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Portland Students Ready To Talk About The N-Word


Bella Rideau, left, is co-editor-in-chief of Grant Magazine, a publication of Grant High School. Eliza Kamerling-Brown, right, is co-editor-in-chief of Grant Magazine.

Bella Rideau, left, is co-editor-in-chief of Grant Magazine, a publication of Grant High School. Eliza Kamerling-Brown, right, is co-editor-in-chief of Grant Magazine.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

I just read one of the deepest, wisest explorations of “the N-word” I’ve ever seen.

Shortly after I started reading it, I totally forgot it was put together by high school students.

Grant Magazine is the student publication of Grant High School in Portland. The March issue is called “Let’s Talk About The N-Word.

Bella Rideau and Eliza Kamerling-Brown are co-editors-in-chief, both seniors at Grant High. They’ve been working on the issue for about a year.

Eliza — who is white — says the experience has reinforced the idea that the word is strictly off-limits … for her, at least.


Q&A with Bella Rideau and Eliza Kamerling-Brown

Eliza Kamerling-Brown: I don’t in any context, artistic, education, say the word. I also believe with that comes that I don’t get to determine who does and doesn’t say the word. I do believe it’s exclusive to the black community, but I don’t have any say in how it’s used there.

Geoff Norcross: But Bella, you are black. How do you come at this differently, about the use of that word, the appropriateness of it?

Bella Rideau: There’s certainly part of the power of the word is through experience. When I first learned what the word meant, it was with my grandmother, who lives in Oberlin, Ohio, who grew up during the heat of the civil rights movement. I was 11 years old at the time. That word carries weight for my grandmother that is inherently passed on to me when she explains to me what that word means.

Also, being a student of color at Grant High School is … there are very few students of color in the classes that I take. That also plays into it. Not just the N-word, but how I approach topics on race.

GN: In the issue, you spell out the word, but only when you’re quoting somebody. The rest of the time, it’s literally “the N-word.” In fact, that’s the title of the issue of this magazine. What was your thinking about that policy?

EKB: We had a lot of discussion around this. At first, when we were writing the issue, we had planned on using the word actually on the cover, and planned on using the word in print. But it was … I mean, we dedicated hours to talking about that issue specifically, because as our reporting advanced and we talked to sources of all different opinions around the word, we collectively realized that could do more harm than good.

We wanted to figure a way to approach it as a staff that would be appropriate and follow the points we were making ourselves. So we had discussions around … should we even write this word when we’re typing, when we’re transcribing? Should we include it in print, in what cases would we do that? That’s when we arrived towards the end of the process, we arrived at the decision.

We would use “the N-word” on the cover, and then only spell out the word if it was in a quote in the magazine. But we did think that was important.

GN: What are you hoping to accomplish with this issue?

BR: My biggest hope is that … people don’t need to change their minds, but we should be talking about it. And we should be recognizing the racial dynamics of Grant High School, and how this word plays a huge role in that, and starting to tackle the conversation and address this dynamic that has not been checked for far too long.

EKB: The biggest thing that I’ve taken away from this is the N-word is everybody’s issue. That’s the thing. I think especially in an all-white school, you have the tendency to get people to think, “This doesn’t directly apply to me, therefore I’m just going to excuse myself from the conversation.” I don’t think that’s a valid point at all.

Whether you’re black, white, Latina, Asian, any other ethnicity, this word has such deep roots in American history. Regardless of its roots and its origin, it now comes into play everywhere. It is everyone’s issue, and it’s everyone’s job to talk about this. Not just the black people. Not just the white people. It’s everyone’s job to address the N-word.


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