A Michigan high school student has called out her teacher for passing out racist reading material in a history class that was supposed to be about the Holocaust.
The two-page article, obtained by local news outlet WLNS Lansing, contains dozens of references to the N-word in songs and racist passages. While the Mason school district explained the materials were being used to illustrate instances of racism, the student says they were presented without enough context to a classroom full of white kids.
“The article is about all the words that these white people came up with to call us and drag [Black people] down,” the Mason High School student told WLNS.
The student, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was eager to take the course because of her interest in the Holocaust and World War II, and was surprised by the unexpected turn in the curriculum.
She explained that the class was predominantly white students “who have no sense of diversity.”
“I don’t want it to make people think it’s OK,” she told the local outlet.
When she brought up her feelings about the coursework to her teacher, she said she was booted from class.
One of the worksheets obtained by WLNS contains lyrics to the minstrel song, “Ten Little [N-word] Boys Went Out to Dine.”
“Ten Little [N-word] Boys went out to dine; One choked his little self, and then there were nine,” the lyrics read, without censoring any of the racist language.
“Nine little [N-word] Boys sat up very late; one overslept; and then there were eight,” the minstrel lyrics continued.
(Minstrel shows were a popular form of entertainment in the 19th century in which white performers would dress in blackface and mock Black Americans. The song was later adapted into a novel by mystery author Agatha Christie.)
In the top right corner of the sheet, a black-and-white ad from 1916 features an image of a Black baby drinking from an ink pot. The ad is captioned: “[N-word] milk.”
One section listed various meanings of the notorious racial slur used against Black people and then explained how it’s been used against other religious and ethnic groups, as well.
“[N-word] (as a word) is also used to describe a shade of color ([n-word] brown, [n-word] Black), the status of Whites that mix together with Blacks…and anything belonging to or linked to African Americans,” the worksheet read “[N-word] is the ultimate American insult; it is used to offend other ethnic groups. Jews are called White [N-words]; Arabs, sand [N-words]; Japanese, yellow [N-words]. Americans created a racial hierarchy with Whites at the top and Blacks at the bottom.”
Another passage offered examples of how the word has been included in racist phrases, like “[N-word] rich,” defined as “deeply in debt but flamboyant,” and “[N-word] work,” meaning “demeaning, menial tasks.”
All told, WLNS reported that the slur was used more than 50 times—uncensored—on the two pages alone.
“The Holocaust & Other Modern Acts of Genocide” course is offered to juniors and seniors at Mason who have received at least a 70 percent in previous U.S. and world history classes, according to the school’s website.
“This class will explore the Jewish Holocaust in Europe during the 1930’s and 1940’s, in addition to various acts of genocide since World War II, specifically: Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan, the Kurds, and Bosnia. In addition, students will explore the psychology of hate and prejudice,” a description of the course reads.
According to the school’s Facebook page, the class took a tour of the Zekelman Holocaust Center in October to learn about Jewish life before the war, the growth of Nazi sentiments, and how Jewish lives were impacted after the defeat of the Nazis.
“I'm just wondering how a lesson on the Holocaust deteriorated into this,” former Mason High School parent Shara Trierweiler posted in a public forum on Facebook.
Trierweiler, who is Black, told The Daily Beast that her daughter’s classmates had been making fun of her hair texture, but school administrators managed to nip the bullying in the bud. As a result, she has faith that the school will rectify the problem from a “misguided teacher.”
Trieweiler also told The Daily Beast that an equity task force comprised of parents plan to hold a meeting with Mason High School Principal Lance Delbridge and district Superintendent Gary Kinzer.
The controversial reading material was found on the African American Registry, which provides diversity coursework for schools, WLNS reported. But the organization’s CEO, Benjamin Mchie, told the news outlet that the article, which is on the history of the N-word, was not part of the program for teachers.
“You could pick areas of our history that have to do with things, like the Middle Passage, instead of that word,” Mchie told WLNS. “And I don’t see that being done.”
Mason High School directed all inquiries regarding the Holocaust class to the Mason Public Schools district. In a statement to The Daily Beast, the district said a student first raised concern over the class in September.
“The article [from the Holocaust & Other Modern Acts of Genocide class] was intended to illustrate the impact of harmful language on marginalized populations and how the use of this language can lead to prejudice and persecution,” the district said. “After discussion, the high school administration and the teacher of the course made the mutual decision to discontinue use of this article.”
The district also noted that it believes controversial topics are “healthy for students in the right setting.”
“Through authentic learning opportunities, Mason Public Schools is committed to an inclusive environment,” the district said. “Our students, staff, and community respectfully acknowledge and value the diverse cultures, lifestyles, experiences, perspectives, and identities of each other.”
Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast here