In the last week of my time in TAB, we celebrated Halloween. Kids and teachers alike dressed up for the occasion. One child even dressed as their Assistant Principle (which was hysterically funny).
Two other costumes were particularly important to me:
1. Black Panther, Killmonger, and Shuri (Princess of Wakanda)
Earlier this year, the movie "Black Panther" came out. For those of you unfamiliar, it is a superhero known best for its: predominantly black cast; portrayal of an African country as economically flourishing; and thoroughly researched and beautifully implemented Afro-Futurist artistry and design. The Black Panther as a character is the first title role for a black superhero, and it is a leader in representation for people who encounter the story.
Mississippi has the highest number of African-American citizens of any state in America. At least half of each of my classes was represented by African-American children.
Walking through the halls on Halloween I saw a 9-year-old Princess Shuri whose spine was so straight, and chin so proud, and smile so bright, that I could have sworn she was true Wakandan Royalty. I can guarantee you she felt like she was visiting from Shuri's lab of incredible inventions to grace the lowly people of 4th grade.
The boys dressed as Killmonger or Black Panther were the same - proud and bold and excited by their costume.
Not only did their costumes represent their favourite characters, but their favourite characters represented them. When they look at the female Generals in Wakanda, girls can actually see their faces reflected, and that is a powerful thing.
Movies are teachers. If kids only see superheros as white people, will they believe that superheros are only white? The growth of representation in Hollywood has been noticed by 9 year olds in Mississippi. And that is incredible to me.
2. A Native American
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the idea that a culture is not a costume has not reached the Walmart Halloween section. Kids still dress as "Native Americans," feather headdresses, beaded necklaces, fringed skirts, and all. Cultural Appropriation is still pervasive and a necessary conversation that should be had with our kids.
Teaching Across Borders, at Halloween
We took Indigenous Education as part of our online courses this semester, and Diversity at the U of C last year. We have learned the importance of acknowledgement, validation, and representation in classrooms. We know we should have storybooks which show a number of different cultures, places, people, and ways of having families. We know that there is real damage done when people are misrepresented or invalidated.
Halloween is a reminder of the greatness of representation, and the work that still needs to be done.
By seeing black people as superheroes from a wealthy African nation: kids see possibilities of being super, being Generals, being inventors, being rich and travelling in futuristic vehicles - and that these things are not limited to white faces.
By seeing Indigenous people only represented by images from hundreds of years ago: kids lack positive encounters with present-day Indigenous people. In this way, present-day Indigenous people's voices are not being heard, and in the minds of other children their culture remains "a thing of the past."
Why this is important to me
We came on TAB to experience something new. To experience something different, or uncomfortable, or unfamiliar. We are a group of people who decided to move beyond the campus-experience at the U of C and make ourselves available to learning we could only reach by leaving. We came to find new answers to the problems at home, to be inspired by different ways of learning or teaching, and to be open to paths unwanderable in Canada.
The TAB experience is not about travelling to Oxford or New Orleans or Memphis. It is about seeing how cultural collisions have influenced the way New Orleans is today, how Southern life has influenced Jazz and Blues, and how gentrification affects the neighbourhoods of kids that come to our classrooms.
When someone learns about a new culture, they gain new representations. New knowledge has bred in me new understanding.
Representation and experience has resulted in my falling deeply in love with Mississippi, and it has resulted in the sparkling eyes of a 9 year old Shuri who made a student teacher tear-up in the halls.
Go into the world and teach with breadth, my friends! The children of the world need your superpowers.