It was supposed to be a simple assignment -- a little something to remind the kids about their lesson on adjectives. Magazine and newspaper clippings + lots of glue + fancy descriptives = an easy lesson and the perfect student work display for the parent/teacher conference.
We all drank in the oversized poster boards, us parents patiently waiting in the hallway for our turn with the teacher. Mari pointed lazily at the big navy blue sheet she worked on with her group; there were cars that were "slick" and "fast," desserts that were "tasty," and chairs that were "pretty" and "comfy."
And then there were the postage stamp-sized, newspaper cutouts of young black men, three of them spread out across the paper. Beneath each of them, written in simple, neat black bubble letters was one word: Evil.
Mari got questioned first: Who wrote evil under those pictures? And why? Did the story the pictures came from show these boys were criminals? Did you see the story? Did you have anything to do with this? Did it occur to you to tell whoever wrote this that this wasn't nice?
I got little more than crickets from the kid. That and a bunch of "I don't knows." So I left her alone. Until, that is, I moved on to the next poster board, and the next one, too. On each poster, there were at least a dozen cutouts of black men glued down and summarily objectified.
Each adjective, it seemed, was uglier than the last. And each of those ugly words are the ones that first came to mind when the children in my daughter's class -- many of whom she calls friends -- saw pictures of black men.
This -- this was bigger than some random comments, some smart-ass kid who thought it would be funny to say mean things about random people. This was deep-seated stereotyping at its worst -- at first blush, the innocent ramblings of 10-year-olds, but, in our eyes, symbolic of a much larger issue: Even these children, young as they are, were falling prey to the negative hype that black man = bad.
To read the rest of my Parenting Post story about Evil Black Men and how Nick and I handled the stereotyping with our daughter's 5th grade class, CLICK HERE.