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A Modern Day Civil Rights Lesson

Written By: aaminahm on January 30, 2010 No Comment

Recently my daughters studied Martin Luther King in celebration of his birthday. They both attend a local elementary school. The school is in a white collar community with very few African Americans. My fifth grader had to read excerpts of a biography of Dr. King and then answer questions for homework. One of the questions was “How did African American children feel about segregation?” The text says, “Separate schools made black children feel different from white children. Separation made them feel they were not as good as whites.”

She read that to me and I was outraged. I told her that this was not true. Black children didn’t believe that white’s were better than them. If they felt that way they would be complacent and there would be no need for a Civil Rights Movement.

A few days previously, I had my children watch the Rosa Park’s story. I asked my daughter “What did Rosa Park’s say?” She said “Rosa Parks said that her grandfather taught her that all people were equal. And as long as you had dignity, no matter what race you were no one could take that away from you.” I said, “That is true and much different then the idea that white people are better than you. Both my parents and your father’s parents grew up during segregation, and so did our grandparents. No one ever taught us that we weren’t as good as white people, and we’re not teaching you that either.”

She said, “but that’s not what the book says so I don’t know what I’m supposed to write.”I told her that she could say “The book says this, but I don’t agree because… or the book says this, but my mom says it’s not true!” My kids were all sitting around the table and they started laughing.

The next day my youngest daughter a third grader came in the room singing “Rosa Parks was tired and she didn’t get up.” She said these were the lyrics of a song she was learning in school. I said that I can’t believe that they are still teaching kids that she was tired. When I was a student we learned that she was a tired old lady. In fact she was a young woman; an activist. I said “She was sick and tired of being mistreated. There is a difference in being fed up and being exhausted.”

Unfortunately I see racism as existing in these ways which are institutionalized and systemic. It is much more difficult to conquer because it is insidious and goes unnoticed. I am sure that many would say that we should be happy that our children are learning about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. However, I won’t be satisfied until all children are taught what Rosa Parks’ grandfather taught her. If you have your dignity no one can take that away from you.

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