The "HNIC" Controversy 

Thanks primarily to a rather sensationalistic story on WREG Channel 3 Wednesday night, John Branston's City Beat column from this week's Flyer seems to be generating some controversy.

In the column, Branston references the movie Lean On Me, about a controversial high school principal named Joe Clark, who patrolled the halls with a baseball bat and who called himself the "HNIC."

Mayor Herenton has alluded to the need for a Joe Clark kind of leader for Memphis City Schools, which is why Branston used the term. Whether that was an error in judgment or insensitive is open to debate. As one of our readers has said: "White people don't get to use the 'N word' under any circumstance." Even though we didn't actually use the 'N word' itself, she's probably right.

But what's not open to debate is this: John Branston is anything but a racist. He is an award-winning columnist (who won two more national awards this week, by the way) and his job is to stimulate conversation and provoke Memphians to think. This he does very well. (And, by the way, his children attended Memphis City Schools.)

As editor of the Flyer, the buck stops with me. John wrote the column; I edited it and allowed the provocative sentence to remain. I apologize to those who were offended by the use of the term in John's column. It was not intended as a racial slur but as a cultural reference to a very real and important decision facing our school board.

Lost in the controversy is the fact that in his column Branston asks some very pointed and relevant questions of potential superintendent candidates -- questions we ought to be asking. Read it and decide for yourself.


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