School Black History Month Dress-Up is Schmaltzy, Not Racist

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COMMENTARY | Teachers at North Carolina's Western Union Elementary School are taking some heat for a Black History Month letter sent to parents that was deemed racially insensitive. Students were told to dress in "African-American attire" to include animal print clothing or clothes with animals native to Africa, says The Lookout.

Was the Western Union parent letter awkwardly worded? A little -- the school admitted as much in the Charlotte Observer. Is the school drawing inaccurate connections between African-American and Africa? Perhaps. Black Americans aren't necessarily of African descent. It probably would have been better to focus on the contributions of black Americans than on the animals of Africa. Is it schmaltzy? Sure, but so are a lot of school activities. In an effort to make content fun, teachers sometimes write sugary-cutesy lessons that would insult the intelligence of the average amoeba. That doesn't make them racist.

This drama is all smoke without fire. So is the counter-debate about whether we should have Black History Month. This has nothing to do with revisionist history, who likes BHM or whose ancestors should or shouldn't be celebrated.

As teachers, we have to teach kids from federal and state mandates. We don't have the luxury of teaching to our personal agenda. If the state says teach Black History Month, it's our job to create memorable, cogent connections.

To make content meaningful to children, we explore foods, traditional dress, music, etc. It's easy for hecklers like Unicorn Booty to pontificate and make fun of teachers for the lessons they design. So someone made a malapropism of "African attire" to "African-American?" At least they tried to be creative. I'd like to see the fault finders write better lessons, especially working with the limited resources and numerous constraints most teachers have to deal with.

Western Union educators were trying to make BHM fun for kids, not incite a race riot. I applaud them for focusing on the positives. Slavery is a gaping, festering wound our forefathers foisted on us. That shouldn't be sanitized. One way to commemorate the suffering is to celebrate the native traditions of their motherland. Besides, students love dress-ups. Any unintentional racism was probably lost on them.

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