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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Social Commentary:
Kids made to act like slaves, I'm not exactly mad.

It has been about a week since I first read the contreversial story about the South Carolina students from Rea View Elementary School who, while on a field trip to the Latta Plantation, were asked to participate in a slavery reenactment. Tour guide Ian Campbell, a Black man, selected three Black students to act as slaves for the demonstration. Each Black student was given a bag and encouraged to pretend they were cotton picking while their White classmates watched.

Since the trip, outraged parents, teachers, have called the incident insensitive and demeaning. They have lead an effort for public vindication, including calling for an apology from the Latta Plantation, and a inquiry into whether the incident is grounds for Mr. Campbell's removal.

Campbell has responded to community and media disapproval by saying he only meant the reenactment to be historically accurate. His defense is getting mixed reviews.

A spokesperson for the Union County school publicly recognized Campbell's lack of malicious intention in her public statement:
"We just thought that was terribly inappropriate," she said. "I don't think any ill will was intended at all. It was just a bad decision for him to have made. It was an uncomfortable situation for our children and our staff."
While the president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg chapter of the NAACP responded to the incident with obvious criticism, stating:
"There is a lingering pain, a lingering bitterness, a lingering insecurity and a lingering sense of inhumanity since slavery. Because that's still there, you want to be more sensitive than politically correct or historically correct"
The blogosphere (including Siddity and Field Negro) has been alive with commentary about this incident for several days now and while I understand the fervor, I must admit that I am not remotely outraged over this unfortunate faux pas. I do not believe in my heart that Campbell was influenced by any racist motivation in his improv direction. I do not believe that he meant harm by his actions, nor do I believe that his motivation was base on anything other than historical accuracy. Moreover, I think the outrage over the incident is emotionally extreme.

There is a difference between racial insensitivity and racism, and when we chose to attack innocent acts of racial insensitivity instead of using them as teaching moments, we miss opportunities to enlighten. Conscious malicious intent must be the standard by which we decipher between a racial faux pas and an act of racism, whether the offender be Black or White. If you feel that Campbell should have reenacted the past more diversely, which is your right, then the case should be made with an understanding that his intentions were good natured.

Personally, I don't understand why so many people are disheartened by the accurate depiction of slavery these children witnessed. I wonder if people have asked themselves whether the despicable nature of slavery can be truly experienced without acknowledging the truth in its entirety. Is not shame a relevant part of slave history? Can one really understand slavery without exploring the relevancy of race? I don't think so.

I've given myself a week to get as incensed over this incident as my blogging peers - it hasn't happened. I'm still rocking with Mr. Campbell on this one.
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