Teacher Removed From Classroom For Showing Blackface Videos

Illustration for article titled Teacher Removed From Classroom For Showing Blackface Videos

Administrators at Monroe Middle School in Michigan have placed retiring teacher Alan Barron "on leave" after they decided that his way of teaching history was offensive. Barron was removed from the classroom when he showed archival footage of whites in blackface to illustrate his lesson on Jim Crow laws. The assistant principal who was sitting in on Barron's lecture thought that the video was offensive and racist. The assistant principal is correct, but what's offensive isn't that the video was being shown but that blackface ever happened at all.


If schools insist on teaching history, then administrators must understand that it's not all fun and games and freedom for everyone. While showing archival footage of whites in blackface can be shocking and jarring (and it should be because that shit is disgusting), it can also be an important visual aid to describing what institutional racism looked like as well as an entry into the more important discussion of the racism happening today. I took eighth grade history and aside from discussing racism (which I think most of us were ready for), we also discussed (and watched videos of) World War II and both the Holocaust and the internment of the Japanese in America. It was uncomfortable, but it was also important.

Not everyone agrees with the assistant principal and many students and parents are arguing against Barron's unfair suspension. One parent said this regarding Barron's suspension and the claims that his teaching methods were racist:

It had nothing to do with racism. History is history. We need to educate our kids to see how far we've come in America. How is that racism?"

Another parent wrote a letter in support of Barron and posted it on Facebook:

Mr. Barron is one of the ... great teachers we have in Monroe Public Schools...He has changed many children's lives over the course of his career. If Mr. Barron felt that he was teaching something that was offensive, he would most definitely not have done it."


Barron was set to retire this year and due to his suspension (or "leave") he has been barred from going to any and all district functions, including a banquet where he and other retiring teachers would be honored. I can't imagine that this is the first time Barron has taught this particular topic. He's been instructing at the school for over 36 years and to be denied a chance to say goodbye to his school because he was actually doing his job and making students think about racism? That appears to be the only offensive thing about this whole story.



Not being in the classroom I would say that what matters is whether the teacher properly introduced the lesson and set up guidelines so that the students could feel like they were in a safe space and could react accordingly. It's less of an issue for me that he actually showed videos depicting racism because, wait for it ... America has a fucking racist past that it continually tries to erase in the rewriting of history as some magically teleological process that culminates in total colorblindness (see Duck Dynasty douche about how happy negroes were picking cotton). This is why you get posts on Jez claiming ignorance about why its bad for white actors/model to do black or yellow face or explaining away images that clearly traffic in the negro-ape metaphor or the primitivism of black folk in fashion spreads.

I'm a PoC and we read Huck Finn OUT LOUD in my honors English class in which I was the only PoC, in the South. So, that was fucking terrible and awkward and the teacher did not preface or debrief those passages in any way. For weeks afterward my classmates would talk purposefully about "Nigger Jim" (applying it to other black students) thinking they got a free pass because, literature. Does this mean that I don't think I should have read Huck Finn? No, its a classic. But should this guy have done his fucking job it creating some context? Um, yes.