Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Advisory Council
Parent Learning Series 2021.1
This is the first in a series of educational newsletters to help provide information and education to STA families about diversity, equity, and inclusion. As we work to grow as an inclusive community this monthly newsletter will provide historical and current information regarding topics that may be uncomfortable but will help us on the journey to greater understanding and appreciation for all, no matter our race, ethnicity or culture.
As a community, educating ourselves is an opportunity for reflecting together, learning together and growing together towards a wholly diverse, equitable, and inclusive STA! We hope that you will take this opportunity to read the resources provided in this series to become more informed and aware and to help facilitate conversations with your children.
Thank you for taking the time to read, learn, and grow with us. If you have any topics that you’d like to see addressed, please share them with Shanna Martin at email@example.com or 317-918-4483.
Topic: Culturally Insensitive School Assignments Harm Students and Families: An Eye on Minstrel Shows
Although it may be hard to believe, and even more painful to realize that it is true, overtly racist school assignments persist in schools all across America. This recent USA Today article highlights a handful of such assignments and the devastating harm they cause to individual students, families, and entire school communities. But assignments don’t need to be overtly racist to cause harm. And, because systemic racism and more subtle biases and white privilege often impact even the most well-meaning, culturally insensitive school assignments can and do make their way from a teacher’s lesson plans to students’ backpacks. For example, while at one time, first-person “in character” assignments that disregarded race were acceptable teaching methods, just as it was “acceptable” for white actors to portray Black roles on screen or the stage, the harm caused to Black students by such portrayals requires that we critically rethink and revise our methods. This article highlights the role schools and education can play in combating racism and cultural insensitivity.
To be more clear, school assignments that ask or could lead to a student mimicking a person of another race, religion, culture, or ability are insensitive and harmful, not only to the mimicked but the mimicker. Our country has a long history of allowing such portrayals and, at worst, the portrayals themselves can be rooted in overt racism and the perpetuation of hurtful stereotypes. Minstrel shows are a primary example.
Minstrel Shows: As defined by Merriam-Webster, a minstrel is a member of a type of performance troupe caricaturing black performers that originated in the U.S. in the early 19th century. Note: The acts of minstrels, who typically performed in blackface, featured exaggerated and inaccurate representations of Black people in songs, dances, and comic dialogue. The popularity of minstrel shows in their heyday played a significant role in promoting negative racial stereotypes. Professional minstrel shows had fallen out of favor and effectively disappeared by the mid-20th century (Excerpt from Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (You can read this article to learn more about the history of minstrel songs.)
We must consider how Black and Brown students feel watching such presentations – white students mimicking Black and Brown figures – especially by their own friends and classmates..
It must be recognized that assignments that are culturally insensitive, even if unintentionally, are very painful for the students and families who are being marginalized. They are also often confusing for other students as well, who as young people are in the process of developing their own biases, empathy, and sensitivities. If we, as a school community, are to love and care for ALL of our students, we must learn to recognize and remove such assignments from our classrooms. Likewise, if we, as a school, are to prepare ALL of our students to be respectful, compassionate and loving models of Christ, we must actively move away from methods that are or could be harmful to even a single student.
We look forward to providing you with additional information and resources going forward. If you have any topics that you’d like to see addressed, please share them with Shanna Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-918-4483.