CHERRY HILL, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey high school is weighing whether it should allow students to utter racial slurs during performances of the musical “Ragtime.”
Cherry Hill school district officials had planned to remove the N-word from the show that’s due to debut March 10 at High School East, following complaints from a parent and some area civil rights groups. They also said disparaging lines from the play targeting other ethnic groups also would be removed.
But that has been met with resistance by many students and community members of all races who say it would be wrong to “sanitize” the show. They argue it’s an accurate portrayal of the racist attitudes that many people held in the early 20th century, when the Tony Award-winning musical is set. Some Broadway actors and arts groups agree with that argument.
The issue was the focus of a lengthy public meeting Tuesday attended by about 100 people, but no decision has been made on how to proceed.
Officials have noted that if the script is altered in any way, the agency that licenses the play will likely rescind its permission for the district to perform the show, which is based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow and includes themes of racism, intolerance and injustice.
Ezra Nugiel, a white student who plays a character who utters the N-word several times, was among several cast members who said they oppose changing the script, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“I don’t say (the N-word) happily, but I know I have to,” Nugiel told the board, which has two minority members. “We want to hear these words to not let history repeat itself.”
Cedric Middleton, a black student who also performs in the play, said he also supports using the script unaltered.
“I fully understand the feelings of discomfort,” he said. “‘Ragtime’ is how we get through such ugliness.”
Carey Savage, vice president of the Camden County East Branch of the NAACP, told the board that civil rights leaders don’t “need to be refreshed on what racism is” by the unfettered use of the word.
“You can’t call me the N-word and then tell me it’s art. I don’t care what your rationale is,” Savage said. “I’ve been through too much for that.”
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