Parents in Florida’s Pinellas School District are apparently outraged over the screening of Disney’s “Ruby Bridges,” a film that depicts the true story of a 6-year-old’s brave and historical integration in the 1960s at a predominantly white elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The film, an essential part of the district’s curriculum for the past decade, is now at the center of controversy thanks to two sets of parents who filed complaints to the school district. They reportedly asked for the film to be removed from the Black History Month lesson plan, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The reasoning behind this attempt at irrational censorship: Emily Conklin, a parent of one of the children, claimed the film might teach second graders that “white people hate Black people.” Conklin pointed to racial slurs in the movie, the Guardian reports, including a scene where actors scream, “I’m going to hang you!” at Ruby’s character.
Sigh. Where do we even begin here? The heaviest irony of this argument is that this film provides students of all ages with the context and language needed to discuss something most of them already know: Race-based hate exists, and it is bad. As a Black person, no matter your age, you are not protected, nor can you opt out. Children are not stupid, and — this should go without saying — teachers are not screening this film without discussing the implications.
But ignorance wins more than it should. Despite pushback from organizations aimed at protecting Black students, the district’s administration responded by banning the movie at North Shore Elementary School “until a review committee can assess it,” Tampa Bay Times reports. Unfortunately, the painful reality is the more we shove documentation of this country’s racism under the rug, the easier it is for certain people to deny it ever existed.
Removing a teaching tool such as this film from the curriculum is a form of erasure. It snuffs out an opportunity to discuss the truth about anti-Blackness. It also eliminates the opportunity for children of other races to understand how they experience and benefit from systemic racism daily, shielding them from an understanding of their role in perpetuating (or stopping) racist violence.
This is the latest move in the state’s Republican lawmakers’ culture war, where books on LGBTQ+ issues and race have been banned, such as Rosa Park’s biography.
As a nation, we can no longer afford to feed into this false notion of “protection” because even our understanding of protection is rooted in inflicting harm on Black people. Those who truly understand the reach of systemic racism know that as long as we avoid these conversations, no one is safe. The best we can do is be honest with ourselves so that we can be honest with our children.