During a lesson about Huckleberry Finn, a Boston high school English teacher walked over to Destinee Wornum’s desk and said, “What’s up, my [n–ger]?”
“I didn’t know what to say,” Destinee, a black 16-year-old, told the Boston Globe about the October 2015 incident at Boston Latin School. “I was uncomfortable and embarrassed.”
It was an attempt by the teacher to spark discussion about the word, which is used throughout the novel, at Destinee’s expense.
“I honestly didn’t know how to handle it because it was like, how do I approach my adult teacher on a situation like this? What would that mean for my grade? What would it mean for my future at BLS?” Destinee said to the Globe. “I was in fear of what could happen because it’s like, I’m a girl from Dorchester and I ought to be grateful because I go to BLS. That’s the way that they make it seem.”
Destinee said that she was afraid and embarrassed to come forward and tell her mother about what happened. A recent social media campaign hashtag #BlackAtBLS sparked by other students to highlight racial incidents at the school gave the teen the courage to tell her mom.
“That [statement] was cultural incompetence,” Destinee’s mother, Rosalind Wornum, told the Globe regarding the incident. “What was she expecting from making that statement to her? Is it standard process in addressing the book?”
Rosalind Wornum added that she has met with the headmaster of the school to demand that the teacher be fired.
According to the Globe, there was a tense racial discussion between students on social media after the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and in February, a student was reportedly threatened with lynching.
Headmaster Lynn Mooney Teta told the Globe that the English teacher’s behavior was “unacceptable” but added that she had not talked to the teacher about the incident.
“I don’t think teachers realize they have a big impact on our lives and our future,” Rosalind Wornum told the Globe. “The slightest thing that you say can stick with a student for the rest of their life, whether it is positive or negative.”