After reading some recent posts of mine, a friend forwarded the following story to me. She was curious- since I have not jumped on the bandwagon to yell racism at some higher profile stories- to see if this one would be any different.
An 8th grade math teacher, famous for the silly images he places on the homework worksheets he gives to his students, has found himself in a very uncomfortable situation.
While surfing the internet, looking for funny pictures to place on a homework assignment, teacher Matthew Curran came across what he believed at the time to be a perfect choice. The picture was one that would surely cause his students to laugh, and the caption, “NO WAI!” (internet slang for “No Way”) was even better. Mr. Curran had an inside joke with his class- whenever he would assign difficult math problems, and expect them to show their work, the students would always exclaim, “No way!”
The picture was of a black man wearing a straw hat. The man had his mouth wide open, displaying an almost completely toothless mouth.
After assigning the worksheet, a student turned in her seat to the only black person in the class, asking him if the picture depicted the child’s father.
The offended student went home and told his mother about the incident. Upon seeing the image, the mother immediately contacted the NAACP.
The NAACP released a statement:
“It brings into question whether all of our children are being provided a safe and fair environment in which to learn. What happened here is unacceptable, and we will take steps to make sure it never happens again,”
Mr. Curran has since apologized to both the school faculty and the student body. He claims he was doing a Google search on the terms “multiply and divide”, and this image was one of many that he came across. He thought the caption was funny, representing an inside joke with his students, and says he truly did not mean to offend anyone.
The child’s mother states she will not send her son back to school again until she feels it is safe for him.
I did a quick internet search, using Google, as Matthew Curran did, and I can verify that this image is in fact returned as a search result when typing in the term “multiply and divide”. Why this is the case is beyond me, but at least in this regard, the teacher is telling the truth.
Since this incident occured, many students, ex-students and co-workers of Mr. Curran’s have come forward in his defense. Most people agree that the image was a poor choice, but all are steadfast in their support of the teacher, stating that there is simply no way this man meant to offend anyone.
I do not believe we are looking at a case of overt (or even covert) racism. I think, at worst, sine he has already apologized, Mr. Curran may need to take a racial sensitivity class so that he can be more aware of what may be considered offensive to some students and their parents.
I take bigger issue with the student who asked the only black kid in the classroom if the man depicted on the worksheet was his father. The student should be given detention or something. Bang a few erasers together after school for a couple days.
Truly, I am angrier at the black student’s mother than I am at anyone else. This obviously was not a case of blatant racism. The math teacher simply made a mistake when choosing an image he believed would make his students laugh… and therefore make the classroom a little more fun. Hell, I wish my math teachers would have tried half as hard to keep me interested as this guy apparently does. The child’s mother, when deciding not to even try to work the issue out with the school, instead immediately contacting the NAACP, sent a message that is much louder than anything Mr. Curran inadvertantly did.
In bypassing the school, in refusing to allow her son to return to class, she in effect told everyone that she is less interested in working together towards a solution to this problem, and more interested in causing a scene. Getting her face on TV, and causing a ruckus.
15 minutes of fame and all that.
This, my friends, is not the way to racial equality. Actions like this breed animosity and resentment, and are not conducive to the open conversations we so desperately need to have.
It doesn’t mean the kid’s mom shouldn’t have been offended by the image on the worksheet. It doesn’t mean the worksheet was appropriate for the class. It simply means that in handling the situation the way she chose to, she may very well have created a racial divide that perhaps didn’t otherwise exist.
Had the student’s mother first reached out to the teacher, the principle, the superintendent of the school… had she tried to understand what Mr. Curran was trying to accomplish… perhaps this story could have been one of hope, communication and education.
Had she been willing to do her due dilligence, the mother could have learned that this particular image, while perhaps offensive, is part of a widely circulated collection of images, all captioned with various internet slang. Some of the pictures depict the black man while others depict animals with the words “owned”, “pwned”, “my wai”, “o hai”. I even located one of these stupid pictures with an image of George Bush eating a cat with a caption that reads “We can haz… stop teh madnez”. A quick Google search of these images shows that they’re all part of the “I Can Has Cheezburger” internet sensation- a blogsite that has gone viral since its 2007 inception. Click on the website, and one will find plenty of images to offend just about anyone, though I personally find the kittehs (kitties) adorable.
As a bi-racial woman, I have lived both worlds- black and white. I was raised by a white family, I was married to a black man, and I have two beautiful black daughters. It is through these life experiences that I have learned that not everyone who makes a bad judgment is a racist person. Some people, for varying reasons, are simply unaware of the pain their actions can cause. Most of these people truly mean no harm. Once their errors are pointed out to them, once they are educated about the stigmas certain words, images, jokes, etc. contain, they are more than happy to adjust.
When we handle situations like this one in battle mode right off the bat, without knowing or understanding why or how it occured to begin with, we lose our credibility. All too often, once our credibility is gone, so too, are many of the opportunities to open minds and educate each other that may have otherwise existed.
This is a sad story to me. Not because of a racist teacher, but because I realize that yet again, we’ve lost another chance.