When I was younger, primary 5 age to be exact, I had a really influential teacher who taught me my first understandings of segregation and racism, particularly at the time of Martin Luther King Jr’s existence. It was a time, the first time, that I saw the harrowing, poignant image of the Ku Klux Klan. I distinctly remember having nightmares for weeks. I mean yes, some feel that I was too young to see those images, however, the story and message behind it, made a huge impact on why I feel so strongly against not only the historic treatment of black people, but how they are being treated currently….in the 21st century.
What particularly hit me during the Values lecture on Tuesday, was the case of Emmett Till. A young, innocent 14 year old boy, out with his cousins in the state of Mississippi. After allegations that he “whistled at and touched” a women’s hand, her partner and her brother took Emmett away from his home, savagely beat up, shot and killed him. His body was then wrapped in barbed wire and tossed into a nearby river. Why? Because he was black. Did they get jailed for it? No. They were let away free. Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence. However, it was the decision his mother took that made the case go down in American history.
“I said I want the world to see this because, there is no way I could tell this story and give them the visual picture of what my son looked like,” Mobley said.
At Emmett’s funeral, his mother decided to expose his body in an open lid coffin, so that the people of the country could see the damage the men had done to Emmett, to the point that it made him almost unrecognizable. This devastating image created an outrage across the globe and sparked the beginning of a Civil Rights movement. It was said that when Rosa Parks iconically refused to give up her seat on the bus, it was because she saw Till’s face in her mind and she knew then that it was the right thing to do.
But have we really moved forward?!….Yes, it could be argued that it’s not at the extent it used to be, e.g we can all use the same bathrooms now. However, each week we see more and more unarmed, black men and women (particularly men) shot and hurt/killed by the American police force. Los Angeles Police Department for example, “To Protect and to serve” – at least that’s their slogan. Second highest in a ratings poll for shooting unarmed citizens. 73% of which were black. (Calculated by mappingpoliceviolence.org).
Alton Sterling. Trayvon Martin. Sandra Bland. Keith Lamont Scott. Philando Castile.
Remember those names?
I was also shocked into reality when I decided to watch a documentary by the BBC on the modern day Ku Klux Klan. The haunting image of the soulless, white spear on top of the blank figure. The image that took me back to my primary 5 self. The image that left me tense, terrified and tearful. An organisation that I just assumed had grown out. How ignorant I was. Young children, younger than 3 I would say, saluting to the racist, barbaric, malevolent culture that is the KKK.
Children. Innocent children.
I remembered the thoughts in my head as a child, what had these people done wrong for this organisation to act so violently against them? I am still, frustratingly, asking myself the same question now as I sit here writing this blog. I also sit and I think about those who live in fear. Scared to go out their door every morning. The fear of the unknown. “Am I going to get stopped and killed as I drive my child to school?”
I think, as teachers, we have a duty to teach as much about equality, respect and fairness that we can in the classroom. Learn to respect not only those around us, but those outwith the classroom environment. It is vital to practice this and hope that in return, although it may be a small change, that we can take baby steps towards a more positive, fair and equal society.
“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
– Martin Luther King Jr
“I Have a Dream” speech, at the Lincoln Memorial, 28th August 1963