Thass Raciss… I think.
Today a young White man walked up to me and offered me this piece of information: he is an “Albino Moon Cricket”. That’s what his teammates called him. I don’t know why he felt like I needed to know this – I suspect it had something to do with him attempting to avoid reading one of the many versions of “Cinderella” scattered about the classroom – but it was very important to him that I did.
“A what?” I asked.
“An albino moon cricket…that’s what I am…” he said.
“What does that mean? Why are you telling me this? Is this some sort of racial slur that I should be familiar with?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just a funny phrase I heard, and I was told that I was one. I don’t think it’s racist though.”
“But then…why are you an albino? I’m looking it up.” I proceed to Google it. The first definition that pops up comes from Urban Dictionary, and it is not, as one would imagine anything that comes from Urban Dictionary is, pleasant. (There’s also an essay from an artist about why he calls himself a moon cricket – how he took the negative and made it a positive – but as I was in the middle of class, I didn’t have time to read it. I did go back and read it later. It is pretty interesting.) “It IS racist!” I declare loudly, reading the definition for the class. Apparently, after a long day of work, slaves went outside at night to sing and dance. Under the moon. Like or as a cricket. And, at least according to Urban Dictionary, it is a synonym for and “basically the same as saying Nigger“. Everyone’s jaw drops – did my teacher just say the “N” word out loud? Yep. She did. The kids didn’t know how to react.
“Did you know this definition when you said that to me?” I asked him. He swore that he had no clue. I have learned early to never believe kids when they look amused and they vow cluelessness.
So then I was confronted with a teachable moment. The kind that comes along, and you have to stop what you’re doing in order to teach the kids an important life less. We had a discussion about moon crickets, and whether or not the term was “funny”. I mean, yes. It sounds funny. But the “definitions” and sample sentences were not, they were downright offensive, and as “funny” as they were supposed to be, shamefully indicative of the types of race problems we have in this country. And yes, it was relatively meaningless for most of the kids up until the point when I dropped the n-bomb and associated the term “moon cricket” with what they consider the biggest racial slur. But then we had to consider, was it a harmless made up racial slur? Or did it have the potential for serious damage? Was it okay for them to continue calling each other “moon crickets” and laughing about it? Or did we need to put a stop to the language right then?
“I mean, I would hate to write someone up for picking on another kid and have to write, on the referral slip, ‘he called his classmate a moon cricket!'” I said. They laughed until there was water in their eyes. And then I had to say…”But you know, it’s not actually funny. I mean…it’s funny that this is the term they chose. It’s ridiculous. But the fact that there are people out there that actively seek ways to hurt other people because of their skin color or cultural background or whatever is not funny.” The class sobered. “Maybe,” I said, “just maybe it’s hilarious to you because as a White male there are very few insulting race-based slurs. You don’t have to think about what it’s like to be the minority in the room. You don’t have to confront marginalization in your daily life. (Of course, I had to define marginalize.) It’s easy to tell someone that they should lighten up when no one is weighing you down, right?” They nodded their agreement. I continued, “However, if we choose to respect it as a racial term, then do we give it power over us? Should we just ignore it and move on? Or should we try to censor the spread of ‘dangerous’ words and ideas?”
At this point, they looked thoughtful.
They looked considerate.
They looked like they were weighing the implications of knowledge and power, words, language, censorship and sticks-and-stones.
The classroom was deadly silent.
And then someone broke the silence. They softly whispered…”moon cricket“.
Teachable moment ended.