Use Of ‘N’ Word To Jamaican Students Puts Spotlight On Fight For Caribbean Identity Category

Jamaican students in Illinois
Two of the Jamaican students in Illinois who allege they were called the “N” word by a teacher. (WMAQ TV image)

By NAN Staff Writer

News Americas, CHICAGO, IL, Thurs. Oct. 30, 2014: The apparent use of the “N” word by a substitute teacher to describe four Jamaican students in Illinois, undoubtedly puts the spotlight again on the need for a Caribbean identity category on U.S. Census forms, Carib ID Founder, Felicia Persaud, said Wednesday.

WMAQ TV, a NBC affiliate in Illinois, reported that a substitute teacher at the Jay Stream Middle School in Carol Stream, a suburb of Chicago in the state of Illinois initially approached four Jamaican students in a social studies class about the Cold War and called them “African American.”

“All four of us that were sitting there got offended because none of us are from Africa. I’m Jamaican. So we said, ‘Can you please not call us that?” student Mea Thompson told the TV station.

“She continued to call us that and said, ‘It’s the politically correct term.’

She then said:  ‘Well, back then you guys would be considered the N-word,’” Thompson stated.

The students said they were appalled to hear the teacher use the racial slur in the classroom.

“We were so shocked and we were like, ‘What? Excuse me?'” Thompson was quoted as saying. “She was like, ‘Well, back then that’s what African-Americans were called.'”

The students said the teacher used the slur repeatedly over the 80-minute class period, also referring to them as slaves. One student threw down her books and others started crying, the students claim.

“I just want people to know how much it affected us and I don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” student Zaria Daniel told WMAQ.

The school district has confirmed the teacher had been interviewed and corroborated the girls’ description of what happened. A district spokesperson said the substitute teacher will not be asked back to the school.

But Thompson’s mother, Shayna Thompson, insists the punishment is not nearly enough.

“After the shock and hurt, I’m angry,” she was quoted as saying. “It’s a new world, and the people of the past that still hang onto hatred and bigotry don’t belong in this world anymore.”

She said she is looking into whether the teacher can be charged with disorderly conduct or if the incident may be considered a hate crime.

Carol Stream Police also said they are aware of the incident and are investigating.

“While this teacher’s response was appalling and frightening, what it clearly shows is the need for an identity category on U.S. Census forms that accurately describes immigrants of Caribbean heritage and from the Caribbean,” Persaud told NAN yesterday. “Caribbean people living in the United States want to be identified correctly and many do not want to be described as African Americans. These students bravely proved that. We hope the smart folks at the U.S. Census will read this story and take note of what these students so wisely and accurately posited.”

A National Census committee in the summer recommended the Bureau test introducing ‘Afro-Latino, Afro-Indian, Indo-Caribbean’ under the Black or African American example on the “combined race and origin write in box” on future forms but no separate origin category unlike the one recommended for Middle Eastern and North Africans.

Caribbean nationals living in the U.S. currently have no way to accurately self-identity on Census forms and as such are unable to tell their true numbers and measure their economic, political and social contribution to the United States.