Black Spanish Teacher Fired For Using The Word Negro

If you’re a Spanish teacher, you may want to be careful when teaching colors to your students.

Petrona Smith, 65,was fired from New York City’s PS 211 in March 2012 after a seventh-grader reported the alleged insult. According to Smith’s lawsuit, she was using the word “negro” for the color black, since she was teaching a lesson on colors. She is now suing the city.

“They haven’t even accounted for how absurd it is for someone who’s black to be using a racial slur to a student,” said Shaun Reid, Smith’s attorney. “Talk about context! There’s a lot of things wrong here.”

On top of using the word “negro”, Smith was also accused of calling her students “failures.”

But in court papers she claims that second insult was also a misinterpretation. Smith allegedly asked students who failed a test to move to the back of the room, but says she didn’t use call them failures. Smith also explained to investigators that the Spanish word for a black person was “moreno”.

She added that she’d been verbally abused by her charges, including being called a “f—ing monkey,” a “cockroach” and a “n—r,” but had never stooped to their level.

According to the New York Post, a 2011 investigation substantiated the student’s undated claims based on accounts from four seventh-grade witnesses, even though the student’s own parents said he’d lied about the event.

A spokeswoman for the city Law Department said, “We have received the papers and will review them.”



  • Kasiola

    Negro means black in Spanish also. This is getting ridiculous. Every time something happens that someone doesn’t like they sue for it to be outlawed. Have we not gone too far. This kind of giving in creates dependency and gives people a sense of entitlement.

  • apple

    how stupid! thats the damn word in spanish, its not her fault american racist adopted it.. in italian its nero, in french its noir.. its only a negative connotation because how it was adopted.. but its not even a slur

  • Eduardo

    “Smith also explained to investigators that the Spanish word for a black person was “moreno”.”

    Well, at least in Puerto Rico the word for “black” is “negro”. “Moreno” means someone with a darker skin than White, but the usual word here is “trigueño”. Besides, since we all share different versions of European and African ancestry it’s a bit pointless to argue about skin colors. Not that racism in PR doesn’t exist, but it takes an especially ignorant person who doesn’t know the first thing about our history.

  • BeanBean

    Now this is some BS, is this woman somehow responsible for the entire Spanish language? Would this woman have been fired if she was teaching about the ‘Negro League’ in baseball? That has the word negro too! People need to stop.

  • Becca

    In Spanish, a dark skinned person of African descent is called “negro” and the e sounds sounds like the e’s in elephant. In some parts of the Caribbean is considered racist to some extent to use the word “moreno” since is an euphemism for negro or black and other words like “mulato” imply that you are a black person with light skin or with euroean physical features. It is also the only word that Spanish speakers have for the color black as well it can be used to refer to African descendants as members of Black race or “de raza negra”. In my country, Puerto Rico we use negro as a pet name for our love ones even if they might be light skinned or white. Is a racist slur if and only if you call someone you don’t know “a negro” or “un negro” because is rude and dehumanizing. But this case in particular is an example of a cultural clash and for the teacher as the newcomer into American culture she should have being more careful with her words, because the n word and “negro” might sound similar but are not the same.

  • Amiyra Alveranga

    Did anyone notice one of the student’s parents said he lied? Big red flag- they’re overreaching big time! And while there are some who use moreno for Black in general to b “polite” it’s not common, widespread, or consistent. Negro is still black in good and bad connotations. It is what it is and picking on a teacher isn’t going to change that.

  • K

    No matter what slur people use, the only one that is still PC is “bitch” think about it…

  • dbsm

    this isn’t about use of the term. this is about the fact that all it takes in one account of something fairly minor to kick a teacher out of the classroom.

    administrators rarely have a teacher’s back. the union is the only backing for teachers and even they have an agenda.

    teachers need a mass exodus. no one has any respect anymore. it used to be that teachers were highly regarded and people sought an education. now the education is expected and teachers are treated like they are doing people a favor. fcuk this.

  • Margaret

    I think it depends on the audience. The word negro means black as in a color like purple or pink. Moreno describes a person with brown skin. To many who use the word moreno, ‘negro’ is used as a demeaning description – the same as the ‘n’ word to Americans.

