I am furious. And hurt.

As a historian, it is an honor to have the responsibility of storytelling. Indeed, our history is a collection of stories and a powerful instrument that expresses who we are, what we came from, how we struggle, and how we are strong. So the abuse of this precious privilege always cuts deep.

The education system has long omitted, neglected, distorted and skewed our history through the lens of white privilege and racism. Yet, I was stunned by the level of apathy that was exposed this week when a girls’ school in London, England was forced to issue an apology over the use of offensive material during a high school history lesson on “The Slave Trade”.

Students aged 13 and 14 were given imaginary tools including manacles, whips, thumb screws, iron brands, muskets and barracoons, and asked to devise a Dragon’s Den-style (a reality TV show known as Shark Tank in the US) business proposal for the capture and enslavement of African people. Lesson materials included direction on how to carry out a “slave raid” and manipulate “African Chiefs” through bribes and lacing them with alcohol. Perhaps the most debased suggestions were that the “best” aspect of being a slave trader was having “an affair with a beautiful African girl,” and that adult male “mixed race” offspring could be sent to Africa to “run the slave business” while his white father sailed to America.

Teaching the history of enslavement via a business plan model serves to erase violence, oppression and numerous traumatic events such as the systematic rape of black girls and women. The teacher/s involved in this particular lesson plan saw nothing inappropriate or offensive about their methods. Yet, it would be hard to imagine that these same individuals would sanction a history class on the Holocaust that required students to figure out how to exterminate Jewish people. But black genocide is somehow different, less painful, less abhorrent, and thus vulnerable to trivialization. In 1986, Susan Rice (presently the subject of unjust Republican opposition to her potential nomination for the position of Secretary of State) argued that:

The greatest evil in omitting or misrepresenting Black history, literature, and culture in elementary or secondary education is the unmistakable message it sends to the black child. The message is ‘your history, your culture, your language and your literature are insignificant. And so are you.’

The implicit message of this particular history lesson was not lost on one 13 year old black girl, who in a state of distress complained to her mother about the humiliation she felt during the class. The mother soon after met with two teachers who refused to acknowledge the harm caused to her daughter, and instead sought to justify the innovative approach of the class. They, and later a third teacher, argued that the class emphasized how the slave trade was largely “divorced from moral and social issues”, and that it had been taught for three years without objection.

Perhaps if the narrow objectives of this so-called history lesson were a little broader, then these teachers would have understood that the history of black resistance runs deep in our veins. In the face of the school’s dismissal, the student’s mother contacted Pan African Human Rights Organization Ligali, who filed a formal complaint with the school, and subsequent press release.

In a speedy reversal – which the glare of publicity so often precipitates – the principal publicly apologized on behalf of her staff for being “patronizing” and for the “trivialization” of slavery. The lesson materials were immediately withdrawn with a reassurance that “appropriate steps” had been taken in relation to “possible disciplinary action” against the teacher who devised the class.

If disciplinary action is taken, then I hope it is understood that to scapegoat a single teacher is wholly inadequate, as this case exposes far deeper issues of white privilege and institutional racism within education. It is unclear why this particular class went unchallenged for three years, but such incidents remind us that it is not only a personal but a political imperative that we ask our kids “What did you learn in school today?” It is through our history that we recall, lay claim to, and understand both the past and present. And we cannot afford to abdicate our responsibility to monitor, intervene and challenge the educational system.


108 Comments

  1. Apple

    In what part of their brainstorming did they ever think “yep that’s a great idea!” God people are so stupid they don’t even realize how stupid they are

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  2. The Black Holocaust (often called slavery) is romanticized to soften the blow of the real crimes that were committed. History has never really told the true story of slavery in it’s entirety because to do so would mean to compensate (whether monetarily or socially) for the social ills as they have for the Jewish Holocaust and the Indian Holocaust…they paint slavery as if blacks loved it and as if they did us a favor…

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  3. Sasha

    This is what the post-racial society on the other side of the pond is supposed to look like? Hmmm okay.

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  4. Over 200 comments of eve dealing with a white dude but when a white dude puts out stuff like this, this article doesn’t get more than 10 comments. Many of you black women are str8 up pathetic. Have the nerve to talk mad ish about black men in the Eve dating a white dude article when black men have nothing to do with the article at all n this article doesn’t get more than 10. I need not say any more. Bunch of brain washed idiots is all i see at this website.

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    • Pseudonym

      What are you talking about? IT’S 10:25 A.M. CST!!!! People on the west coast are still in bed. Articles on Clutch don’t usually make the 100 comment mark until at least after lunchtime and often after 5 because- well- some people do have day jobs. This article was just posted only a few hours ago, so chill out. That article on Eve has been up for over a week- hence all the traffic.

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    • Loooool
      That’s exactly what I was thinking. Is this person new to Clucth or what, that eve post was out time ago, this article is new and if you think we are idiots why are you on here

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    • Let me get this straight, you posted at 10:29 AM (aka ante meridian aka before midday aka we’s got jobs) about the dearth of comments on this post that was posted when… December 3rd?

      Within 2.5 hours of posting, the Eve article had 18 (EIGHTEEN) unique posters (Yes, I counted), meaning comments submitted in the comment field and not in the Leave a Reply field. While 18>10, I really don’t see much of a difference.

      Who’s the real idiot?

      Interracial dating articles attract the crazies. A majority of the comments in that post were black women defending their humanity, against people who called us far worse things than “brain washed” “pathetic” and “idiots”.

      Do we not have that right?

      Articles like this one, create a collective sadness in its readers who are left unsure how to respond to such hatred and ignorance. THIS IS NOT APATHY.

      Get a life and take your drivel somewhere else.

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    • Get clue than get life!!

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    • Articles like that always get more comments. People like you really irk me. Just because people are drawn to and comment on an article about something that some people see as controversial means that we are brainwashed? There have been articles about Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone, dating, submission, education, the gay fraternity brothers getting married, violence, rap music, problems with BET, natural hair, Chris Brown, weight issues in the black community, and even gentrification that have gotten 100+ comments. And what was it 10,15 women on one article talking about interracial dating that have you with your panties in wad. Dude, get a life.

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    • Articles with 200+ comments tend to be filled with a bunch of arguing people who love to well, argue and be nasty.

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    • Pseudonym

      That is very true. Those articles aren’t usually filled with comments about the celebrity or trivial news at hand, but rather back-and-forth arguments between regular trolls (see “shawtie the sweetie” or “Perspective”) who look for any opportunity to write mean and nasty things about black women and totally DERAIL to comments section in an attempt to ruffle feathers and someone who is new to the site and doesn’t recognize them as regular trolls takes them seriously, responds, and then long back-and-forths continue.

      Good point!

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    • Please shut the fuck up with that nonsense. You people have a track record of ruining the lives of others who don’t look like you so why would you say some asinine shit like that? You’re the reason some black don’t respect or support black women. Fuck outta here. And why are you trying to derail the point of the article? Guilty? If the shoe fits… smh

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  5. I don’t know what to even say about things like this any more. The author is right. They would NEVER do something like this about the Holocaust. Heck they don’t even make light of Israelite enslavement.

    It is amazing how people never want to talk about the African slave trade, but whenever they do it’s always something ridiculous or offensive.

    I can’t even be furious or hurt anymore. People either ignore you or trivialize what happened. I would actually prefer that people ignore it and black folks teach themselves. That is what happens in most schools anyway. They ignore parts of history that aren’t as feel good as The Patriot.

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