Monday, March 14, 2011

Mad World (by anon)

There come times when I think I'm having a nightmare, times when I question whether this world is right side up or right side down.

Imagine that you are a woman and are asked to mock simulate a rape scene.  Heinous, right?

Imagine that you are Jewish and are asked to take part in a mock simulation of the goings on in a concentration camp.  Unthinkable, right?

Now imagine that you are ten-year old Nikko Burton, a black student at Chapelfield Elementary in Ohio, and are made to take part in a mock slave auction where you are "inspected" by masters to see if you are a worthy buy - and this is a class exercise.  Read the story for yourself:

I must admit that I'm a little at a loss for what to say.  This is a child humiliated by the worst kind of racial objectification all in the name of education.

How is this possible?  Don't we live in America?  Isn't this supposed to be the land of freedom?  I'm losing hope (more than I already have).

Ever since I read this story a couple of days ago, I can't get Gary Jules' song, "Mad World," out of my head.  Here's the verse and chorus:

Children waiting for the day they feel good
Happy birthday, happy birthday
And I feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen

Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me, what's my lesson?
Look right through me, look right through me

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles its a very, very
Mad world, mad world, enlarging your world
Mad world


  1. "I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take"

    People say we need to stop whining and do something. Sure, that may be easy for those of us that do not fit into this "othered" category. Woohoo, social change. Okay, you social change the fact that my family, and most likely Nikko Burton's family, is decades, maybe even centuries behind the hierarchical mess that this country has made its base.

    This is not to say that those who are othered, humiliated, hurt, damaged, broken, and fractured are incapable of changing society. In a way, it seems like it's our job. In another way it seems like someone for us.

    I had a friend of mine tell me his experience at a Washington state school in 1987.

    "This happened in my school. To me. Though it was a little more controlled, the teacher took people with brown eyes and segregated us.
    Then after lunch we reversed roles, but not the teachers
    I went to the principal's office to tell her that the teacher was being mean.

    Because I was already brown, I was used to the humiliation at the hands of the white students.
    I suspect the lesson wasn't really intended for people already suffering racism. The lesson was for the white kids who never knew.
    There are days, yes, i wished the other children knew the pain i felt."

    Why are our precious children being used as props and demonstrations? We could really go further and talk about the warped minds of the innocent children who learn these "lessons."

  2. The logic in this piece is flawed. One relatively minor event does not imply that the entire world is mad. Next, this is not by far the worse kind of racial objectification. How about lynching? Next, this event affirms the value of freedom. After all, the teacher was free to conduct this kind of history lesson in the classroom. Finally, we do not know the nature of the teacher who conducted this screwed up lesson. More is needed here before jumping to chicken little conclusions. The other examples of Jews and rapes are nothing more than sensationalism. They are not parallel cases.

  3. Anon 11:25, I agree that there may be worse "instances" of racial objectification, but the instance you note is still of the same "kind" as the kind I note. There is a difference between instances and kinds, and the kind I reference is to make one feel like a sub-standard thing to be bought and sold based purely on one's skin color. It completely ignores one's humanity.

    To address another point, what are your limits to "freedom?" Would you say that Hitler's actions affirmed the value of freedom. and therefore we should extol him? There are limits to freedom, and part of those limits include morality. There are some things we should do and some things we should not do. The situation with Nikko Burton should not have happened - and certainly not in the name of freedom! That's a perversion.

    If you view the suggested parallels with concentration camps and rapes as sensationalism, this probably says more about your sensibilities than anything else. Those are all kinds of egregious objectification; they are of the same kind and should never be permitted.

    Lastly, token events never happen in isolation. They are always surrounded by a social context that explains their happening. The question we should be asking is: how is it that this event could happen in our public schools by a teacher who was trained by our education system? What social mechanisms allow for this kind of thinking and doing to happen? More pointed questions would be: where is this racism coming from and how can we rid ourselves of it?

    What scares me is that I fear that the racism in our country is SO much stronger than it appears to be. In fact, it may be so strong that there may be many who wouldn't even view what happened to Nikko Burton as racism at all or they may view it as a "harmless" instance of racism. Either option is pretty bad.

  4. I think that the racism extends beyond Nikko in this case. What about the others? The ones "bidding" on the slaves? Has anyone made any judgement about their place in this mock society, or in our real society? What lessons will they carry forward into their lives? Have they learned something that will help them? Will their lesson cause them to make mistakes?
    My point is that if the focus is racism then lets be honest about what racial favoritism might entail. ALL the children in the class deserve an apology. All of them deserve to be treated in a manor that will not perpetuate racism.
    I think that the idea which is being overlooked here is that if you feel sorry for Nikko because he's a black kid who had to re-enact black slavery, then why wouldn't you feel just as sorry for any other kid who had to re-enact black slavery? Answer: you are in some ways racist, and you perpetuate the ideas which re-enforce racism.
    Nikko has never actually served as a slave, and the only thing he really has in common with some of the early American slaves is that MOST of them were black. (lets not forget the native americans) Beyond America, I'm not sure that there is any racial category of people that has not endured slavery.
    Racial discrimination is still undertaken officially in this country. When you fill out your application to attend UW Whitewater, there are blocks to check regarding your racial/ethnic heritage. Depending on which blocks you check you will be offered certain benefits BASED ON YOUR RACE/ETHNICITY and nothing else, not your GPA, not your personal character, etc. If we really want to eliminate racism, we need to nurture an environment that would lead to the above situation with children like Nikko and his friends being able to go through this re-enactment without recognizing their racial differences. Simply recognizing each other as the people who are trying to understand how people USED TO think about eachother.