As Halloween approaches each year, I prepare myself. The masterfully and sometimes oddly carved pumpkins, the red-eyed goblins adorning windows, the critters clinging to doors. ‘Tis the season, right? So when I walked out of my building this month heading to my car for the day’s work ahead, I expected to see all of the above.
What I saw instead stopped me in my tracks. Across the street from my downtown condo, dangling from a rope atop the building, was a skeleton swinging to and fro. Despite the chill in the air, sweat beads began to form on my forehead and the hairs raised on the back of my neck. I snapped a pic of the “decoration,” posted it to social media, and furiously drove to work.
After receiving sufficient affirmation that my outrage was justified, I fully expected the offensive decor to be removed when I returned home. It wasn’t. So, back to technology I went, finding the property owner and lodging my concern. Turns out, it was someone I knew and I was assured the tenant would take it down. Unable to let it go, I printed a picture of the lynching of two Black men, with dozens of White men, women and children gathered around to celebrate the strange fruit. I took a deep breath and walked over to the building.
After ringing all the doorbells and getting no answer, I scribbled on the paper next to the picture: “This is what your skeleton reminds me of. Please take it down.” The next morning it was gone.
Do I think my neighbor intentionally conjured up reminders of the racism that has defined this country for centuries? Actually, no. What I believe is that people don’t know what they don’t know, and if they don’t know better, they cannot do better.
It’s one of the reasons why Public Act 19-12, authored by Reps. Bobby Gibson and Bobby Sanchez, is so important. The bill, which passed last legislative session, requires the inclusion of African-American and Latino studies in schools’ social studies curriculum. I would like to think that the Shelton student who spit from a level of the African-American museum and struck another patron would have understood how such an action would be perceived had he or she known how saliva, firehoses, dogs, and ropes had been used as weapons against black people.
As a result of the bill, while students are educated about European history, they will also have context around the histories of people of color who live and learn alongside them every day. It’s a critical first step toward fostering understanding across lines of difference, and hopefully improving sensitivity and tolerance.
We are navigating a volatile climate these days. Videos of hateful words and cop-calling Beckys flood our news feeds. Vitriol against immigrants are frequent news. Hopefully this bill will leverage education to be the great uniter, and that our children will realize through our history that we all have contributions – and value.
Andréa Comer is the executive director of Educators for Excellence.