When a sixth-grade teacher asked a black student to explain her family origins, the answers delved into a likely unexpected topic: slavery.
I found it. LMFAO! Can y'all sense how fed up my daughter was with this assignment? pic.twitter.com/0VP1uyT31X— Brandy with a Y (@BtSquared2) October 27, 2015
The answers, tweeted above by the student's mother, are revealing. Where did your family immigrate from? Africa. When did they immigrate? Whenever the slave owners took them. Why did they immigrate? Because the white man wanted free labor. Who did they immigrate with? Other slaves. Did they know anybody here before they came? No, because they were stolen. What was life like when they first came here to live? Horrible. Do you still have family where they came from? I don't know. Why is it important to know your family history? So that you know traditions and family values.
It is perhaps the last question and answer that's most revealing. The point of these assignments in school is to reflect on your family's origin and what it means to you today. And for many kids, that means reflecting on European, Latin American, or even US roots that are easily traceable.
"Her hesitation was in the way the assignment was worded. It suggested the students 'go back as far as you can,' but continually referred to 'immigrants,'" the student's mother said in an email. "That immediately made her think of relatives/ancestors that came to America from another country. And for us that would obviously be west Africa. Of course we know the history of how today's African American came to be in America and I find it to be one of America's dirty little secrets and this assignment is proof positive of that."
She added, "The general assumption is made that everyone has some grand success story of families leaving their home country and coming to America in search of better opportunities. But the simple and plain truth is that not all of us have this story to tell and the ability to trace one's ancestry is a privilege within itself — one that most if not all black Americans do not have."
So while the responses in the assignment are witty, they're also revealing: They show the incredibly dark moments of America's past — and the policies that followed, such as segregation, the war on drugs, and mass incarceration — that still weigh on many black kids and adults today.