Boston Latin School Students says English Teacher Greeted her with ‘What’s Up, My Nigger?’ during Class

KEITH BEDFORD/GLOBE STAFF Rosalind Wornum, mother of Destinee Wornum, believes that her daughter’s teacher should be fired.
KEITH BEDFORD/GLOBE STAFF
Rosalind Wornum, mother of Destinee Wornum, believes that her daughter’s teacher should be fired.

It happened during a discussion of the novel “Huckleberry Finn,” the book’s frequent use of the most common racial epithet, and whether the Mark Twain classic should be taught in schools. 

Destinee Wornum’s English teacher walked from the front of the classroom and stopped at the 15-year-old’s desk, and then asked: “What’s up my nigger?”

The classroom fell silent, waiting for a stunned Wornum to respond.

Wornum, then a sophomore at Boston Latin School, hadn’t expected her teacher to single her out.

“I didn’t know what to say,” said Wornum, who is black, her voice cracking as she recalled the October 2015 incident. “I was uncomfortable and embarrassed.”

The encounter is one of several at Boston Latin to become public this year following student complaints of racism, and was included in a federal complaint alleging civil rights violations at the elite exam school. Earlier this month, US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said her office would investigate. In February, a school department investigation found that Latin School administrators properly handled six race-based incidents but mishandled a seventh in which a student was threatened with lynching.

Similar to that student, who was threatened in 2014, Wornum did not initially tell her mother about the incident. When Rosalind Wornum learned about it in January, she was irate, she said. She met with headmaster Lynn Mooney Teta on Wednesday to discuss the incident.

Rosalind Wornum said Teta told her that the Office of Equity is investigating the incident and encouraged her to speak with them; the office first reached out to the Wornums last month.

Teta said she has not talked to the teacher about the incident, but described the incident as “unacceptable,” according to Rosalind Wornum.

A spokesman for Boston schools would not comment on what was discussed at the meeting but said that “Boston Public Schools is committed to ensuring a safe and respectful environment for all students. The Office of Equity is committed to investigating any incident of racism or bias it receives.”

Rosalind Wornum said in a recent interview at the family’s Dorchester home that she remembers her daughter coming home from school upset in the fall, but the girl refused to say what was bothering her. She said only that she hated the school and wanted to be left alone.

“I honestly didn’t know how to handle it because it was like, how do I approach my adult teacher on a situation like this? What would that mean for my grade? What would it mean for my future at BLS?” Destinee Wornum said.

“I was in fear of what could happen because it’s like I’m a girl from Dorchester and I ought to be grateful because I go to BLS. That’s the way that they make it seem.”

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Source: Boston Globe | Jan Ransom

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