heard chanting “1-2-3-4, how many niggers are in my store?” According to the Washington Post, the video was recorded on September 20 by a 13-year-old black student at Robert Frost Middle School, who was shocked to hear the chant. It was then uploaded to Twitter by her father.

In an interview with the Post, the student’s father, Brandon Long, said his daughter told him that the students participating in the chant had ignored the bus driver’s earlier attempts to quiet them down.

“It shows a lack of empathy to other people’s feelings,” Long told the paper. “It was a poor choice. They did it again knowing this time that they were reprimanded for doing something wrong and that they were being recorded. To me, if you were reprimanded and you knew you were wrong, to do it again shows a lack of care about consequences.”

As multiple outlets have pointed out, the chant itself is nearly identical to one featured in a popular—and widely remixed—video from several years ago, in which four black men appear to be mocking a white clerk’s supposed suspicion over their presence in a convenience store.

The connection between the two videos was noted by Robert Frost principal Joey Jones, who described the chant featured in the student’s footage as “based on a social media video that addresses issues of racial profiling” in a letter to the school community on the incident.

Calling the chant “offensive, inappropriate,” and not reflective of the “positive values of our students,” Jones’ letter said the students involved will face disciplinary action based on the Montgomery County student’s code of conduct. He also noted that an investigation into the incident “revealed that a diverse group of students including students who are African- American, Latino, and Asian were involved in saying the chant.”

“While this experience has been upsetting, we will use this as a teachable moment for our community, “Jones wrote. “In the coming days, students, parents, staff and the community will have an opportunity to discuss issues regarding race and how we can educate each other about our cultures and concerns.”

Jones also pointed out that, as a black man himself, he found the incident particularly troubling.

Speaking with the local Fox News affiliate, Jones reiterated his commitment to using the chant as the starting point for a larger conversation, telling the station:

In [the students’] minds, they think it’s funny. They just think it’s funny. Certainly, when you use that word, it is offensive to most people and it certainly makes people feel uncomfortable. So again, we are going to use this as a teachable moment to share with our students so we can understand each other and learn more about each other’s cultures and be able to move forward.

For Brandon Long, however, the lesson for his daughter is clear. “She knew that it wasn’t right,” he told the Washington Post. “We teach that if you allow people to get away with it, they’ll continue to do it.”

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