Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times
When it comes to any American, or religious holiday, there always has to be some turd in the punchbowl trying to ruin everyone’s innocent fun. In this case the turd’s name is Michelle Raheja:
For decades, Claremont kindergartners have celebrated Thanksgiving by dressing up as pilgrims and Native Americans and sharing a feast. But on Tuesday, when the youngsters meet for their turkey and songs, they won’t be wearing their hand-made bonnets, headdresses and fringed vests.
My five year old just did the same thing with his kindergarten class, here in Missouri. He chose to wear his pilgrim’s hat, but he wore his Indian headdress home. There were no fireworks amongst the parents about the costumes. This sort of insane-hyperactive-pc-crapola usually starts on the coasts.
Parents in this quiet university town are sharply divided over what these construction-paper symbols represent: A simple child’s depiction of the traditional (if not wholly accurate) tale of two factions setting aside their differences to give thanks over a shared meal? Or a cartoonish stereotype that would never be allowed of other racial, ethnic or religious groups?
The first one.
“It’s demeaning,” Michelle Raheja, the mother of a kindergartner at Condit Elementary School, wrote to her daughter’s teacher. “I’m sure you can appreciate the inappropriateness of asking children to dress up like slaves (and kind slave masters), or Jews (and friendly Nazis), or members of any other racial minority group who has struggled in our nation’s history.”
No, I can’t really see how it’s any more demeaning or inappropriate for a kid to wear a construction paper Indian headdress, than it is for him to wear a construction paper pilgrim’s hat. They’re both a little silly…but fun, and part of our heritage. On the first Thanksgiving
…the pilgrims and the Indians did
sit down together to enjoy the harvest. Nobody forced the Indians to do this. They weren’t slaves. They did it in friendship. There was an initial period of peaceful relations between the settlers and the Indians. That’s what we remember, and choose to celebrate on Thanksgiving. Peace, even when it’s not lasting, is worth remembering.
Raheja, whose mother is a Seneca, wrote the letter upon hearing of a four-decade district tradition, where kindergartners at Condit and Mountain View elementary schools take annual turns dressing up and visiting the other school for a Thanksgiving feast. This year, the Mountain View children would have dressed as Native Americans and walked to Condit, whose students would have dressed as Pilgrims.
Sounds quaint, and harmless. Obviously it needs to be stopped, immediately.
Raheja, an English professor at UC Riverside who specializes in Native American literature, said she met with teachers and administrators in hopes that the district could hold a public forum to discuss alternatives that celebrate thankfulness without “dehumanizing” her daughter’s ancestry.
There is nothing to be served by dressing up as a racist stereotype,” she said.
Huh. Not all Native Americans agree:
Kathleen Lucas, a Condit parent who is of Choctaw heritage, said her son — now a first-grader — still wears the vest and feathered headband he made last year to celebrate the holiday.
“My son was so proud,” she said. “In his eyes, he thinks that’s what it looks like to be Indian.”
Is Kathy Lucas a college professor, though? What does she know? She and her kid are probably too ignorant to see how racist and demeaning it all is.
Last week, rumors began to circulate on both campuses that the district was planning to cancel the event, and infuriated parents argued over the matter at a heated school board meeting Thursday. District Supt. David Cash announced at the end of the meeting that the two schools had tentatively decided to hold the event without the costumes, and sent a memo to parents Friday confirming the decision.
But many parents, who are convinced the decision was made before the board meeting, accused administrators of bowing to political correctness.
Among the costume supporters, there is a vein of suspicion that casts Raheja and others opposed to the costumes as agenda-driven elitists. Of the handful of others who spoke with Raheja against the costumes at the board meeting, one teaches at the University of Redlands, one is an instructor at Riverside Community College, and one is a former Pitzer College professor.
Raheja is “using those children as a political platform for herself and her ideas,” Constance Garabedian said as her 5-year-old Mountain View kindergartner happily practiced a song about Native Americans in the background. “I’m not a professor and I’m not a historian, but I can put the dots together.”
Exactamundo. These people get it. And they’re not giving in easily:
The debate is far from over. Some parents plan to send their children to school in costume Tuesday — doubting that administrators will force them to take them off. The following day, some plan to keep their children home, costing the district attendance funds to punish them for modifying the event.
“She’s not going to tell us what we can and cannot wear,” said Dena Murphy, whose 5-year-old son attends Mountain View. “We’re tired of [district officials] cowing down to people. It’s not right.”
I’m not sure what I would have done….I probably would have kept my child home.
Hat tip: Crime Scene KC