Previously on Boston Public: Nothing happened, apparently. But we do get a warning that tonight's episode will be full of coarse racial slurs, because it's going to explore "the inappropriateness of racial invective." Which is disingenuous, isn't it? It doesn't do the episode credit, I don't think, since the episode is as much about the inappropriateness of knee-jerk reactions to things regardless of context as it is about anything else.
Delineation Alley. Scott finds his way to Ronnie Cooke, and talks to her. He's heard that she's conducting a class project in which, in order to raise awareness about the plight of the homeless, she's having her students sleep in cars in their parents' driveways. This sounds pretty lame to me, but Scott is upset because one student seems to have taken it too far: "Natalie Stone was neither in her home nor in her driveway. She was picked up by the police last night during a sweep, under a bridge in Jamaica Plain." He asks if this was unforeseeable, and Ronnie says that it was, especially because the project ended three days ago.
Meanwhile, in Dick Teachie's classroom, students file in. A hot girl says hi to two friends, Jordan and JT, who are on their way in, and they smile at each other. Jordan's all, "See, I told you she was hot on me." JT counters, "Nigga, please. She was smilin' at me." Jordan's rejoinder is that "she way too fine for a nigga like you." JT is black, by the by, and Jordan is white. Having caught this exchange, another black student, Andre, suggests that they make less free use of that particular word. Jordan assures him that "it's just me and JT. It's cool." Andre shoves Jordan, and is all, "Oh, so, now you're gonna tell me what's cool?" JT tells Andre to chill out, incidentally referring to him as "nigga" in the process. Andre tackles JT. Everybody wrestles on the floor. Dick Teachie appears and breaks it up. "What are you doin'? Huh? Andre? JT? Jordan?" Yeah, we got their names. "I want an answer. What's goin' on?" Andre tells him they were just playing eenie meenie miney moe. Dick Teachie's like, "Whuh?" Andre says, "You know. Catch a nigga by his toe." Which was, in fact, how that rhyme originally went, before being updated to the more innocuous "tiger," which is offensive mainly to tigers and those who protect their toes.
Phat beats and jerky camera movement show us just how gritty and hip Winslow High really is.
In Dick Teachie's room, he's still trying to get a straight answer out of everybody about what happened. Andre's saying, "I told you. He called me a nigger." Teachie thinks he means Jordan, since Jordan's white, which is an assumption that is not unrelated to the episode's themes. After all, why is it less offensive if JT does it? JT draws the distinction between "nigger" and "nigga," the latter being equivalent to "brotha," at which point Andre notes that Jordan isn't a "brotha" at all. Which is a weird rebuttal, since it wasn't Jordan who directed the word at Andre in the first place. Anyway, leave it to Talk Time herself to clear things up. She explains the whole story to Dick Teachie, which I won't bother recapping because we. Just. SAW IT. Teachie takes a breath, then declares talk time open for the whole class, pushing the midterm back a day. Everyone applauds. Idiots. Anyway, no sooner has Teachie asked somebody to start when Brooke Harper raises her hand, while also opening her mouth: "I think if Andre understood the context and intent with which Jordan and JT were using the word…" But Andre doesn't think that makes it okay. And even though he uses the word, and so do rappers he listens to, that's okay because he's black, and so are said rappers. Jordan finds that double standard racist. Everyone starts talking at once. Dick Teachie settles them down. "Do you guys ever feel that if a word stirs up so much hatred…then maybe the word has too much power?" Talk Time suggests not using the word at all, though Teachie points out that this is not, perhaps, entirely realistic. "Another solution might be to take away its power." How? "Well, Brooke mentioned intent, right? Jordan and JT are friends, right? Black guy, white guy, doesn't matter. Both niggas. Like homeboys. Or buddies." But everyone stops listening to him as soon as he says "nigga." Instead, they concentrate on shifting around uncomfortably. Maybe they saw him play the skinhead who shoots Tyra Banks, and makes Adam Goldberg lie on the ground, in Higher Learning. ["On the other hand, maybe they also saw Zebrahead, which would mitigate that somewhat." -- Sars] Andre says, "I don't like when Jordan says it. I don't like when you say it." Teachie asks what if a Harvard Law professor says it, or writes about it, and then he assigns them all to read Randall Kennedy's new book on the subject. Because, I guess, whoever published that book is owned by Fox.