The closest to Normal (Illinois) that I've ever been.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Abraham, Martin and Me


I helped escort Joseph's class to a performance of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra yesterday. It was entitled: Abraham, Martin and Me. It was an performance devoted to celebrating Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. It was excruciating! The (white) conductor gave a long (LONG!) impassioned speech about what it would be like to be an African stolen from your family, owned, and forced into labor, and how Lincoln and Martin Luther King (Jr! she never remembered the Jr!) empowered black people. So cringeworthy. It totally took me back to my elementary school days. I specifically recall a puppet show about multiculturalism in which the puppet that represented my brand of diversity was a HORRIBLE caricature. I was mortified! It affected me profoundly that all the other kids would believe what the puppet said because it was presented to them as a lesson in school.

Throughout yesterday's performance of I kept imagining that some 6-year-old black girl (likely the only black kid in her class) was being forced to hear all of this in the presence of her white peers. And starting on the bus ride back to school, and for the rest of her life, would be aware of the curious stares of her classmates and feel embarrassed. I am sure that the conductor was well-meaning. She probably just wanted the white kids to empathize with the black experience. However, I think that this is the root of the problem: it was a lecture about black people specifically for consumption by white people. Being the subject of the empathy is like eavesdropping on people talking about you. I am sure that (WASPy) educators have no idea how it feels to be on the receiving end of such well-intentioned passion. The conductor is probably drinking some tea at home, and feeling like she did a good thing.

1 comment:

Kim! said...

Ah, always the insightful one, Susan. I cringe in empathy for your experience.