The nicknames were meant to create togetherness for the sixth-grade classrooms at Bell Manor Elementary School.
The school, in a town between Fort Worth and Dallas, intended to begin the school year with a trip to Camp Thurman, reported the Star-Telegram, a day camp with “fun in the woods” activities. The nicknames would be used during a team-building exercise.
One group of children claimed the name “Dream Team.”
Another got “Jighaboos.”
And when one student’s father found out, he was appalled.
“You put Dream Team and then you have the Jighaboos. Really? Really with that?” he told Fox 4. “That’s, that’s unacceptable.”
The father, who spoke on camera to the TV station but asked not to show his face, said he learned of the nickname when he asked his son, like he does every night after school, what he had learned that day. He couldn’t understand how the teacher, who he told Fox 4 was white, could assign such a derogatory – and commonly known – racial slur for a black person to a group of children in a school that is majority-minority.
“I had to see it myself,” he said.
He stopped by the classroom when it was empty, the father told Fox 4, and found evidence of the nickname tacked to the wall. On a laminated sheet of white paper, bordered by green construction paper, a classroom mantra-type sign bore the slur:
“Mrs. _____’s Jighaboos are at school today to achieve our 6th grade goals and prepare for 7th grade,” the sign read, according to a photo the dad sent Fox 4. “We want to achieve higher reading levels and score level III on the Reading STAAR test. We can make this happen by reading more challenging books, working as a team, and always giving 1oo percent while having fun!”
Around the sign’s border, it appears the students scrawled their initials.
School administrators conducted an investigation once the slur was brought to their attention, the Telegram reported.
“The teacher took [the sign] down,” school district spokeswoman Deanne Hullender told the newspaper. “She was mortified, and she cried.”
The district told local media the teacher, who has not been identified, was not aware “jighaboo” – proper spelling jigaboo – was a racial slur.
“[We] would like to extend an apology for the inappropriate actions taken by one of our elementary teachers who failed to vet a class name,” a statement from the district said. “We take this situation seriously and the issue was immediately addressed with the principal and classroom teacher. Both the principal and the teacher have apologized to the parent reporting this concern.”
Fox 4 reported that the parents of the rest of the children in that class were to receive an apology as well, but it was unclear whether that had yet happened. The students in that class are white, African-American and Latino. State data shows that during the 2014-15 academic school year, the 759 elementary students were 36 percent Anglo, 23.5 percent African-American and 26.9 percent Hispanic.
The father who initially reported the transgression said he was unimpressed with the teacher’s response.
“Ignorance is not a defense,” he told Fox 4. “It is not a defense.”
But it’s a defense that has been used before.
In 2015, a Fox News anchor in Cleveland was commenting during the morning show about Lady Gaga’s performance at the Oscars when she said this:
“It’s usually so hard to hear her voice with all that – jigaboo music, whatever you want to call it [in the background].”
The Internet promptly exploded, and the next day she issued an apology.
“I just want to take a moment to address a comment that I made yesterday that got a lot of attention,” Capel said. “It’s important for me to let you know that I deeply regret my insensitive comment. And I truly did not know the meaning of the word and would never intentionally use such hurtful language.”
In the wake of criticisms that followed, political analyst Jason Johnson wrote a scathing critique on NBC News.
” . . . The idea that Kristi Chapel had no idea that ‘jigaboo’ was a negative reference to black people is a total stretch,” Johnson wrote. “She didn’t make an “insensitive” statement she made a racist statement, and to believe her story you’d have to believe that a woman with a degree in journalism uses words on television that she doesn’t know the definition of.”
In that same vein, an editorial board member for the Dallas Morning News critiqued the Bell Manor teacher in a column Thursday, echoing the outraged dad, writing, “her ignorance is not excuse.”
“It’s mind-boggling that a teacher in racially sensitive 2016 would adopt a term she doesn’t know, display it and have her students recite it,” Leona Allen wrote. “I’m left with a lot of questions.”
She said this situation demonstrates why a diverse staff is important, and that it prompts teachers to be more proactive in learning about the historical backgrounds of their racially diverse students.
She also offered background on the origins of the slur:
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A little history:
The slur is rooted in slavery. It was used as a derogatory term for a black person deemed too dark-skinned, hair too kinky, and therefore somehow thought of as less attractive – just undesirable period – than someone born with lighter skin and straighter hair.
It insidiously became a way that black people compared themselves.
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On the Internet, some people have found themselves confusing the derogatory term with the 1999 Destiny’s Child single “Bug A Boo.”
In the song, a bug a boo is, one can surmise, a boyfriend who is bothersome.
Perhaps the Texas teacher had just been listening to too much Beyoncé.