There Is No Zen in Teaching Slavery

Today marks the conclusion of Black History Month. I sincerely hope this month has caused you to become more aware of the significant contributions of Black American leaders, innovators, educators, inventors, etc., that have built this country. I found social media particularly helpful with some accounts paying particular attention to historically significant Black Americans most of us are less familiar with.

If school systems national wide had any sense at all, Black History lessons have been front and center in February’s curriculum. And in my opinion, no, parents do not get the option for their kids to opt-out of Black History Month lessons, as was what happened at a school in Utah this school year. In a very challenging season in education, there have been many intrepid educators who have sought to teach lessons in more innovative and creative ways than in years past and there is much to be applauded. However, there are educators that make me wonder how they were ever entrusted with a license to influence the minds of children.

Case in point: the Caesar Rodney School District in Delaware is currently investigating a situation where a kindergarten teacher incorporated yoga into her teaching of slavery and the Middle Passage. Buckle your seatbelts folks, your jaws are about to hit the floor.

The teacher in question is likely aware that yoga is a helpful tool for young children to exercise, learn focus, and calm their emotions. A wonderful activity for P.E. or quiet time. This teacher was wise to believe her Kindergarteners would be well served to learn about the crime of slavery and its role in the building of the United States from that young age. But she put the two together. And it was. … no. Just no. As the children were learning virtually, a parent was able to record the “lesson” and posted it to Facebook, much to the horror and disgust of parents and all non-racists.

According to this report in delawareonline.com*, the teacher combined yoga poses with her version of how Africans were kidnapped, enslaved, and brought to America. I’d like to emphasize “her version.”

“’ African people came to America on boats to become slaves,” the teacher says in the video. So, here’s the great big country of Africa. They crossed the Atlantic to come over to America. So right now, I need you to get into your boat pose,’ she says, demonstrating the yoga post.”

Let’s unpack this, shall we? (I can feel my blood pressure rise as I write this). 1. African people came to America on boats to become slaves. More like human trafficking and robbing human beings of their agency. 2. This great big country of Africa. Africa is a continent comprised of countries. How did this teacher get past elementary school not knowing? And she got a teaching certificate? But then again, most Americans are notoriously pathetic at basic world geography—that has been well documented. 3. Get into your boat pose, so the children can understand exactly how enslaved people were trafficked to America. This teacher knows nothing—nothing about the truth of how human beings were forced to American shores and being treated worse than animals in utterly horrific conditions. Questions? Just read Alex Haley’s well-researched account in his classic, Roots. How anyone survived that is evidence of superhuman strength. So no, not quite the same as balancing in boat pose while focusing on some light inhalations and exhalations.

But wait. There’s more.

“’ Africans were treated very poorly, even though they farmed the land and plowed the fields to make America beautiful and help grow our food,’ the teacher continues. ‘They worked in the fields all day. If you’re at home, you can try the plow pose.”’

Wow.

Africans were treated very poorly, even though they farmed the land and plowed the fields to make America beautiful and help grow our food.

Yes, treated poorly. Farmed and plowed. No mention of overseers standing at the ready to whip a slave at whim, or that children were bred by masters to increase productivity and monetary value and said children could be torn from their mothers to be sold off, abused, and murdered.

But I hear where some might say, “She was teaching kindergarten students. She can’t talk about those things so she had to speak in language they could understand.” As a parent, I completely understand age-appropriate language, tone, and delivery in teaching children. But children are much more capable than we give them credit for in understanding difficult things. So much so, they often develop more empathy and righteous indignation in a way adults seem to miss altogether.

Children can be told that white people kidnapped African people because those particular people were mean and hateful. They know that kidnapping is wrong and very scary. We have taught them that well by the age of five and six. Children can be told that people were beaten and hurt very badly. They can be told that slaves had chains put on them and it hurt them. They can be told that the ships that brought them to America were not Royal Caribbean cruise ships with waterslides. They can hear about and understand the terrible conditions enslaved people endured in the passage. They can be told that working in the fields was hard and painful work and that enslaved people were hurt by mean people, that their families didn’t get to stay together, and that they were hungry, cold or too hot, and scared.

These are hard but understandable facts kindergarten children can digest. And comprehending this can go a long way toward helping them reject racism, inequality, and violence long before many think they are capable of doing that.

And no, yoga has no place whatsoever in the presentation and dialogue of these difficult but necessary truths of American history.

What in the world was this teacher thinking?

