It there a lesson to be learned in the semiotic lynching of Black children on the campus of Grambling State University?

Is it possible for kindergarten and first-graders at the Alma J. Brown Elementary School — operated on the grounds of Grambling State University — to truly discriminate between fake hangings, the Jena 6, and the brutal reality of history?

Where does the lesson begin and the lynching end?

When teachers wrap a noose around the neck of a Black child and enslave other Black children in chains — are we teaching a valuable, historic, life lesson or encouraging modern-day rage?

What lesson is there to be learned in the escapades of White Louisiana students “re-enacting” the Jena 6 events in “muddy Blackface?”

Is the ridiculousness of this Racist re-enactment the sort of lesson the Grambling event hoped to instill in educating its elementary school children?

Does this cruel semiotic Minstrel Show enlighten history through humor or encourage Racism through mockery?

The lesson in the lynching is that it doesn’t take White Racists to forever flay the psyche of a Black child with negative historical stereotypes; and we learn — from the Muddy 6 — that it doesn’t take a noose to hang Black skin in effigy.

29 Comments

  1. I’m with you on the jerks, Anne! I am most disturbed by the active lynching demonstration as part of the classroom curriculum. What were they thinking? Isn’t the horror of the images of history enough of a teaching tool if you must teach lynchings to elementary schoolchildren?

  2. Couldn’t agree with you more on this? Why does our soceity believe that the only way a person can truly understand something is to experience it? By their logic, we need to participate in the mock gassing and incenerating of millions of Jews in order to understand the Holocaust. Sad and ridiculous…

  3. Welcome to Urban Semiotic, mdestes!
    I like your analysis and it also covers a critical area of thought as well if we extrapolate the lynching lesson: Only men can understand men, only presidents can criticize presidents, only Muslims can comprehend Islam…
    We have imagination and empathy and the ability to learn. We do not have to be burned to know fire is hot. We do not have to die to know death is everlasting. We can take the experiences of others and make them our own defined by our own truth.

  4. David,
    Once again, I agree (at least for the most part). Our society believes that the only type of knowledge that is real or true is absolute knowledge. Unless we can know something with absolute certainity, we can’t know it at all. This approach is knowing will lead to utter skepticism because few (if any) things can be known absolutely.

  5. I don’t think it’s teaching these children history…it’s teaching them fear. I don’t want my children living in fear! It is really a sick thing that this school is doing and I’m glad they don’t have the same lessons at my children’s schools!
    Melissa

  6. Welcome to Urban Semiotic, Melissa!
    You’re right this is teaching by fear and intimidation — but isn’t that in some way reflective of society’s values and mores?
    We are taught by mainstream society to live in fear of immigrants and our neighbors and those who hold different religious views than us.
    We then learn to ostracize and departmentalize and condemn by demonizing the threat the the terror they can inflict upon us.
    That’s all wrong and ridiculous, but that may be the indicative inspiration that some cultures use to teach children: You want to smoke? Smoke the entire pack. You can drink, but only at home. You want to touch yourself down there? I’m not shaving your palms…
    Some Catholic schools used to paddle children and rap knuckles with rules for wrong answers and bad behavior — is that child abuse or a reason to learn so as not to hurt in the end?

  7. How are they supposed to teach the children that Whites are bad and that Whites oppressed their ancestors and that Whites owe them something if they don’t drive the point home?
    Remember, we have to teach hate and we have to teach someone to be oppressed. With society changing I guess there just aren’t enough lessons outside the classroom anymore.
    As for the Muddy 6, that’s just whacked, stupid, whatever. I have no idea what they were thinking posting that stuff. Also, there is truth in wine so I discount any statement that they’re not bigoted.

  8. jonolan!
    You make me laugh! Your rage is so pure and clean and delicious and rarely expressed so succinctly! I laugh out of the delight of recognition and not because of what you say.
    I would’ve thought the more effective lesson that day would’ve been TO NEVER allow anyone to place a noose around your neck under any circumstance and if they do you shout for help and you fight and scream and kick and run — you never submit! You never give in and smile while you tempt death and spit at history. You don’t pose — proudly and inquisitively — as those determined to protect you place chains on your shoulders and ask you how you feel in your playful oppression.
    I hate the Muddy 6 images as well — but I’m glad they’re out there and on the internet and available for public prosecution and shunning. Too often that kind of hate is internal and jokingly obscured and the price for the cruelty is never paid in embarrassment and shared pain in the judgment error.

