‘I Can Say a Word In the English Language’: Defiant Tennessee High School Teacher Ignores Students’ Pleas to Stop Using N-Word In Class, Faces Suspension 

A high school teacher in Knoxville, Tennessee, has been placed on administrative leave after his students recorded him using the N-word during class.

Despite requests from his students to refrain from using the racial epithet, he continued and even doubled down on why he believed it was acceptable for him to use it.

Tennessee teacher suspended for using the N-word
A screenshot of a viral video of a Tennessee teacher repeating the N-word after students tell him not to. (Jennifer Lawson/Facebook)

Knox County Schools has suspended the teacher from South-Doyle High School with pay.

The incident was captured on video by 16-year-old student Hero Lawson, who was present in the class when the teacher used the racial slur. In an interview with WVLT, Lawson explained that she and her classmates immediately called out the teacher’s inappropriate language during their first-period chemistry class on March 27.

Lawson shared the video on social media, and it quickly went viral.

In the video, the teacher argued that his use of the n-word was not meant to be derogatory. He claimed he was repeating what another student had said earlier in reference to others in the class.

During the class, the teacher also shared what he believed to be the right and wrong ways to use the word. He claimed that it was acceptable because he didn’t direct it to anyone. However, both Black and white students continued to ask him to refrain from using the word, but he refused.

Hero Lawson, who captured the incident on video, empathized with her Black classmates and could see the hurt on their faces. She said, “It was not just anger. It was flat-out hurt, and you could hear it in their voices when they are pleading for this guy to shut up. Just stop.”

Malayia Pelcher, another student in the class, revealed that the teacher used the word in response to a Black student who had used it first. The Black student had asked, “Mr. Graves, why aren’t you calling out any of these other n***as?”

After hearing the student say the word, the teacher repeated it. When students told him he should never use the word because it was derogatory, he responded, “I don’t care. I can say a word in the English language.”

The racial makeup of the school may have made his comments more offensive. The school has over 1,000 students enrolled this year, with almost 76 percent of them being white and 14 percent being Black, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Pelcher expressed her hurt and disappointment with the incident, saying, “The whole thing made me feel like our teacher doesn’t care about us. Why would you say that to us as a class when we didn’t do anything to you?”

Knox County Schools representative and School Board Chair Kristi Kristy released a statement in response to the incident, confirming that an investigation into the incident has been launched and the teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave. She also stated that “Knox County Schools does not tolerate any instances of racism.”

The teacher is still currently employed by the school, but his status may change depending on the outcome of the investigation, according to Carly Harrington, a spokesperson for the district.

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