Thursday, May 25, 2006

Teaching Tolerance

There is a wonderful website - Teaching Tolerance – that has great resources for teachers. I showed the kids a movie called “Mighty Times” about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I was not prepared for their reactions. I remember being shocked by segregation and Jim Crow laws, but I also remember feeling separated from it – by time, culture, and geography. These kids do not feel that separation.

They’re confused about the timeline: “Teacher, you had slaves when you was a little girl?” “Who older, Rosa Parks or Janet Jackson?” “My granny was a slave?” but they connect with the injustice they see. They were appalled by the “Whites Only” signs and the “White” and “Colored” drinking fountains. When they watched the old movie of Rosa Parks recounting her arrest and how many times she had been treated badly by white bus drivers, the students were outraged. One of them said to me, “If I had lived back in the day, I would have been arrested because I wouldn’t have been able to control my anger.”

The movie touched briefly on the KKK and intimidation of civil rights leaders. They also showed a car with “n***** lover” painted on the side and asked me if that is what would have happened to me if I had lived back then.
The heartbreaking thing is that I’ve observed that there is still a feeling among the black kids at school that white is better than black (most of the girls prefer white dolls and have told me they want to be my color). Not only that, but lighter is better if you are black. The worst insults I’ve heard here are to call black kids a “Black African,” “Negro,” “burnt cookie,” or to say, “Your mama’s black,” or “Your mama left you in the oven too long.” They’ll have long arguments about who’s lighter or who has good hair. It makes me sad.

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