A Mixed Black Kid and a Colonial Farewell Letter for a School Assignment
5th Grade History Book
Adventures of Homeschooling 4 Kids #1:
My 11 year old child just had an assignment to write a farewell letter as if he were living in 1740s Britain and about to move to one of the Thirteen Colonies. I said, “Let’s keep in real. You are a mixed Black child. How do you think this is going to go down?” His assignment was to read about the 13 colonies, their economies, agriculture, topology and then write to his peers about how his new home will be. So, we merged facts of that economy, agriculture, climate with the reality that he would be an enslaved person (1 drop rule, who cares if his papa is White?).
So, he wrote to his peers that he hopes he won’t be separated from his siblings because he learned that that happens on the auction block and that thus far, he has been ‘fortunate’ in Britain as a slave to still be with his family. He wrote to them that he is lucky he can even write a letter because enslaved Africans in the colonies are forbidden to learn how to read and write and he hopes if he survives, he can still write letters to his friends in Britain (and of course, there won’t be many who can even read it if they too are Black like him). He wrote that he isn’t sure he’ll survive that trip across the ocean because he learned that many enslaved Black people are shipped in harmful conditions and many die, while white freed Europeans had a higher chance of surviving the journey because they weren’t shackled and confined with no sanitary options for weeks on end.
The reality is, these assignments can be boring without more deep critical engagement; he was bored at first until I proposed that he write it from his racial-gender embodied perspective. The assignment assumes that the child writing it and showing up in the colonies will be most likely be a white free human. (Note: if this is a white free man , then they would most certainly have ‘awesome’ opportunities as a colonist-capitalist excited for a new adventure to live ‘freely’ away from the King while exploiting and causing suffering for others in the name of his religion– after all, even if white women who were free were to emigrate to the colonies, a patriarchal system would already be in place that also limits her opportunities though she would still be a beneficiary of white privilege. Though Quakers did reside in the 13 colonies and were anti-slavery, the majority of white free human beings there were not.)
So, we shut that sh*t down pretty quickly with this assignment, but in a respectful and anti-racism engaged way. One can write critically for an assignment, do what they are asked and still bring the reality of racial justice and history into it.
If you are getting sanitized readings and assignments of the ‘colonial era’ for your elementary or middle school aged child/children, are you bringing racial-gender inequities into the mix?
In other news…. My fifth grade son has straight hair, broad nose, light skin, light eyes. The other month, a kid at school asked him, “Finish this song…. Fish and chips and vin….” and then my son said, “negar” and except the point is to say, “n*gger”. This is a nonBlack kid telling him this and even though I’m doing antiracism education with the kids, I have not talked about this word yet to any depths, but now I will… However, now that many kids are singing this song to get kids to say ‘n*gger’, me and my husband have had to teach them what this word means, along with his younger sister who has been singing it, aloof. Learn here why kids [of any color ] should not be saying the n-word and here.
I also asked him, since he ‘passes’ as nonBlack for most of his peers and if they knew me, his mother ,was Black (and this assumes they know what ‘nigger’ means), “Do you think they would have asked you to finish the song?”
I shared this just in case you are questioning why anti-racism education is important to integrate into all children’s educational experiences. Songs like these get circulated and clearly, babies are keeping the idea of anti-Blackness and white supremacy alive without even knowing it.
I started a new Social Justice book reading series below for children.