Parents at Condit Elementary School in Claremont, California have forced the kindergarten to bar children from dressing in traditional Thanksgiving outfits as based on racial or ethic stereotypes. After 40 years of this tradition, no one Pilgrim hats, Indian outfits, or bonnets.
Michele Raheja, a mother of a kindergarten student and part Seneca insisted that “It’s demeaning. 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. Raheja is an English professor at UC Riverside who specializes in Native American literature, and convinced educators that such displays were “dehumanizing” her daughter’s ancestry.
I must confess that I do not understand why the school would yield to this objection. Thanksgiving is portrayed as a celebration of cooperation between the settlers and Native Americans. The settlers were not analogous to “Nazis” as Raheja suggests. There was cooperation between the races and this celebrates that positive element. There is no question that the Native Americans were displaced and treated badly after the first settlers. However, this tradition recognizes the contribution of Native Americans as part of our culture.
Sometimes educators need to take a stand and educate parents. Our society is gradually being homogenized to squeeze out any symbol or expression that can be interpreted by anyone in a dark or offensive way. It is better to allow costumes and teach kids about authentic dress and traditions of both pilgrims and American Indians. We live in a pluralist society and we do not value that pluralism by preventing people from depicting the difference cultures or require every display to first satisfy those who claim to be from an affected group. Pluralism requires a bit of tolerance from all groups and no one should have a monopoly on how and when their culture is depicted.
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