In May, two twin Black girls had the unfortunate experience of being in a social studies class at Sacajawea Middle School in Spokane, Wash., where they and other students were given the ill-advised assignment of cleaning cotton. Apparently, the activity was meant to teach students about the industrial revolution and specifically, the invention of the cotton gin, but if you’re an educator who knows the history of Black people and cotton, and you know you have Black children in your class, maybe just stick to the damn textbook on this one.
Anyway, as The Root previously reported, the twins’ mother, Brandi Feazell, pulled her daughters from class and said they didn’t feel comfortable returning until the incident was addressed, so Spokane Public Schools announced an investigation. The results of said investigation have been revealed, and I’m not going to lie, they’re unsurprisingly dissatisfying.
From Fox 13 Seattle:
The Spokesman-Review reported the third-party investigator the district hired, Onik’a Gilliam-Cathcart, who specializes in discrimination and retaliation claims, determined that the teacher did not intend to harm the girls with her social studies lesson.
Feazell stated that instead of addressing her concerns of racism in the classroom, a school official offered to remove the girls from the class if they were uncomfortable.
Through interviews conducted with other students in the classroom, the investigation concluded that two students made comments that they would have “hated to be slaves and would have killed themselves” around one of the twins.
“Nevertheless, the reality is that the lesson was extremely hard for these 13-year-old Black students to process without warning and with the added element of insensitive classmates and lack of attunement,” the report states.
The thing is, according to the twins, the teacher also made insensitive comments.
“The teacher kept saying, ‘We don’t need slaves anymore,’” one of the girls said, as we previously reported. “That really hurt because it felt like she was saying there was a time when slavery was OK.”
Feazell also said in May that her daughters were two of only three Black children in class the day of the assignment, and if we’re being honest, an investigation into allegations of racism that involves asking a majority white group whether something racist happened, tends to be an investigation that prioritizes putting the issue to rest over actual accountability.
ACLU Washington representative Kendrick Washington II appears to agree the investigation was half-assed.
“While we appreciate the Spokane School District’s expressed desire to work with and solicit input from community, it is irresponsible of the district to release the independent investigator’s report without a plan to address the specific harmful experiences the girls endured,” Washington said, CBS reports. “While I understand there’s a desire to put youth in history’s shoes, we don’t give female students nooses to see what it was like right before accused witches were hung in the Salem Witch Trials, nor do we tell kids to get under a guillotine to reenact emotions [from the French Revolution].”
According to CBS, the school district did vaguely acknowledge mistakes were made and those mistakes caused harm.
“We will need to be willing to engage in conversations that may be uncomfortable at times, but are necessary to reach our mission of ‘excellence for everyone,’” the district wrote in a letter released with the investigation results. “The United States’ history regarding race is a difficult subjective and a divisive issue in our country.”
But do you know what isn’t all that “difficult” or “subjective,” especially if you’re aiming to not be “divisive?” Having enough common damn sense to know assigning Black students a cotton-picking activity is going to cause an issue.
Maybe some “educators” just don’t need to be teaching Black students. I’m sorry if that’s “divisive” to say.