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Racial slur leads to educational opportunity in Lindon

Pastor uses incident as teaching moment to bolster sensitivity

Published: Friday, Feb. 22 2013 9:41 a.m. MST

The Rev. France Davis teaches Bantam League players and their families about racial slurs in a sensitivity training.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

LINDON — Tamu Smith could tell something was wrong with her son Isaiah.

"I saw his demeanor change," she said. "The way he plays basketball changed."

She tried to get the attention of her 12-year-old son at halftime, but the bleachers for parents were too far from the court. She watched as the boys talked to the officials and both Bantam League coaches.

"I just had a feeling something had happened," she said.

What happened was an exchange that occurs in sporting events, at schools and on playgrounds all too often. A player on the opposing team had used the N-word in reference to Isaiah's team and the fact that they were fouling them.

Isaiah was in tears as he related the story to his mother after the game.

"It offended me," he said. "I was raised not to say that. It made me angry and sad. I didn't think anyone would do that. I was just raised not to say it. Ever since I was little, I've known it was like a swear word."

Smith immediately questioned the coaches and officials as to why something wasn't done to deal with the situation during the game.

"It's a form of bullying," she said. "I wanted to know why no adult protected my son and the other boys."

No adult had heard the boy use offensive language, so they were uncertain how to handle it. Adults argued about the incident, so Smith took her son home but was determined to address the issue.

Her conversations with coaches led her to Josh Kallunki, who runs the Utah County AAU Bantam League for local high school coaches. At first, she was angry, and he was unsure how to proceed. He took two days off work and talked to everyone involved and everyone he trusted.

The boy who'd said the offensive words said he didn't mean to offend. He was using the term, as many young people do, as slang to address his buddies. Some felt the issue wasn't as serious because the boy who used the term is also black. Smith said she is not comforted that the boy who said the word is the same race as her son.

"That doesn't make it any less degrading," she said. "Especially when you come from a home where that language is wrong."

So the high school coaches affiliated with the schools in question and Kallunki decided to do something a little different. The boy would receive a punishment for using offensive language, which included an apology, but the entire league would be invited to a seminar on sportsmanship and the use of offensive language.

That seminar was held Thursday night at Karl G. Maeser Preparatory Academy in Lindon, and it featured the Rev. France Davis, pastor of Calvary Baptist and a longtime professor at the University of Utah.

Davis used his experiences and ability to teach in parables to illustrate why using the slur in any context, among any group, is inappropriate.

"It is a serious issue, and it can't be swept under the rug," he told the group in the school's gymnasium.

The problem many coaches and teachers face is that rap music, movies and comedians use the word liberally, mostly by changing the "er" on the end to an "a." Teens tell coaches it is a term of endearment and slang that young people of many races use. The one exception is that it is still generally unacceptable for whites to use it, even as a joke with friends.

Davis said he sees teens using it more frequently, and gets calls to speak on the origins of the word and why it's unacceptable to use.

"It doesn't make any difference," he said of the adaptations Hollywood has made to the word. "They're both negative, and they both have connotations that make them not appropriate to use in any setting. … There are no acceptable uses of that particular word in conversations."

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