Society

Black Student Demands Punishment For Teacher Who Ordered Him To Say 'Yes, Sir, Master'

| by Jonathan Wolfe

African-American high school student Jabre White and his mother are outraged after a teacher at Roosevelt High School in Iowa told White to refer to him using a term from the slavery era.

In May, White and his classmates were told by teacher Shawn McCurtain to head downstairs to take an economics exam.

“Yes, sir,” White recalls saying to McCurtain.

“You meant to say ‘Yes, sir, Master.’” McCurtain responded.

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For obvious reasons, that comment incensed White and his mother, and school officials confirmed the exchange did in fact take place. Now, almost a month later, Jabre's mother Nicholle White is having a hard time finding out how -- or if -- the school punished McCurtain.

"I have tried to be humble," she said of her exchanges with school officials. "But I also feel I need to express as a mother, and as a black woman, how I feel."

Roosevelt High Vice President Joseph Blazevich told White in an email that the comment was “terrible” and “shameful.” He added that McCurtain is “very remorseful.” But when White asked what disciplinary action was taken against McCurtain, she was told that state law requires district personnel matters be kept confidential.

At his graduation, Jabre was given the school’s Wanda Everage Award. The award is given to the student who best “embodies qualities of respect and responsibility to Roosevelt.” He'd headed to Iowa State University in the fall. But even a decorated student like White could not hold his tongue following McCurtain’s slight.

"Who the f--- are you talking to?” White said in response. “You're nobody's master, and this is not the slave days."

School district spokesperson Phil Roeder said that there will likely be some form of punishment coming McCurtain’s way. He would not expand on what that punishment could be, citing the aforementioned privacy laws. He condemned McCurtain’s words nonetheless.

“To put it mildly, it was wrong in every way you look at it,” Roeder said. 

Sources: Des Moines Register, Iowa City Press-Citizen