A Seattle school district is investigating a teacher’s motives in kicking the only non-white student out of the Accelerated Progress Program class at Thurgood Marshall Elementary. The district denies race had anything to do with the situation. Charles Mudede, the girl’s father, disagrees.
His 8-year-old was told by the teacher she had to leave the class because of the smell of her hair product, an olive-oil lotion. The teacher claimed the smell sickened her, so the girl was sent to a non-accelerated class, which, he points out, also had more black students.
The girl’s mother, Bellen Drake, and the NAACP held a news conference a few days later, after the school refused to do anything about the situation.
The district has responded through attorneys saying that the teacher should not have asked the child to leave based on those reasons. But they deny that race had anything to do with the teacher’s request. The teacher claimed to have a fainting spell due to the girl’s hair product and that she felt much better when the girl was gone.
But the father’s not convinced and believes race has everything to do with it. The irony of the situation and the school’s name is also no lost on him. As he writes over at The Stranger:
If a white teacher—a person who is supposed to have a certain amount of education and knowledge of American history, and who teaches at a school named after the man who successfully argued before the court in Brown v. Board of Education for equal opportunities for racial minorities in public schools and went on to become the first African-American Supreme Court justice—removes a black student from a predominantly white class because of her hair, it is almost impossible not read the action as either racist or expressive of racial insensitivity, which amounts to the same thing for someone in that teacher’s position.
The girl’s initial take-away from the incident is heartbreaking as well. She believed that she may, in fact, have contributed to the teacher’s discomfort.
My daughter was aware of the racial nature of this expulsion not only because she was made to sit in a classroom that had more black students in it (the implication being that this is where she really belongs, in the lower class with the other black students), but because her teacher, she informed me, owns a dog. Meaning, a dog’s hair gives the teacher less problems than my daughter’s human but curly hair.
Mudede and his wife, who is white, said they would keep the girl at home until the teacher produced a note saying that she was medically unable to tolerate the hair product. The last think they want, understandably, is for the teacher to “faint or vomit at the mere sight” of their kid.
What I’m wondering is, if race was a motivator, what else has she done to the girl over the year? How else has she singled her out? If race wasn’t a factor, how did the hair product and laundry detergents and general perfuminess of modern American kids — and the teacher’s colleagues — not make her sick? Earlier in the school year, the teacher reported she had allergies. So, has this teacher felt sick all year?
Why is she suddenly claiming someone’s hair product is making her sick? Maybe the teacher was just sick. Maybe the teacher is pregnant, which would explain the sudden sensitivity to smells and the possible — unrelated to smells — near-fainting smell. If that’s the case, dear teacher, things should clear up in the next trimester and, in the meantime, you’re going to have to kick a whole lot of people and/or barbecued meats out of your life in order to avoid any discomfort due to smells. Oh, and cross your fingers that your child never encounters an adult willing to single out a child — for whatever reason! — and banish him/her in such a humiliating and deeply personal way.