A majority white Mississippi school faces heat after a teacher handed out a “slave letter writing” assignment asking students to imagine what their family life would entail if they were slaves.
According to The Daily Beast, eighth-graders at Purvis Middle School were asked to “pretend like you are a salve working on a Mississippi plantation,” in order to write a letter addressed to family members in Africa, describing their life.
“You may discuss the journey to America, as well as the day-to-day tasks you perform,” it reads.
A screenshot capturing a slide of the bulleted assignment list went viral, prompting rightful, passionate criticism.
Frank Bunnell, the school’s principal, sent a letter to parents this week that was obtained by The Daily Beast. Bunnell apologized and attempted to explain that while severely disturbing, the letter was taken out of context.
“A person could read just the assignment and draw a very unrealistic view of the true tragedies that occurred. That was not intended,” he wrote. “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.”
Lamar County School District Superintendent Dr. Steven Hampton voiced Bunnell’s claims in a separate statement and wrote that the goal of the assignment “was to show our students just how horrible slavery was and to gain empathy for what it was like to be a slave.”
Over the past several years incidents like the one at Purvis Middle School continue to pop up across America. A recent USA Today report delved into the ways this type of violence psychologically and emotionally scars Black students.
In one of the harmful examples, two Black young boys were told to stand in front of their class while their peers made bids on them. They were also told that if they tried to escape, they could face “violence.”
“He told me that he did not want to be Black anymore,” a mother of one of the students told the outlet. “He didn’t want to go to school because he didn’t know if he could trust the teachers.”
The Black Lives Matter Mississippi Twitter handle spoke out regarding the harmful implications this has on children, Black children especially, and how the foundation of America’s rootwork is grounded in Black labor.
Black activists who sounded off over the incident called the activity “humiliating” and “demoralizing.”
“I don’t know how a logical person teaches this,” said Jeremy Marquell Bridges, social media manager for Black Lives Matter Mississippi, in an interview with the outlet. “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.”
“It’s just another way that Mississippi is trying to whitewash its history,” said Reginald Virgil, president of Black Lives Matter Mississippi.
“It is extremely tone deaf and inappropriate to have Middle Schoolers put themselves in the shoes of slaves without proper context,” said Jarrius Adams, the president of Young Democrats Mississippi. “It does not matter what the intention was, the impact is the only thing that matters.”