A student at a California college called out his teacher for using the n-word twice during a presentation to his class.
Maleek Eid, 23, is a marketing student at the College of the Desert in Palm Desert. His English class was using Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham Jail" as an example for annotation when his professor dropped the n-word.
"She said, 'They used to use words like...' and she said the n-word," Eid told BuzzFeed News. "I didn’t say anything, I was actually so shocked."
He said the teacher used the word again a week later in a similar context.
"So I was like, that’s strike two, and strike one didn’t sit well with me already."
Eid, who is Palestinian, said the word didn't seem to register as wrong with the rest of the students, none of whom were black. According to the 2010 census, less than 2% of Palm Desert residents are black, similar to neighboring Indio, where Eid grew up.
He was already planning to make a report to the school, but then the professor assigned an "opposing arguments" assignment, for which students would have to tackle a controversial subject. That gave him an idea.
He made a presentation countering arguments nonblack people make in favor of using the n-word and called out the professor while he was at it.
"This word was used twice in this class," he said in the video. "There's really no excuse, there's really no justification."
The video now has more than 1.2 million views.
He argued that just saying "the n-word" is sufficient. He also said he felt her use of the word was wrong because she wasn't quoting or reading something, she just said it.
"I called her out. I told her, 'Hey, I didn’t say it the first time, I didn’t say it the second time, I'm saying something now,'" he said.
Eid said the professor remained silent through the presentation, but defended herself after. He recorded her response and also shared those audio files on Twitter.
"I said the word because I wanted a response. I wanted someone to say 'That’s wrong to say that' or 'I take offense to that,'" the professor said. "Sometimes when we’re discussing things and you’re all sitting there going [snoring sounds] kind of thing, sometimes somebody’s gotta shake you up."
But Eid shot back, "If the solution to getting your class to snap up is using the n-word then you need different strategies."
She also brought up cultural context, such as the use of the n-word in To Kill a Mockingbird and the use of "Indian" versus "Native American."
"Things change, society’s reaction to things change, and sometimes it's acceptable and sometimes it's not," she said.
She then called a break, interrupting the debate, but Eid kept talking to her.
"I get you’re talking about using it in literature, but the two times you used it wasn’t in literature. They would have been totally acceptable times to say 'n-word,'" he told her. He then noted that the rest of the class seemed to not care.
"Or maybe they just don’t have your sensitivity," she replied.
Eid said his fellow students were unsupportive of his stance, either ignoring the situation or giggling. He said it left him feeling quite depressed.
When reached for comment, the professor directed BuzzFeed News back to the college.
“College of the Desert’s core values are based on inclusiveness and diversity in all forms, including academic freedom for both students and faculty," said Pamela Hunter, executive director of institutional advancement for the college, in a statement.
"It is the policy of the Desert Community College District to recognize the importance of academic freedom in pursuit of academic excellence for both faculty and students. We embrace diversity in all forms and the right of all people to have access to quality higher education in a safe and respectful learning environment."
The response on Twitter has been quite different, with many people praising Eid for speaking up.
After the exchange, Eid talked to a college counselor and eventually got through to someone who is helping with his complaint.
He hasn't been back to the class since his presentation, and he has asked the school to excuse his absences and transfer him to another class.