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Should Kids be Expected to be Politically Correct?

By Meghan Gesswein |

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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About Meghan Gesswein


Meghan Gesswein

Meghan Gesswein is a stay at home mom to three boys. Most of the time. Meghan is extremely active online, and writes for the ever growing mom blog, Meghan GWine. She was a regular contributor to the Parenting channels on Babble.

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7 thoughts on “Should Kids be Expected to be Politically Correct?

  1. Katie Shea Britton says:

    Yes, I’m so annoyed by this mom. Her reaction has completely blown this out of proportion. How difficult would it have been for an adult – ANY adult – near this to say, “Hey, we really appreciate your son’s enthusiasm for this project. Since one of Dr. King’s visions was a world in which we didn’t have to hide the color of our skin, there is no need for him to apply make-up to do this presentation.”

  2. Terri says:

    So here’s my question. And I don’t know the answer. Is it okay if the kid printed out a picture of MLK, made a mask of it, and wore that to school? What if he drew a picture of MLK, made a mask out of it, and wore that? Or somehow managed to find one online or in a costume shop? what if the kid left out the makeup and just did the mustache? would that have offended anyone?
    I agree, though, it is the mom’s responsibility to say, great idea sweetie but that isn’t appropriate and here’s why.
    I also wonder about the directions the kids had from the teacher. I wonder what the other dress up costumes were like.

  3. Holly says:

    As a parent I am OUTRAGED at how the school handled the situation. As stated in the blog it would have just been overlooked if the child painted their face any other color! I think it would be MORE disrespectful to portray a black man as white than to wear makeup to look like that man. I also think that the cry for racism is becoming a very over used excuse. Yes racism still exists BUT the people crying about things being racist are THE MOST racist people out there! In the U.S. whites are becoming the minority to hispanics, and Asians!
    This little boy tried his hardest to do his project the proper way and is being punished for it! This is the land of the FREE and home of the BRAVE. The mother probably didn’t see it as being racist either, she probably didn’t see an issue with it because it SHOULDN’T be a big deal!

  4. Robyn says:

    This goes beyond being politically correct. Blackface is extremely offensive. The child’s mom should have said, as Terri pointed out, “that’s a great idea, but it’s not appropriate, and here’s why.” She should not be blaming the school. However, it sounds like the mom is clueless.

  5. Meg says:

    I think it would have been better if the child had made a mask. Masks are more practical, anyway. What kid wants to wear thick, sticky make-up all day? There is the possibility of making a mess, sweating it off during recess, possibly staining his clothes or another child’s clothes. With a mask, he could show the teacher that he worked hard to make something- glueing a photo to a popsicle stick counts as effort. If he had drawn or painted a mask of MLK’s face, even better. Think of the time and energy he would have put into it. The point, after all, is that the child spends a good amount of time memorizing the material and making a good presentation, right? Teachers love visual aids. He could have turned in his mask with his report and it would have been something he could hold onto if his family is the kind that saves school projects.

    My child recently dressed up as Kirsten Larson (from the American Girls series) for a book report and she went to school wearing an old fashioned dress and had a blonde wig in a bag to put on during her presentation. I wouldn’t put make-up on my child’s face to change her race. If my child chose to do a report on a person known for a particular hairstyle/hair color, beard/mustache (Lincoln, Santa), hat/clothing style, or something like that, I’d certainly style their hair or make a construction paper mustache/beard, pull together an outfit, etc for the presentation.

  6. Tonia says:

    Hes only in second grade! :/ I dont think they should of asked him to leave but brought it up in class to TEACH all the children something instead of just sending a child home and teaching them nothing other than you go home if we dont agree with you.. ..

  7. Ashley says:

    I honestly never heard of the blackface thing until now and i am 24 years old. but i mean if a kid wanted too be anything else no one would have a problem with this. Racism is wrong i totally agree but we are all grown and should know a child this age isnt doing this too be disrespectful. And maybe this mother is like myself and didnt know about it either so why talk bad about her? ppl need to grow up and learn this is an imperfect world and we all have to live in it God doesnt care if you paint your face purple and pretend to be barney we are all equal. so lets get over this racist crap. good job too the young boy who actually worked hard on his project and tried to do his very best.

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