A fifth-grade teacher at The Chapel School, a private school in Bronxville, NY, thought it would be a good idea to hold a mock slave auction for her social studies class.
The teacher, Rebecca Antinozzi, asked three black students to volunteer without telling them what for. She took them to the hallway, pretended to shackle them, and then let the white students bid on them. She did this for two classes.
First of all, what the hell? I genuinely want to know her thought process behind this. She really sat down, made a lesson plan, and thought, Yes, this is a brilliant idea. Let me show my students how bad slavery was by embarrassing the hell out of the only black students I have in my class.
Vernex Harding, the mother of one of the boys who was “sold” said that her son is humiliated by the whole ordeal. An investigation is being conducted and Antinozzi has been placed on indefinite leave. Antinozzi’s lawyers are claiming that the slave auction never even happened but their statement clearly references the lesson.
“The portrayal of the history lesson that has been reported is inaccurate, out of context, contains false fact… To the extent that anyone took offense to a small portion of the overall lesson that day that was used solely to emphasize the tragic injustice of slavery. It was certainly never intended.”
If Antinozzi wants to get off scot-free, she needs to get new lawyers. Because they basically admitted that the lesson did, in fact, happen.
But the worst part is that they’re trying to minimize the emotions and feelings of the students by calling it a “small portion” of a larger lesson. Obviously, the black students felt horrible, but, I’m sure the white students in her class were uncomfortable as well. At that age, you’re taught to do everything that your teacher says and they probably were too scared to go against her.
The Chapel School’s principal Michael Schultz apologized on behalf of the school and ensured parents that students and faculty would receive sensitivity training.
“Teachers will address the children impacted along with the additional support of mental health professionals. The emotional state and well-being of our students and commitment to the respect of all people are our greatest concerns.”
But I know the city of Bronxville very well. And I’m not even slightly surprised this happened.
It’s a super-rich, not so diverse city just fifteen miles outside Manhattan. Full of oversized houses and nothing to do. It’s full of people who claim not to be racist but will still cross the street or clutch their bags if they see a black person. I went to the Catholic school, Immaculate Conception, just up the street from The Chapel School from third grade to eighth grade. My graduating class had six black kids in it, including myself.
The schools in my city, Mount Vernon, a predominately black neighborhood two seconds from the Bronx, weren’t bad but they weren’t amazing. So most parents sent their kids to the schools in the town over, just like my parents did.
The result? A handful of black and brown kids thrown into schools that are 90% white. It’s around that time that I started hating the kinky curls that I used to love and begged my mom to let me relax my hair (a girl told me that my hair was rough like horse’s hair). I didn’t know how to do my natural hair until college.
Bronxville is where I heard comments like, “Well, you’re only half black, so you’re not gonna get offended by *insert racist comment here*.” It’s where I learned to hate my blackness. I didn’t love it again until I went to high school back in the Bronx.
I don’t want these boys to be embarrassed or somehow feel ashamed of their blackness. But I know from experience that it’s going to be hard. They need to know that their existence is not the issue.
The issue lies in a school system that claims to be diverse but really isn’t. The fact that the teacher is getting support from other parents doesn’t help either. The parents of every single student in that school should be up in arms. But again, it’s Bronxville, and that’s not how things work over there.