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My 5-Year-Old Black Daughter as a Confederate?

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What was my daughter's school thinking?

young black girl as confederate soldier

Kimberly Seals Allers: The governor of Virginia recently decided it was a good idea to issue a proclamation marking April as Confederate History Month. What was he thinking?! That decision has turned into a hornet's nest of CNN proportions, and he was forced to feign contriteness and reissue his statement. You expect that kind of stupidity in politics. But you can imagine my shock when I found myself in the middle of a Confederate clamor at my daughter's school, of all places.

A few years ago, my daughter attended kindergarten and first grade at an exclusive (expensive), mostly white (expensive) private school (expensive). The headmaster, who was retiring, was an avid Civil War buff, and there were several events planned throughout the school year to honor his tenure and service to the school.

I attended most, and did my working-mom-with-a-one-hour-commute best to be supportive. Toward the end of the school year, the faculty and PTA announced that the annual Field Day event would have a Civil War theme, with the students -- even the kindergartners -- playing on either Confederate or Union teams. Seriously?

This is where things went too far.

I'm all about celebrating history. And I can even stomach the parts that I don't like. But I really couldn't see my 5-year-old brown daughter playing on the Confederate team. And I thought it was extremely insensitive and disrespectful to the fewer than 10 African-American children in the whole K-8 school to have them play games under the banner of a group that wanted their ancestors to remain enslaved.

Some people may take lightly what the Confederacy stood for, but I don't think educators should be on that list. I arranged a meeting the headmaster.

I calmly expressed my concern over the Field Day theme and stated that, as the school strives to give students "teachable moments," I was concerned about the lesson they would get from playing games as Confederates. I also reminded him that the Civil War was a war to maintain slavery -- a system that denied African-Americans their human rights. Is this really the right backdrop for relay races and kickball?

He said the war was about state rights. "Yes," I said, "a state's right to keep slaves."

He said I was being overly sensitive and looking too deeply into it.

"Really? Seems like somebody didn't think deeply enough," I said, as I tried my best to remember my NYU and Columbia vocabulary -- even though I felt my Brooklyn, N.Y., roots bubbling to the surface.

At the end of the extremely frustrating conversation, it was clear I was getting nowhere. I respectfully let him know that my daughter would not be attending school that day to participate in the disgraceful Field Day. He just smiled and said that was fine.

I walked out of that office feeling voiceless and invisible, and left it alone.

Ever since then, I've regretted not going one step further. I'm a journalist, for crying out loud -- a journalist who could have summoned three newspapers and a television station before I left the school parking lot. But I didn't.

After working so hard to try to "fit in" with the school culture, the other moms, the PTA and the board, I chose not to fight that battle, especially because of my daughter. She was already feeling uncomfortable with getting so many questions about her hair being braided in cornrows. It's another one of those Black mom things that not everyone will understand. It's one of the kind of trade-offs that often frustrates me.

Although my child was getting an excellent education, it was clear on that day that the headmaster didn't care about all of the students (that was my daughter's last year there). And that's the problem with Gov. Bob McDonnell. While throwing a political bone to the Sons of Confederate Vets, he forgot that he represents all Virginians -- even the African-American ones.

I'm just glad to see that he wasn't able to get away with that kind of disrespect.

63 comments so far | Post a comment now
Raimi April 13, 2010, 5:56 AM

I think a lot of people commenting on this article appear to have missed the point. This article is not about why the civil war happened, though quick history lesson, it was NOT about slavery directly, but moreso the fact that the states were seceding from the union. Granted one of the reasons they were leaving was to retain slavery, but Lincoln did offer to allow thm to keep their slaves as long as they remained loyal to the union. This article is moreso about the fact that the school didn’t seem receptive to her concerns about something that is a sensitive topic. Regardless of what race, gender, creed one might be, there is always going to be a majority group and a minority group when we begin to categorize. When this happens it is only natural that those in the minority group might take particular offense to even trivial things. As a black woman I am not personally offended by confederate history month, I think if the purpose is to study antebellum culture and its ramifications, thats a good thing. But we do need to learn the good and the bad aspects in order to grow from it. And sidebar, black history month is about recognizing the contributions of blacks within the greater American landscape. This is akin to many other months during the year that are dedicated to recognizing the contributions of other marginalized groups as well, such as March- Women’s History Month, September- Hispanic Heritage Month. Just my two cents.

