An entire school district in Mississippi is coming under fire after giving middle school students an assignment that required them to pretend like they were slaves working on a plantation in Mississippi. Students were then asked to write letters to family back in Africa or another American state detailing their lives as slaves and their journey to America, as if slaves willingly came to the U.S. looking to have a piece of the American pie.
Once parents received word about this assignment, many were outraged rightfully so. One parent went as far as sending a copy of the assignment to Black Lives Matter Mississippi, who then posted a screenshot of the assignment to Twitter. The chapter’s president Reginal Virgil told the Daily Beast that this assignment “[is]just another way that Mississippi is trying to whitewash its history.”
Virgil isn’t wrong. By using the words “journey to America” it removes the blame from captors and slave owners and makes students believe slaves bought an all-inclusive one-way cruise ship ticket from west Africa to the U.S., when in reality they were forced onto ships, chained to one another, forced to sleep in filthy and uncomfortable conditions without much to eat or drink. The bottom line is the experience slaves endured coming to this country was far from a modern-day cruise experience.
One Twitter user responded to BLM’s post saying “two missed learning opportunities here: 1 – slaves were forbidden to read and write so, there goes the exercise. 2 – have a robust discussion about these two bullet points.” Another user followed up stating “3 – teach the reality of slavery! Rape, beatings, family separation, starvation, worked to death. Don’t make it sound like summer camp…” At least some people get it. It’s really not hard to comprehend that this assignment was flawed.
The Lamar County School District Superintendent Dr. Steven Hampton tried defending the assignment by telling NBC/ABC affiliate WDAM “[that the purpose of the assignment] was to show our students just how horrible slavery was and to gain empathy for what it was like to be a slave. We do not discriminate against race. We want to be sensitive to what happened in the past.”
If the superintendent were really interested in teaching students the truth about Black history and the atrocities slaves endured, he could’ve simply googled resources that were readily available. If Hampton wanted his students to learn unconventionally, there are numerous books, documentaries, movies and even people who are knowledgeable about slavery and would’ve loved to give him ideas on how to teach students about America’s dark history. But, instead by assigning this lesson he was simply making light of slavery, whether he intended to or not. We’re in 2021, there’s absolutely no excuse as to why America is still white washing slavery.