Monday, December 8, 2008

To Whom It May Concern

Dear Readers the following is a copy of the e-mail that I sent to the principle of Avis Shelby.  This is the school were two black girls were bound by the hands and feet to teach them about the middle passage.  Please take the time to email the principle at ashelby@hms.nrcsd.org. or the teacher Eileen Bernstein at ebernstein@hms.nrcsd.org.

The administration has not seen fit to fire this teacher and they must be made aware that no child should be subjected to this in the name of an education. I ask that you stand with me please and dispatch a letter to inform the principle of your disgust not only of what was done in the classroom but their handling of the situation.  Thanks to Kim in comments for contact information.

To Whom it may concern;

It's funny to start a letter on this basis, considering the subject matter concerns every single black parent that has ever trusted a school system to educate a child. I am writing concerning the incident in which a teacher in your employ Eileen Bernstein, made the decision to bind two black female students by the hands and feet, to teach them about the middle passage.

The news story I read about this issue mentioned that the children were crying throughout the incident, and that the teacher has since refused to even offer an apology.  At this time I am aware that you are attempting to avoid a civil suit for damages, but you should be aware of exactly the kind of harm this woman has done.

When you send a child to be educated you are placing someone you love the most in the hands of others.  For a parent it is an act of trust, a display of faith in the system.  Your teacher in the performance of her duties has violated that trust.

As much as black children today are looking forward with new possibilities, due to the election of Barack Obama, they must still deal with the legacy of the ugliness of African American history.  They are not blind to the fact that but for a few hundred years difference, it would have been them, bound, raped beaten, and surviving on menstrual blood and feces during the middle passage.

Learning about slavery and the living conditions of the slaves is a traumatic thing for black children.  You see when we are first born we see colour but do not attach value to difference.  It is society that slowly over time teaches children of colour that not only are they different, they are viewed as less than. This history lesson is not an abstract idea for a black child because connections are quickly made to the way in which they are treated today.

Though racism functions on a systemic level, it is dealt with daily on a personal level. That is exactly what happened in your classroom.  The girls were not taught that day about the middle passage, they were taught that they were less than their peer group because of the colour of their skin.  They learned that despite all of the progress that people of colour have made ,  that it was still possible for someone white to remove what humanity was invested in them for the sake of maintaining unearned racial privilege. 

Had your teacher bothered to have a simple conversation with black adults what she would have come to learn is that for most of us the discovery of racism, and how our people were treated during slavery was a very traumatic thing.  I remember watching roots and not sleeping peacefully for weeks.  What stayed with me was not the image of the white slave holding planters, but the black people who looked just like me who were reduced to beasts of burden for gain.

This could have been approached in a much different manner and the result would have been quite different.  She could have shown the students clips from movies, or read passages from the various books available on the subject.  Instead Ms. Bernstein chose to centre out two black children as an example.  I do not believe the choice of students was accidental, and if you are honest I am sure that you will agree with my conclusion.

Ms. Bernstein has done irreparable harm to these young girls.  As a black mother who is  tired of seeing black children weep around the globe, I am asking that you treat this issue with the seriousness  that it deserves. No more vulnerable children should be entrusted to her care.  At at time when black children are struggling in education the last thing they need is an education system to show them through action that they are not valuable people.

Sincerely

Renee 


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