Jacqueline April 13, 2010, 6:23 AM

but i am not surprised by most of these responses.

it is the american way, especially the white american way. the wearing blinders way.

i am offended FOR most of you who responded because of the sheer ignorance in the responses.

for one, for those of you who are so dimly enlightened, we celebrate black history during the month of february because it is NOT taught as a REGULAR part of history curriculum in the MAJORITY of schools in this fine union.

and if you have a problem with your child participating do as miss seals alers did and refuse to allow them to do so and then hopefully you will get a history lesson of your own.

but to devalue the importance of another group of people in this country being acknowledged and celebrated, speaks to bigger ISSUES that you may have.

secondly, it is typical and EASY for a lot of people to justify the BS in this country with “people are being too sensitive”, “stop playing the race card” and “get over it”, when you live in the WHITE shade.

when these kinds of incidents and many variations will never be apart of your life still TODAY.

when you are oblivious to the fact that a lot of black people have come to learn that white people really will do almost anything and proclaim no hurt no foul was meant and then try to make you the bad one for being insulted.

and that you dare think that you can tell someone else that they should not be affected by events in history that are vile and ugly.

to act like you are insulted because she was offended, as if she had no liberty or right to be.

that you dare get in an uproar to leave your snarky comments. your dismissals.

and you people are parents?

that’s scary!

god help your children

Mom April 13, 2010, 8:57 AM

I agree with this author. Confederates glorified slavery and inhumane treatement of blacks, but the real question is why didn’t you pull her out of the school?

Debra April 13, 2010, 9:36 AM

Seriously there are people arguing over Black History Month? Racism is still very much present in our country and while we’re making strides it’s still no where near over. Most of the education in the US is about whites and their contributions. Has anyone noticed that most clothing companies have a nude or flesh tone? And odds are what color is it? White. It was insensitive of the author’s school to not try and be agreeable especially since she’s paying for the principal’s salary. I remember when I attended school we had a underground railroad reenactment which forced us to understand what it meant and how powerful it was for African Americans to try and run for freedom. Most stories don’t look into the stories of actual slaves and how they struggled. I wish the author had done more, maybe there would have been at least a few white families that would have united for the cause. Being white myself it kills me to see that just because we have a Black President people think racism’s dead. I say until we have a Black woman, a Hispanic woman, and an Asian woman as president will we truly have made any strides.

ignorance April 13, 2010, 11:45 AM

Ignorance is bliss. No wonder the country is so messed up. Just looking at you so called mothers who posted on this….

Shawna B. April 13, 2010, 11:46 AM

Hello? Hello? McFly! Uh, I totally agree with the author. What an excellent opportunity for her child to learn about state’s rights, politics AND slavery. This is a messy, messy business. I think all that the author wanted was for that to be acknowledged. I would love for my child to get a choice: what side do you want to be on? The right to have a choice about slavery or the right to equality. Keep your motherhood in tack, Kimberly. You are awesome!

Anonymous April 13, 2010, 12:20 PM

I agree w/other posters. Nothing wrong with a Confederate history month. I am curious if the author, who always cries “racism”, actually teaches her daughters that Africans themselves were the slave traders - blacks sold lower-tribed blacks into slavery and continue to do so in certain tribes in Africa. Does she teach her children the first American slaves were actually the Irish? Probably not.

John American April 13, 2010, 4:28 PM

Ok. Get over it. It is a part of American history. They were just playing out the parts so the kids could feel involved and have a better understanding of American history. Are you the same person who doesn’t want the pledge of allegiance said anymore also?

Llyralei April 13, 2010, 4:33 PM

Does anyone else realize how horrifically photoshop’d that image is?

Taylor April 13, 2010, 4:45 PM

God forbid our children learn that there are two sides to every story. It was about states rights, and any high school senior can educate you about that. Slavery was at best a secondary issue, and slavery was also a black eye on our country’s history as a whole, not just the south.

