Context means everything in racial slurs

The latest example of how incendiary the use of the N-word is took place at Rutgers Law School in Newark, N.J.  Even though the slur was quoted strictly from a published court decision by a student, it triggered an uproar among Black students and some law school professors (“Debate Erupts at N.J. Law School After White Student Quotes Racial Slur,” The New York Times, May 4).

I understand how hurtful the word in question is, but that does not mean it should be deleted when quoted as part of a legal ruling.  Let’s not forget that these are future lawyers who are supposed to be trained in the importance of free speech.  If certain words constitute the third rail of what is supposed to be a  legal education, then the entire system is a travesty.

What happens if the word is part of a lawsuit that makes itself to a courtroom? Are jurors forbidden to hear the context in which the word was used?  If so, how can they reach a fair decision?  The obsession with any slur distorts all other factors in education.

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