Earlier this month, an Irmo teacher was placed on administrative leave after complaints surfaced regarding a homework assignment that asked fifth grade students to step into the mind of the Ku Klux Klan and justify their treatment of African Americans. The assignment had two final questions. Here they are verbatim:
“You are a member of the KKK. Why do you think your treatment of African Americans is justified?”
“You are a freedman. Are you satisfied with your life? Why or why not?”
In a perfect world, these could actually be good, critical thinking questions. However, in this world, it is challenging to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt for a couple of reasons. First, the school district has not provided any information regarding official comments from the teacher, the intention of the assignment, or even context of the lesson that the students had been receiving. Therefore, we are left with the assignment alone on which to draw conclusions — and it doesn’t look great.
If you just consider the nature and progression of the questions, this teacher asked 10-year olds to justify the torture, rape, and murder of blacks by the Ku Klux Klan terrorist organization which still exists, recruits, and works to instill fear among minorities. The assignment then asks them to question whether the abolition of slavery was a good thing. Perhaps they were pointed questions with a goal of deep, critical thinking for very young kids who would come to the conclusion that the struggles and terrorism African Americans faced after Reconstruction was worth it. I’m more apt to believe it is just evidence of a person who is unable to truly sympathize with the minority experience in America. This highlights a problem that we can actually address.
We live in a state that struggles, as a whole, to comprehend and even acknowledge the challenges of the minority community and the privilege that white Americans experience. While this paints a grim picture of racial inequality in South Carolina, it’s also a significant reason for the systemic blindness that plagues the lighter skinned community from seeing the reality of minority struggles.
In a worst case scenario, this assignment is evidence of a soft attempt to indoctrinate our youth with an understanding of the alt-right mentality as well as teaching African Americans and other minorities to appreciate their place in the racial hierarchy. Best case scenario, which I will adopt for the sake of objectivity, the assignment presents evidence of a deeply entrenched philosophy of white supremacy that pervades society to this day. It’s a symptom of a social disease which results in apathy and the continued acceptance of inequality as the norm. It’s the inability of many well-meaning citizens to see the reality of the long-term consequences that white supremacy has had on minorities in America which makes the road to equality so arduous. It’s why a well-meaning person may ask those questions and not see their divisive nature. The good news is this is treatable.
It’s only by recognizing the division of inequality that we can actually address it. Pointing out racism is not racism. Acknowledgment is the first step to a cure. Ignoring it by, say, demanding people stand for the national anthem simply proves the ignorance of the minority struggle among whites. People ask why minorities suddenly want to take down statues, as if their protests were just a fad. Just look at the outrage we experience when a football player chooses to kneel during the national anthem. We have been afraid. America has not been good to minorities and we are still struggling for equality. A black man in the White House gave us hope. Trump and the alt-right threaten that hope and that is what we fight today.
I went to school with a guy who claimed to understand minority oppression because as a white man in America, he said that he was more oppressed than anyone else because of Affirmative Action. This is a popular mentality among conservative whites who find people like Trump appealing. Racial inequality is so normal that legal attempts at true equality are seen as attacks on the white population. To them, the Confederate flag is just cute Southern heritage.
Consider this. If you can make the stretch that the KKK assignment was well intentioned and designed to get a child to understand the disgusting nature of the KKK philosophy, you should also be able to understand why Black Lives Matter is necessary. You should be able to create a cogent, logical reason why football players kneel during the national anthem without getting angry.
This is a plea to white, conservative America. It’s not political. It’s ethical. Until you can acknowledge the systemic institution of inequality and work to fix it, we can never stand together as “one nation.” You are the key.
Now, imagine yourself scouring the rubble at the Twin Towers after 9/11. The body count has been finalized and clean up efforts are underway. Here’s your homework assignment. You are a member of ISIS. Why do you think jihad on Americans is justified?
I’ll accept your assignments in the morning. I’ll also accept your protest.