A Colorado Springs second grader was asked to leave class last week because several faculty and staff members were uncomfortable with his use of “black face” in his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. for a school project. You can read the story on Gawker here. For those of you who are unaware, black face was a makeup gimmick used by white actors in minstrel shows for the sole purpose of making fun of black people. In today’s age, it is largely viewed as inappropriate, disrespectful, politically incorrect, and in certain instances, highly racist.
I don’t believe for a moment that Sean King, the child who was asked to remove his black face makeup, was trying to be disrespectful or racist. I’d like to imagine that he was simply making a concerted effort to be the very best Martin Luther King, Jr. that he could possibly be. And in the eyes of an eight-year-old, painting your face so that you look like a certain person or character is an obvious choice. If he were SpongeBob or The Hulk, no one would have batted an eye if he had been painted yellow or green.
The problem here is that SpongeBob and The Hulk aren’t inherently disrespectful and associated with racism, but black face is. So this begs the question, should kids be expected to be politically correct?
I think the answer is yes. And also no. Children are ever-evolving little creatures. As they grow, they soak up information and learn about the world around them. It is our job as parents and educators to teach them the intricacies of our society and to show them how to behave. Learning about our country’s (not always awesome) history, and how we deal with the implications of that history, is a big part of growing up. Sean King, and many children just like him, have no idea about minstrel shows and why that form of entertainment was so very disrespectful to an entire group of people.
It is our responsibility to teach our kids these lessons. It is Sean King’s mother’s job to talk to him about black face and explain why it’s inappropriate. Sean shouldn’t be punished for his faux pas, but he should be expected to learn from it. His mother is doing him a great disservice, in my opinion, by arguing with the school about their decision instead of using this situation as a learning opportunity. Sean wasn’t sent home or suspended, he was simply asked to remove the make-up before giving his presentation.
We can’t expect children to know everything, but we can and should use uncomfortable situations as teachable moments.
What are your thoughts on this subject?
Photo Credit: PhilosophyGeek via Flickr
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