  9. David,
    Yes rage – pure clean rage – sums up my response to what those supposed teachers did. When I see anyone doing their damnedest to spread that sort of hate and fear to a younger generation I get blindingly enraged.
    Your thought for lessons seem much better.

  10. jonolon!
    You were caught by Akismet! Let me know when that happens so I can fish you out of its net. I had “damn” in my comments Blacklist and that’s why you were stored there. Your use was perfectly on point and tasteful.
    I’m with you on the rage, my friend, it makes one stop and stare at those images and try to think where in the world those teachers live and what sort of internal beatings they delivered to those children… beatings that cannot ever be taken back or understood — and are forever felt — for the rest of their lives and ours.

  11. Nicola, my darling friend! I have missed you so! I have kissed your Avatar and embraced your comment! I hope you and everyone are doing well.
    Your comment is fascinating and I’m going to be provocative in my reply…
    If that awful lesson had to be taught in that manner — would it have been better to use White children instead of Black to make a more pressing human point that the lynching would have more resonance in the body of a historical generation that did not directly know or experience such Racial pain?

  12. Firstly I will assure you you that all is well and life is good – just doesn’t leave much time for blogging in any depth over the summer.
    Now things are starting to calm down a little I hope to be back in the saddle soon – be warned !
    I stand by the view that it would be better not done at all and certainly not to children at such a young age. There must be other ways of teaching the lessons that need to be taught without practical demonstrations.
    Is this taught in both black and white schools and mixed schools?
    However you have to remember that this is not part of our cultural history in the UK and my horror may stem from that – and the fact it needs to be taught at all.
    I think the nearest equivalent we have in the UK is the making of the guy to burn on Guy Fawkes night – which is made with straw and then burnt on the fire – which is all part of our traditional Bonfire Night Celebrations on November 5th.
    I suspect it would not be allowed to be done in the UK – even if a dummy was used. The view would be that we should not be teaching children how to hang each other – because inevitably a child would hang another child.
    On a lighter note the Health and Safety Commission would have a field day – children are no longer allowed to climb trees or collect conkers ( horse chestnuts ) in case they hurt themselves.

  13. Katha —
    You’re right! No matter what the intention of the teachers, the end result of the lesson was an awful mocking of a terrible stretch of time in America when lynching Blacks was a public square event to be attended.

  14. Nicola!
    I am glad to learn you are doing well and feeling right. Yay!
    This “lesson” is so incomprehensible to us that we just sit and stare at the images. This is not condoned or done in any American school as part of a proper learning regime. Those teachers struck out on their own with that wild hair idea and the end result was international awe and revulsion.
    When I was in elementary school we did have a “Blue Eyed Slave Day” where, if you had blue eyes, you were the “slave” of those with brown eyes. You had a master. You did what your brown-eyed master said. You walked behind everyone else. You got your master’s lunch. It was humiliating and that, in the end, was the lesson being taught: “You can’t arbitrarily discriminate against people because of something they cannot change or help like eye color… or skin color. ” That’s how the lesson of slavery was taught in the Midwest 30 years ago.
    I found the whole lesson incredibly prejudicial in bad ways. I have hazel eyes so those of use not in the brown mainstream or the blue niche were required to “watch and learn” from the experience of one set of kids basically beating up a forced minority with teacher assent. It was ugly. They don’t do that any longer.
    Loved your conkers article! They look dangerous like spiky club heads! What fun!

  15. I have hazel eyes too 🙂
    Your blue eye/brown eye lesson reminded me of something we do when teaching (people unknown to us) in groups of about 20/30 adults.
    We would ask them to split into male/female reform, then blond/brunette/redhead/grey then reform.
    The the same with meat eating/vegetarians/vegans.
    Long hair/short hair – married/unmarried, children/no children.
    We would repeat the exercise with about ten different characteristics or as many as we had time for. The more the better. Some light hearted and some less so.
    We never use skin colour – or body size I hasten to add.
    The whole object of the exercise was to show them that they had at least one thing in common with someone else in the room.
    This idea which works well for us and was stolen from/developed my schooldays where they used to do similar to us at a much simpler level.
    Do you like sports/crosswords art etc etc .
    Not quite the sorting hat from Harry Potter – but similar.