“Nigger”. It’s the first word that appears on Barry Noreen’s Gazette article, Use Fighting Words, and You Should Expect a Fight, but instead, it’s written as n—-. The word is “such a distasteful racist epithet, The Gazette doesn’t want it to appear” (Noreen, para.2). The article covers a local story about four boys in Monument’s own Creekside Middle School. It’s explained that three young Caucasian boys approached an African-American boy and began taunting and racially harassing him by chanting KKK, “Nigger”, and waving a hood in front of his face. This African-American boy in response to being disgraced fought back and managed to get one of his white classmates in a headlock. The tussle was broken up, but was followed with harassment charges against only two of the instigators and a misdemeanor assault charge against the young black child. That’s right; a misdemeanor charge was put on the African-American boy defending his pride after being rudely attacked by his white classmates. The entire situation, regardless of whether or not the behavior was wrong, can be broken down by the sociological perspective and analyzed into different parts of culture, socialization, group interaction and different forms of social control, maybe then the boys’ actions can be better understood.
To start off, including the word “Nigger” in this paper, to most people, breaks common acceptable folkways and obliges proscriptive norms. Norms are the “rules and expectations by which a society guides the behavior of its members”, proscriptive norms are those not to be done while prescriptive norms tell what should be done. Using that particular word is a proscriptive norm, it should not be done. Similarly, folkways are “norms for routine or casual interaction” (Macionis, p.72). Norms and folkways are created by society to regulate, guide, and control everyday interactions not only between people, but between societies and nations. They can be seen in a variety of ways; clothing, hand or body movements, facial expressions and of course language. Language is a very powerful means of social control because almost every word has a considerable symbolic meaning that expresses or evokes an emotion. The word “Nigger” is simply considered a rude racial slur intended to offend someone. The easiest way to control someone is to make them feel inferior and demoralized, which is what racially offensive words are intended to do. Noreen states in his article that “[in] the real world, if you utter fighting words you should be prepared for what comes next, because it might just be a punch” (Noreen, para.12). In a utopian world the African-American child would’ve just walked away, but in today’s light, when you’ve been offended you defend yourself.
The reason the word is even considered offensive is because of the socialization process, which includes the way a child is taught how to perceive him/herself. Noreen reports that the mother of the African-American child “told police she was proud of how he stood up for himself” (Noreen, para.8). From this statement, it’s made obvious that the black child was brought up in a household that embraces their race and understands racial judgments to be offensive. The child identifies and knows himself as an African-American, and when he was harassed because of it he was under attack, not just his race, which is why he fought back. As for the white children, they too understand themselves to be of a certain race and bonded into a peer group because of it. A peer group is known as “a social group whose members have interests, social position, and age in common” (Macionis, p. 129-130). People involved in a peer group tend to view their own group as dominant and put down other group; which explains why the group of white boys attacked the black boy, he was considered a different peer group and seen as inferior. The white boys had been, at one time, socialized to view African-Americans as below themselves and deemed in necessary to act upon it.
Of equal importance influencing behavior and social norms is the Criminal Justice System, laws, and the government. Society’s government has deemed certain punishments for specific behaviors. The young black child was charged with assault because he had in fact physically attacked his white classmate. The white children were also punished, not only with school suspension, but also harassment charges for instigating the situation. The government maintains control by enforcing these punishments although the punishments and intensity of the crime are culturally and nationally based. Most local people agree, however, that the African-American boy did no wrong because he was defending himself and should be released of his charges.
Unfortunately the charges will be carried out by the District Attorney’s Office as planned as a way of establishing and maintaining that violence will not be accepted in school settings. The entire situation was not only uncalled for, but it also deteriorated quickly, becoming more than the boys probably originally expected. And although the boys from Creekside Middle School, home of the courageously respectful cougars, have reasonable behaviors according to the sociological analysis, their behaviors violated acceptable norms and abused means of social control.
Noreen, Barry. Use Fighting Words and You Should Expect a Fight. Gazette.com. March 15, 2008. March 15, 2008.www.gazette.com/articles/black_34256_article.html/boys_fighting.html
Macionis, John J. Sociology, Eleventh Edition. Pearson Education, 2007. New Jersey.