Eagle editorial: State BOE member’s comments were offensive

Kansas State Board of Education member Steve Roberts of Overland Park was apparently trying to make a bizarre point about political correctness when he used the N-word during a state board meeting last month. But using the vile word as a prop was inappropriate and offensive, and the fact he can’t grasp that is equally disturbing.

At the April 16 board meeting, the Rev. Ben Scott, a former president of the Topeka NAACP, shared his concerns that state history standards should do more to ensure that students learn the history of African-Americans. Roberts responded (watch the video at http://tinyurl.com/onc55wr) by encouraging Scott to push African-American heritage “on the light-skin kids, too.”

Roberts then said he “would like to create some sort of impression that I’m willing to go against political correctness.”

Noting that the New York City Council symbolically banned the N-word several years ago and that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. used the word twice in his Letter From Birmingham Jail, Roberts said that “we have to push the frontiers of political correctness and do what’s right.”

He then mused about how Twitter might report that he “said n***** at the state school board meeting.”

He went on to describe the word as “repugnant,” but he said he appreciated the opportunity to “get it out there” in a “politically correct setting.”

What the heck? This guy is helping set policies for our schools?

Scott returned to the state board meeting last week to express shock at the comments, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Another NAACP member and state board member, Carolyn Campbell of Topeka, also objected.

“Roberts felt completely comfortable in the end to say the full offensive word,” Campbell said.

Later last week, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, called on Roberts to resign and urged Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican leaders to ask for the same. “This kind of behavior should not be tolerated in politics ever,” Hensley told the Capital-Journal.

But Roberts said he stands by his comments “100 percent.”

“I did my best to say the N-word clinically,” he said, adding that he is “willing to be considered politically incorrect.”

So it’s only political correctness that keeps people from saying that word?

If the purpose of the monologue was to advocate against sanitizing history, there were plenty of ways to do that without using a racial slur. But apparently Roberts wanted to create an “impression.”

He created an impression, all right.

Unfortunately, Roberts isn’t the only Kansas official in the news recently for making offensive comments. Saline County Commissioner Jim Gile used a version of the N-word when discussing a roof-repair project, explaining later he meant “Afro-Americanized,” as if that were acceptable.

At least Gile apologized and promised to receive racial-sensitivity training. Roberts remains obstinate and clueless.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee