Monday, March 7, 2011

White Children are too Delicate and Black Children are Forced to Pretend to be Slaves

I wrote an article a few weeks ago, about a White parent who was upset because his child,  had watched the movie Middle Passage in school.  He felt that the brutality of The Middle Passage was too much to show a nine year old child.  Many in the comment section agreed with assertion and felt that the movie would not encourage the children to learn.  At the time, I pointed to the continual assault against children of colour and the fact that they are forced to lose their innocence at a faster rate, as justification of normalizing this kind of education for young children.  I was accused of not understanding pedagogy, and creating two evils to counter the trauma of racism.  I really do believe that this a position born of privilege.  Black children continue to be subject to racism in and outside of the classroom and this is why teaching tools as movies, even when they are explicit, are a necessary teaching tool.

According to The Root:
Nikko Burton, a 10-year-old student at Chapelfield Elementary in Ohio, says he was humiliated by his teacher when she tried to demonstrate what it was like to be a slave on an auction block. Burton, one of two black students in his class, was chosen to be a slave. Students who were the "masters" inspected the "slaves" to see if they would be able workers.

"The masters got to touch people and do all sorts of stuff," Nikko said. "They got to look in your mouth and feel your legs and stuff and see if you're strong and stuff."
This fell under the category of diversity education. Imagine being humiliated like this in front of your fellow class mates because White children needed to learn about slavery.


Reporter: Hannah school is apologizing to a parent after a fifth grade lesson on slavery. A lesson that forced an African American student to the mock auction block so White students could bid on him. 10 investigates, Paul Acre  with the school's response - Paul.
Paul: That's right Andrea. The school says that only one parent was upset by this lesson, but that parent was really upset and the student says he was humiliated by it. At ten years old, Nikko Burton loves his dog, but he's not so found of social studies, where yesterday, he got a painful lesson in American History.
Nikko: Umm I ended being a slave.
Paul: Nico says his teacher at Chapelfield elementary school divided the class and made some students slaves, and others their masters.
Nikko: At first I didn't care, but after people were like bidding on people, it kind of made me a little mad and stuff.
Paul: Nikko says it got worse when the so-called masters were told to feel the students playing slaves to see if they were worth buying.
Nikko: They got to look in your mouth and like feel your legs and stuff and see if you were strong and stuff.
Paul: And people were doing that to you?
Nikko: Yeah.
Aneka Burton: He felt degraded, he was hurt, kids picked on him later.
Paul: Nikko's mom Aneka says she's astonished.
Aneka Burton: I feel like that was totally inappropriate, it was racist and degrading.
Paul: Gahanna School district officials decline to comment on camera, but a spokeswoman claimed that this was part of a state required curriculum. She tells ten investigates that it was a one time lesson. In a statement she wrote: "As soon as the concern was brought to our attention, school officials acted promptly to speak with the parent. (Mary Otting Spokeswoman) Then while we were at Nikko's house, his principle called, we over heard his apology.
Principal: I apologize for that, I will definitely make sure that this doesn't happen again.
Aneka Burton: I'm just shocked nobody has ever said anything about it.
Paul: While the family says that the apology is nice, Nikko says he is still waiting to hear one from his teacher.
Nikko Burton: It was kind of mean and she should have said sorry.
Paul: We contacted the state board of education to find out what the law required. It does call for fifth graders to have exposure to diversity education, but the law doesn't mention anything about mock slave auctions. 

Well there you have it folks.  A Black child is subjected to a mock slave auction, but a movie that shows the horrors of the middle passage, is to damaging to White children.  This is what passes for equality in this world.  The very notion of children being to young, innocent and fragile to learn the realities of this world, and the evils of racism, is something that only happens to White children.

The teacher should have thought about how this would make a Black child feel, but it seems to me, that she was only interested in covering the state sanctioned curriculum, than thinking for one moment about how this could and in fact did negatively impact on the TWO Black children in her class. This is was not about diversity or teaching accountability, this was about taking the opportunity to shame Black children for being Black.

Deciding to have something as horrific as a staged slave auction without interrogating White privilege is both irresponsible as well an inaccurate lesson in history.  What exactly were White kids supposed to learn from pretending to be masters when the world around them surrounds them with privielge. I have said it before and I will say it again, White children need to learn from a very early age the way that privilege works and this includes all of the lessons that their parents have been loathe to teach them. If the kids go into a state of shock, or are highly disturbed by they see or learn, it is nothing in comparison to what Black children go through every single day.  Creating one group as to delicate to learn, while subjecting their peers of colour to all manner of horrors is not equality. The only way to challenge racial inequality is to challenge it head on. The message may not get through to everyone, but some kids will learn and from this learning they will decide not to perpetuate the horrors of the past.