Speaking Out Anyway: Challenging Stereotypes and Racism in Your Child's School Play

Image courtesy of rosemariekovic
via Creative Commons.
We've blogged recently about the importance of speaking up anyway (even when we're afraid) and offered a few tips to make it easier to do so. So, I was glad to come across a perfect example of the positive results that can come from speaking up.

In her Teaching Tolerance post "Challenging Stereotypes in Peter Pan," teacher and parent Kellie Cunningham Bliss talks about how her "blood went cold" when she discovered that her young son was cast in the school play, Peter Pan. Especially as a Native American ("Alaskan Native to be more precise. I am Haida. I am Raven moiety, Brown Bear Clan"), Kellie is outraged that her son's school would so blithely perpetuate stereotypes and racism. As Kellie says,

"Native Americans are characterized, marginalized, counted in number books (see Ten Little Rabbits by Virginia Grossman), depicted with incorrect images, and otherwise represented in hurtful, derogatory ways. Growing up in America, we are bombarded with images, toys, and stereotypes.

Stereotypes surround us and we, as a native culture, become invisible. Only the stereotype remains."

So Kellie emailed the school (before making too many assumptions and judgments) to share her concerns and to find out how they were going to handle the play. She says,
"I asked if there were to be props such as tomahawks and feather headdresses. I wondered if the children would use the Hollywood 'war cry.' The response was yes to everything. I asked to see the script. After reading the line when the Indians say to Peter, 'You are our Great White Father,' I wanted to burn it."
Kellie didn't give up in frustration, pull her son out of the play, or launch a campaign castigating the school. She continued to speak out, firmly and compassionately, and although they went through with the play, the school made several changes. Kellie notes,
"They added a scene in the beginning to explain that the story was written 100 years ago by J.M. Barrie, who never actually visited America. He wrote a completely fictional story about completely fictional humans.

The line about the white father was changed to 'Great White Feather.'  The headdress and tomahawks were taken out. The children playing Indians wore nondescript brown tunics with the school logo painted on the back, creating a kind of 'tribe' of the school."
Read the complete post.

As we've said before, speaking out to say "enough" can be extremely scary and intimidating, but if we act with integrity and compassion, even if we don't get the results we hoped for, we've still planted seeds for a more just, compassionate future.

(Note: If you teach about American Indians in your classroom, check out our 5 tips.)


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