A Mississippi school is receiving backlash after a teacher instructed students to “pretend like” they are enslaved Black people.
A teacher at Purvis Middle School told their eighth-grade students to “pretend like you are a slave working on a Mississippi plantation,” according to a screenshot of the assignment that the organization Black Lives Matter posted to Twitter, People reports. The project also told students to write a letter “to your family back in Africa or in another American state,” describing their lives, their move to America, and what they have to on a day-to-day basis.
“You may also want to tell about the family you live with/work for and how you pass your time when you aren’t working,” the assignment continued. After the image was posted online, it didn’t take long for people to respond, criticizing the school faculty and district for its ignorance. “This is at purvis middle school. Someone needs to explain #Blacklivesmattermississippi,” the BLM Mississippi social media manager, Jeremy Marquell Bridges wrote.
“I don’t know how a logical person teaches this,” Bridges told the Daily Beast. “Like someone who went to school to teach children could think this exercise was helpful in any way. It’s not helpful, it’s hurtful.”
Lamar County School District Superintendent Dr. Steven Hampton confirmed the assignment was real and said it was meant to show the “atrocities and negatives of slavery.”” [The purpose] was to show our students just how horrible slavery was and to gain empathy for what it was like to be a slave,” he told NBC/ABC affiliate WDAM. “We do not discriminate against race. We want to be sensitive to what happened in the past.”
“A person could read just the assignment and draw a very unrealistic view of the true tragedies that occurred. That was not intended,” he continued. “However, intent does not excuse anything. There is no excuse to downplay a practice that (even after abolished) spurs unjust laws, unfair economic practices, inhumane treatment, and suppression of a people.”
Several people online pointed out assignment’s insulting instructions. In particular, people said describe your “journey to America” downplayed and whitewashed the horrific history of the Middle Passage, which is the portion of the slave trade in which white people transported enslaved Black people by ship from West Africa to the West Indies. “It’s just another way that Mississippi is trying to whitewash its history,” Black Lives Matter Mississippi President Reginald Virgil told the Daily Beast. “They want us to think slavery was polite.”
— Black Lives Matter Mississippi (@BLivesMatterMS) March 3, 2021