Tami at Anti-Racist Parent writes the following:
What will it take to convince educators that “dressing up like Indians” for Thanksgiving is as offensive and ignorant as black face? Different Native American tribes wear specific regalia with cultural meaning–the clothes are not costumes–for varying purposes. Just once, I’d like to hear about a school inviting a representative from a local Indian tribe to speak to a class about the impact of Manifest Destiny on indigenous peoples.
It’s from 2003, but this Tribune article talks about a principal who did it right:
A group of Skokie 1st graders got an unexpected lesson in cultural sensitivity Friday when their principal wouldn’t let them dress as American Indians for their annual Thanksgiving celebration … On Friday, when the Madison School 1st graders gathered for their Thanksgiving celebration, they got a lesson in American Indian culture. In place of the kids’ traditional costumed re-enactment, the school invited Malatare to tell the children about his culture. Malatare taught the pupils a few words in the Oglala Lakota language and led them in a traditional blessing.
Okay, maybe the Manifest Destiny part wasn’t covered. But kudos to principal Pete Davis and the American Indian Center for trying to educate. One down, how many more to go?
How did parents respond?
“I’m a little disgusted,” said Terri Lefler, whose son, Matthew, 6, didn’t understand why he couldn’t wear the costume he’d made. “I think we could have let the children wear the costumes and still taught them to respect the differences and the importance of Native American culture.”
“I don’t think it had anything to do with Thanksgiving,” parent Keith Liscio said of Malatare’s presentation. “I think it kind of just hijacked the whole purpose of today’s program.”
Liscio said he couldn’t find a way to make his daughter understand why she couldn’t wear her pilgrim outfit.
“She and her friend came home from a Brownie meeting last night, and they were in tears,” Liscio said Friday after visiting the school with other parents to watch the assembly. “This is a tradition that was changed in the blink of an eyelid because one person complained. We’re just bent over so far backward to be politically correct that we’re doing things that are almost nonsensical.”
Jennifer Miller-Davis questioned whether her daughter, Emma, understood much of what Malatare said.
“What does a 6- or 7-year-old know about stereotyping?” Miller-Davis said. “There was no discussion about how this should be handled. The school just made the decision so fast.”
Racismese translations for those of you who aren’t fluent:
I think we could have let the children wear the costumes and still taught them to respect the differences and the importance of Native American culture = I don’t understand this whole thing and thinking too hard hurts my brain.
I don’t think it had anything to do with Thanksgiving. I think it kind of just hijacked the whole purpose of today’s program. = I don’t know the history of Thanksgiving, and the purpose of the program was to reinforce my already existing beliefs.
This is a tradition that was changed in the blink of an eyelid because one person complained. We’re just bent over so far backward to be politically correct that we’re doing things that are almost nonsensical. = Tradition is another word for institutionalized racism. And it seems like a blink of an eyelid because I can’t believe anybody would address racism so immediately. Why can’t we convene an anti-racism group and discuss this for six months before deciding that the costumes aren’t racist? Why do we have to listen to one person? And why should I have to try to understand anybody else’s viewpoint when it doesn’t make sense to me? Better I just slam it with “politically correct” and “nonsensical.”
What does a 6- or 7-year-old know about stereotyping? = I’m teaching her the stereotypes I believe. Stop demonstrating another world view.