Thank you for writing this.
Your observations that “teaching” about the holocaust and other horrors would never involve “projects” like this one are spot on. It’s telling that such examples clarifying the wrongness of doing such a thing occurred to you but apparently not to the school personnel responsible for this debacle.
I’m an old white man and a couple of years ago, because of an incident which occurred in an organization I was affiliated with, I began digging into race/racism here in the U.S. And…whoa…I became painfully aware that we white people (everyone actually, but it really seems to stick with many/most white people) are carefully taught almost nothing of any depth about race/racism while at the same time we are also carefully taught that we know all we need to know. As a result, we white folks tend to be opinionated ignoramuses about these topics.
Most white people in the U.S. are almost completely illiterate about their nation’s current and historical manifestations of race/racism. And also, many white people feel perfectly confident in their ability to have a strong opinion about that which they know almost nothing about. It’s both absurd and spooky.
We white folks are taught (and believe) that if we have good intentions, then we’re good to go…when that’s far from the truth.
White folks can take the online Implicit Association Test on race and discover that…whoops…they're probably harboring biases. (about 80% of white folks taking this test show up as having some degree of racial bias)
Note: our culture, from birth onward, drenches us all in narratives and imagery that encourages and upholds racial bias…we’re not responsible for being influence by that…but we are responsible for working to counter and to resist that social conditioning.
Race/racism is an extremely complex and challenging phenomenon that has shaped and warped our nation for centuries.
Our culture mostly either teaches us ignorance that masquerades as knowledge and/or it teaches us how to hold biases and to disguise them from ourselves…we’re then shocked and dismayed when oblivious ignorance (and hidden biases) manifest themselves in a tragic and hurtful instance such as you elaborated upon in your essay.
The choices for white folks are to either remain oblivious and ignorant and to then periodically engage in ugly and hurtful exhibitions like these school personnel (and be shocked at the reactions) or to get off of our butts and start working toward being less absurdly clueless.
If someone wants to do the work, a good place to start is to read Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s writing about “White Fragility”.
Again, my thanks to you Ahadi Bugg-Levine for writing this. I plan to print it out and use it as a learning tool for a group of us white folks in my community who are struggling to become less ignorant. There’s really no excuse for ugliness like what occurred at Maplewood. Just as there is no excuse for we white folks being as absurdly clueless as we are.