    So I don’t know what the woman said or in what context but it sounds like there is more to this story.

  • frenchie

    Did you READ the article? She was teaching them COLORS in Spanish. Like white/red/blue/green/black etc.

    So in Spanish as far as as I am concerned the color “black” is NEGRO.

    These idiots (from the students to the administration) need several seats!!!

  • http://clutchmagazine blcknnblv

    I was reading something when i came across this post about the “n” word.

  • BlueCornMoon

    You’re absolutely right! I’m a teacher retiring this year & I’m glad to go! Due to politicking around upcoming contract negotiations & unreasonable demands by “school board reformers” including possible pay cuts & messing with pensions, teachers in my area are retiring in droves; 12 at my school. We are treated like dirt by pop culture. We get verbally abused,physically attacked in some cases & must be careful how we respond lest WE be fired or reprimanded. Quick to punish teachers for stupid stuff & kids get a free pass no matter what. I’m from a family of teachers going waaayyy back to the old segregated days in the south when discipline was mandatory & parents had our backs. Teachers were highly respected & their word was law when I was a kid. You did your work or failed. No excuses. Nowdays NO demands are made on kids or parents to do anything. Everything is our fault.If we bust ourselves trying to educate kids from bad homes with abuse, no discipline & love & drugs & they still fail, it’s OUR FAULT. You wouldn’t believe the crazy parents we deal with. One called cops on a teacher for child abuse because she put kids in time out for misbehavior. At my school a mother threatened to call cops & press charges when her daughter had to miss recess for fighting. A local high school & middle school regularly have cops taking kids out in cuffs for fighting,drugs,etc. Parents routinely demand that grades be changed upward even when kid hasn’t done all the required work. Too much power is in the hands of kids. There’s a saying going around : teachers fear principals, principals fear administrators, administrators fear parents & the kids don’t fear a damn thing !!! What I’m hoping for is a mass exodus of teachers..experienced & newbies… so there’s a major teacher shortage. When no one shows up to teach,maybe they’ll realize that something has to be done about out of control kids with stupid parents. It may happen because I know numerous young teachers who plan to go into other fields after only a few years on the job.
    Think I’m kidding? Read this

  • BlueCornMoon

    I had Spanish in school back in the late 60s. Taught by a BLACK TEACHER!! The word for black was NEGRO!! Shows how stupid education & “political correctness” has become in the US

  • Anthony

    It’s often easier for administrators to cave in to stupidity than it is to try to educate adults.

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  • Anthony

    In any language that is spoken in multiple countries and cultures, there are going to be multiple exceptions to any rule. The job of a public school language teacher is to give the students a basic grammatical and cultural a framework that will only be filled after years of work. That is why being fired over the use of a common, non- obscene word is just foolish.

  • talaktochoba

    clearly the administration is after this woman for some reason unmentioned in the article, because so far things are being conjured up against her and then reinterpreted to suit…

  • addassamari

    This is the height of the ridiculousness about race, colour, and ethnicity. What was she to have done when teaching colours in a Spanish language class? Darn fortunate she was not teaching colors in Latin.

    This whole country needs a lesson in the origins and meaning of words and these kids need a serious education so that they can recognize racial slurs when they meet it. The Europeans used the Latin word ‘niger’ for black when they first encountered Black Africans, it was the slave traders and owners who degenerated the word into a racial slur so as to make themselves feel and seem superior to the those of darker complexion just as they have done to others who were not European aristocrats. Does surf -meaning people of the dirt/earth/land and peasant ring any bells?

    Blacks (Negroes) are not the only race that have been subjected to racial slurs – ask the native peoples on all the continents and the many countries that came under European influence – and kids would know this if we would teach them honest history instead of the watered down version that continues to elevate European aristocrats and gloss over racial, ethnic, and class discriminations.

    Where do people think the ideas of race and class came from? It is time we put such racial epitaph into perspective and their proper context so that we can rise above them because each moment we devote to their negative influence is like whipping ourselves with the rod of slavery and dragging the shackles our ancestors shedded through dint of hard work, perseverance, and education.

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