* https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2021/02/26/delaware-school-district-investigating-unacceptable-black-history-month-lesson/6834627002/?fbclid=IwAR3ei8yqQQu1CwfunMeDFVUaXqIkhi9LfcY59bgcq9rU2BBKoCwNrjxSBdE

Unpacking All Lives Matter

Years ago, when I first heard the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” my first thoughts went something like this: “Well yeah, of course they do. But all lives matter.” I think I even posted something from my Christian perspective along the lines of “We are all really lucky that we all matter to Christ because we’re all walking around here acting dumb a lot of times.” I thought I was being helpful.

But really, I was ignorant. Thankfully, I have since learned the error of my reasoning.

The words Black Lives Matter have been a rallying cry since they first became prevalent in national and international dialogue. But especially in America, they have stirred up two groups of people on decidedly opposite sides of the proverbial fence. When Black people and their allies hear those words, they are a call to justice for senseless violence against members of the Black community. These three words are literally asking, “Is the life of a Black human being not worthy of value and protection?

Unfortunately, and I don’t know how to say this except for bluntly, certain others hear those same words, and can’t or won’t utter them without immediately following up with “all lives matter.” While “All Lives Matter” as a statement is not factually incorrect, it is ignorant. And as any student of history well knows, ignorance only fans the flames of racism.

Black lives, brown lives, and the lives of every hue constitute all lives. But if one of the groups of lives is left out, the word “all” can’t be used. One would have to say “Some Lives Matter” or “Not All Lives Matter.” Which, since we’re being honest, is exactly the problem in these United States. And that’s essentially what’s being said here. When one group of people has to educate their sons and daughters on how to protect themselves from the police (you know, the ones who are supposed to protect said sons and daughters), while other groups of people don’t even have to think about that, the scales are tipped. When violence and broken educational and correctional systems work against one group in great disproportion, the lives impacted are not mattering. In simpler terms? You cannot have a dozen donuts if one donut is missing. You cannot have a perfect rainbow if orange is missing. You cannot have a five-point star if one point is missing. Do you see where I’m going with this? If Black people are facing more injustice, discrimination, and police brutality than others—systematically and historically—their lives are not mattering.

“But,” cry out those who just cannot bring themselves to agree with those facts, “why do we have to pay attention to just the Black lives? Isn’t that racist to favor one group? If we said, “White Lives Matter, everyone would say that was racist.” Well, you see here, white lives in America have always mattered. You just don’t have to verbalize it. The very systems that have built and sustained this nation were designed by white people, with white people in mind, and have historically worked in favor of white people. Considering that this country was built on the backs of Black people, literally, and has been further strengthened by an intellectual and tactile work force of immigrants from every nation on earth, that systemic framework stinks.

The notion of white supremacy is not American made, though it made America. How else do you explain British, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese men sailing to Africa thinking they had the right to kidnap, traffic, and sell HUMAN BEINGS to other white men? How do you explain denying human rights to a group of people in treating them like animals to be bred and abused? To destroy their family structures and deny them education, healthcare, and the right to practice their cultures and traditions and religion? The only prerequisite to this vile and abhorrent blight on human history: skin color. Not only is that the impetus for slavery, that stupid notion is the backbone of colonization (a whole other blog post, just you wait).

In the United States, the Emancipation Proclamation made slavery illegal. But the abolition of slavery just led to systemic and concerted efforts to keep black people from claiming their stake in their country. The terror inflicted by the original domestic terrorists, The Ku Klux Klan, lynching, Jim Crow, White Citizens Councils, corrupt police forces, Redlining, right on up to even the subtlest of discriminatory practices today is the legacy of that evil.

When God said He made human beings in His image, He meant it. All of us. Equal. So, when Black people are denied equality and protection throughout multifaceted levels of American life to the point of loss of life? All lives are not mattering.

Do you remember attorney Jake Brigance’s closing arguments in the film A Time to Kill? In his defense of a black father who avenged the kidnapping and rape of his 9-year-old daughter by two grown white men, Brigance asked the jury to close their eyes and listen to a story. In the story, he painfully recounted the disturbing details of the assault of this little girl. It visibly shook most people in the courtroom that day. When he was finished, all he said was this: “Now, imagine the girl was white.”

All it took was this shift of perspective to set the all-white jury on a path away from convicting the child’s father. A Black child horrifically assaulted left room for argument. But when the child was white, it became an open and shut case. While this example comes from a work of fiction, it is based in reality.

If you really care about All Lives Matter, then Black Lives Matter. And until those three words become a cohesive point of agreement among all Americans, Black Lives Matter is not going away.