Its really a disgrace to our people that you are so quick to play the race card for us. You want us to stop being victims of racism and make everyone color blind but then you bring it up as much as possible. Its disgusting.

hannah April 13, 2010, 5:03 PM

OK, well I can see a problem with this. Making kids play on a ‘union’ and ‘confederate side on field day is just ridiculous! But don’t try to say it’s all because of racism! There were some aspects in the Civil War that were based (ever so slightly) on slavery, but the Emancipation Proclamation was put into effect about 18 months after the beginning of the war! Ohh… sounds like it was a second thought… It had more to do with taxes, exports, imports and economics than it did on slavery. It was just played up afterward because everyone had one of those ‘ohh this is not a good thing’ moments when they thought on slavery (which it is of course horrendous). Oh and something you might not know, there were blacks fighting on the Confederate side! Yes that’s right, fighting for their way of life /in the south of all places/!
Like I said at the beginning, I think its not the best idea in the world to have the kids play North vs South, but like /you/ said you send your kid to a PRIVATE SCHOOL!!! There’s a clue for ya right there as to the curriculum!
I hope you feel more enlightened… Perhaps if you actually /knew/ a bit about the Civil War you would have thought this through and perhaps discussed this with the administration instead of making yourself look ignorant by posting and whining about this on the internet! Good job, I hope you’re proud!

Meghan April 13, 2010, 6:40 PM

You people who are comparing Black History month to the Civil War are too stupid to be allowed to use the internet. Disgusting.

Meghan April 13, 2010, 6:57 PM

Also, to all you people saying “Get Over It” - I’m a white, young American woman with German/Italian/Irish roots. I am not over it as a human being, you selfless jerks. I don’t think I ever will be.

Go back to elementary school. Learn how to speak/write English (It’s called an apostrophe)and learn your American history. Come back to stories like these and let me know how you feel.

See you in hell you ignorant jerks. Makes me sick you are a part of my country.

Meghan April 13, 2010, 7:02 PM

@hannah - before you go around calling published journalist who went to NYU and Columbia ignorant, let me tell you about something called Spell Check and capital letters.

You are a fool. Can’t even capitalize your own name.

Meghan April 13, 2010, 7:04 PM

Oops, forgot the “a” before “published”.

See that ladies, that’s called proof-reading. I learned that when I was 8.

Meghan April 13, 2010, 7:08 PM

One more thing, because I can’t get over how uneducated you people are. When I was a kid we had to dress up as someone we admired. I dressed up as Nelson Mandela. Again, I’m a white female.

j April 13, 2010, 7:20 PM

the arguments against this woman’s article are really sad. props to you if you got to the end of them and can still deconstruct them all!

Laila April 14, 2010, 4:58 AM

Well said Hannah!!

Meghan - I agree with your right to have an opinion - but really - your posts sound a bit off-balanced.

I’m an educated black (not African-American - my family is not from Africa)female. I am well aware that slavery was actually a secondary issue during the Civil War. I have no issue with my children learning about ALL aspects of American history.

Elena April 14, 2010, 5:21 AM

As a Canadian of mixed descent, the comments posted in response to this article surprisse me.

The author is clearly not ignorant, being well educated and well written. She is merely taken aback by the thought of her young black daughter playing any role in a reenactment of a war that in any way alluded to slavery; the deplorable treatment of one people by another.

The fact that her daughter represents the slave through her ethnicity is not lost on ANY party. The Headmaster clearly knows this when he smiles at the end of their conversation.

Judging by this article and more importantly, the comments, by what I presume to be primarily Americans, so much is explained about the dichotomy that exists in the United States.

I have travelled to several regions of the world and must say that the only “westernized” country I have seen such blatant disregard and ignorance for your fellow countryman is the United States.

Mr. Obama has an extremely long way to go before seeing “change we can believe in”. I wish my American neighbours the very best in surpassing and overcoming the societal and personal boundaries and limitations they place upon themselves.

Meghan April 14, 2010, 8:03 AM

@Laila - Did you read the article? Everyone should learn everything about everything. The article was about dressing up a 5-year-old as a confederate soldier not not exposing her to history.

I’m not giving an opinion. I’m saying that most of the posters are unsympathetic morons. That is a fact, not opinion.

Slavery might have not been the only issue in the war. But, for the love of God, it’s slavery. How can that be a secondary issue?

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