Your child could be practising slavery at this minute, at school and without your knowledge. This is precisely what happened to me last week.
I was mortified when my 12-year old son came home and announced that he was basically a slave owner for one day. I was doubly horrified when his cousin announced that he was my son’s slave.
Really, am I in 2012??? I was astonished when my son talked fondly of his class’s fundraising victory. At the school assembly they were allowed to embarrass and “own” students from the competing Grade 7 classroom.
My panic-stricken face alerted my son to downplay the day’s events. I knew he might not understand the significance of his actions. We’ve always intended to share world history with our children, but the topic of slavery hadn’t naturally come up yet. I decided that day was the perfect opportunity to explain the harrowing truth of slavery.
It was not easy to impress the devastating horrors upon my son. I could see in his eyes that he was resisting my lesson. He was impatient with my interruption, annoyed that I would not share in his harmless joy.
I insisted that slavery was anathema to both black people and First Nations people everywhere. I ranted and raged over the loss of souls, dignity stolen, the unjust imprisonment and accursed evils inflicted on people just because of their skin colour. My son shifted nervously in his chair. It was clearly evident he was having difficulty linking his actions to those in the past, but I insisted that a mockery of such events, even on a small-scale symbolized disrespect for everything minorities have suffered through and the equality that they have fought and died for.
So I promised him that I would talk to his principal, if nothing else, so that my son would know that I absolutely abhorred “Slave Day,” and would never tolerate something so despicable and outrageous. I maintained that people must always speak up when they witness injustices in the world, and by speaking with his principal I would model for him precisely how to resist to such events.
I had a restless sleep. I tossed and turned, furious that my son was exposed to a diminutive, toy-sized version of slavery, perfectly sized for little humans. I tried to console myself that he didn’t know it was wrong, but it only made me feel worse that he was so young and impressionable. He was easily swayed by the mob mentality. His innocence was exploited, unbeknownst to him.
By the next day, I was tired and irritable, but I spent some time meditating and contemplating what I would say. I reminded myself that the principal was new and would likely take full responsibility for such a callous error and apologize profusely.
Well, to my shock and dismay, he was apathetic and quite defensive. He admitted that Slave Day had been a tradition at the school for a long time and no one “saw it that way.” I tried repeatedly to stress how vulgar and reprehensible Slave Day was, considering the history of First Nations and black people. I reminded him of the predominance of Aboriginal students in the school, along with a small minority of black students.
He had the gall to say that no one else was offended. No other parents had complained. He interpreted this omission of protests as permission to continue their barbaric tradition!
I tried numerous angles. I argued that there were many different and more acceptable ways to fundraise. I spoke of how Slave Day would never exist in the United States, because it is wrong and an embarrassing blight on American history. I mentioned that they would never host Slave Day if they had a black principal, or a black teacher. I brought up how hundreds of thousands of First Nations people were forced into slavery too, and the population of Aboriginal students in the school exceeded 65 per cent. I asked if he was waiting for a black parent to be offended — for Slave Day to make headlines before he changed their tradition.
He scoffed and patronized me, saying I was making a big deal out of nothing — after all one of the teachers who organized Slave Day was First Nations. As if one ignorant teacher’s approval made everything OK! At this point I lost all of my words, and could only think of four-letter cuss words. I was grateful my husband was there to take over while I collected myself. My husband told him that we were aware that most people viewed Slave Day as innocent fun, but we, as minorities, had an entirely different perception of it. He calmly reminded the principal that we were entitled to feel as we did, given the history of slavery and for him to react in such a condescending fashion was no different than the master-slave imbalance of power.
The principal finally agreed he would talk to his staff. That’s it. That’s all he would commit to, after our lengthy protests. We politely shook his hand and left, but I walked out just as enraged as when I had first entered the building. I didn’t feel much was accomplished, which is why I wrote this column.
Everything about Slave Day is wrong to me; the title, the role of one group owning another, the act of “punishment,” the ridicule of one group in front of the entire school. Even the idea that one group raised more money, effectively “owning” the other class, suggests a hierarchy that these teachers are subliminally projecting onto an entire school of children.
I was a teacher once. I have an education degree. I know that this group of educators were trained to consider race, gender, class, religion and ability level at all times. Where was this consideration during Slave Day?
What frightens me is that a child could theoretically witness Slave Day annually from kindergarten to Grade 8, possibly being desensitized to the atrocities that have been committed to First Nations and black people, all because they think Slave Day is “fun.”
This isn’t over for me. If I have to start a petition and make parents aware, I will. I would suggest that other parents get involved in their children’s schooling too. If you don’t, your kids could tragically get a taste for white supremacy … like mine unfortunately did.