A security guard was fired from Madison West High School in Wisconsin last week for using the n-word—after he told a student not to call him the racial expletive. Marlon Anderson, 48, used the n-word in order to instruct an unruly student not to use that language while escorting him from the high school on Oct. 9.
But according to a zero-tolerance policy that critics claim disproportionately affects students of color, Anderson was fired.
Short story....I get called a bit@# @ss Ni€€A by a student, I responded do "not call me ni€€a !"And I got firedMMSD I unfortunately expected betterPosted by Marlon Anderson on Wednesday, October 16, 2019
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the student, who is also black, was yelling expletives—including the n-word—at Anderson after an incident in which the student pushed the assistant principal. Anderson told the student not to call him that word and then repeated the n-word in his reprimand.
“The Madison, WI school district needs to grow a brain, and a heart, really quickly!” Arne Duncan, former U.S. secretary of education, tweeted. “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 Madison, WI school district needs to grow a brain, and a heart, really quickly!— Arne Duncan (@arneduncan) October 18, 2019
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. https://t.co/gX2B91qLEx
After Anderson, who worked for eleven years at the school, was fired, students, teachers, and members of the community began protesting. On Friday, hundreds marched in support of Anderson.
I have cried so much watching you guys on social media my head lost weight, I am overwhelmed by the love when I get back...Posted by Marlon Anderson on Friday, October 18, 2019
Anderson’s 17-year-old son Noah explained why his father’s treatment by the school is fundamentally unfair.
“What my father did is take a teachable moment from an African-American male to a younger African-American male. Why he shouldn’t use the word and not refer to himself that way,” said Noah, who is President of the West Black Student Union.
Y’all got me in here crying.....again truly love you guys and I feel the love, proud to be one of youPosted by Marlon Anderson on Friday, October 18, 2019
A Change.org petition hoping to get Anderson his job back has nearly 11,8000 signatures. Community leaders also wrote an open letter to the school district published on Facebook.
“Put together a committee of students, teachers, educators and leaders of color to rewrite the behavior policy to ensure that context matter so both students and school staff are protected,” Brandi Grayson and Michael Johnson wrote.
“Marlon should be rehired immediately and be considered for a promotion, plus receive back-pay and health benefits for his family during the appeal process.”
“Let me be clear, 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. In order to do that, we need space for discussion and thinking more deeply about the process,” wrote MMSD Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore in an open letter on Friday.
In the midst of all the support by his community, singer and actress Cher stepped up, offering to pay for Anderson’s legal fees if he chooses to sue the MMSD Board of Ed (edited for clarity).
“How Can People Be This Disrespectful!? A Beloved Man of Color Just Passed & Our Nation Is Mourning Him. Congressman Elijah Cummings FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE. He Was loved & Feared. If You Want To sue MMSD Education Board I Will Incur Your expenses,” she wrote in response to a tweet about Anderson’s situation.
How Can Ppl Be This Disrespectful⁉️A Beloved,Man of Color Just Passed,& Our Nations Mourning Him.Cong.Elijah Cummings FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE.He Was loved & Feared. If You Want To sue MMSD Ed.Board I Will Incur Your expenses.🕊EC— Cher (@cher) October 18, 2019
“Holy smokes. I am overwhelmed,” Anderson told the Journal Sentinel after learning of Cher’s offer.
Regarding Anderson said that he feels, as a black man on a predominantly white staff, he has a responsibility to educate students on the harm using the n-word can cause.
“At the end of the day, I feel I was being called a derogatory term and I don’t want to be called that because my mother, my father, my grandparents—they were called this word and could not say, ‘Don’t call me that.’ I’m the first generation in my family who can literally look you in the eye and say don’t call me that word. I don’t think it’s fair to try to take that from me,” he said.
“You can’t eliminate racism by ignoring it.”