‘I’m not your n-word’: school guard fired for repeating racial slur

Victoria Bekiempis in New York
Photograph: Steve Apps/AP

A high school security guard in Madison, Wisconsin, said he was fired after repeating a racial slur that was used against him. The news spurred protests and demands for reinstatement.

“Short story....I get called a bit@# @ss Ni€€A by a student, I responded do ‘not call me ni€€a !’ And I got fired,” Marlon Anderson wrote in a Facebook post on 16 October. Anderson also criticized the Madison Metropolitan School District, writing “MMSD I unfortunately expected better.”

The district said Anderson was fired due to its “zero-tolerance” policy against the use of racial slurs, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The local teacher’s union said it would file a grievance on behalf of Anderson, NBC 15 reported. Anderson reportedly said he would file suit if MMSD did not give him his job back.

On Friday, hundreds of students left school to protest, walking two miles to the MMSD offices. The school’s black student union, of which Anderson’s son is a member, met the MMSD superintendent and the school board president, the Journal Sentinel reported.

“Anything that involves us, our voices will be heard,” Noah Anderson reportedly told a crowd of around 1,000 following the meeting.

National figures came to Anderson’s defense. Arne Duncan, Barack Obama’s education secretary, tweeted Friday": “The Madison, WI school district needs to grow a brain, and a heart, really quickly! I’ve seen some crazy things over the years, but this is one of the worst. Just more evidence our country still can’t handle issues of race, and racism.”

The singer Cher also offered to help, telling Anderson “if you want to sue … I will incur your expenses”.

Anderson, 48, claims he was escorting an unruly male student out of Madison West High School on 9 October when the student started calling him the n-word. The student also allegedly shoved and threatened the school’s assistant principal, the Journal Sentinel said.

Madison West High School senior Noah Anderson, 17, president of the school’s Black Student Union and son of the school’s recently-fired security guard Marlin Anderson, leads a rally in support of his father outside the school in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday. Photograph: John Hart/AP

“Every type of n-word you can think of, that’s what he was calling me,” Anderson said. “I said, do not call me that name. I’m not your n-word. Do not call me that.”

The school’s principal, Karen Boran, told Anderson later that week keeping his job would be “an uphill battle”. Boran then told parents in a letter on Wednesday a school staffer wasn’t coming back to work, following an investigation.

“As you know, our expectation when it comes to racial slurs has been very clear,” Boran wrote. “Regardless of context or circumstance, racial slurs are not acceptable in our schools.”

The school district superintendent said on Friday it wants to have a strict policy against racial slurs, but suggested it might be reviewed.

“All of us here know that education is a dynamic social process,” the Journal Sentinel reported the statement as saying. “Sometimes it gets messy when we have to grapple together around deeply held values like what it means to be anti-racist.

“…There is no doubt that language matters and racial slurs are harmful. However, at this point, we have an opportunity to look more deeply into the response to the use of racial slurs in our schools.”

The school board president also said it would review district rules on disciplining staff for using such language.

An area youth organization, the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, said on Friday that it had hired Anderson while district officials weigh his appeal.

On Facebook, Anderson wrote: “This is a great help to be able to earn wages while we go through this appeals process. The reality is I did not just lose wages but also benefits. Most importantly we will soon be without health insurance … which makes the loss that much more impactful to myself and my family.

“This among other reasons is why I am still fighting for my position @ West with fervor.”

He added that he was “amazed at the dynamic support from my Madison Community your love is recognized and so appreciated. I am still fighting for my position @ West and for justice to be applied to my situation. I am also still fighting to challenge the ‘no tolerance’ policy that made me a casualty to its flawed planning and implementation. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.”