Thursday, August 18, 2022

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: Racial Insensitivity is Taught

*I was talking to someone the other day when I found out she lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. During the conversation I asked if she lived in Colorado Springs during the time Ron Stallworth became the first African-American detective at CSPD and whose police work was the subject of the movie Blackkklansman

You probably remember the award winning movie was directed by Spike Lee. He obtained the rights to Stallworth’s book and made it into an award-winning movie because it was Stallworth who infiltrated the KuKluxKlan white supremacist group and was instrumental in dismantling some of its national and state level power structure in Colorado. 

I was surprised to learn this lady, who is Asian and African-American, had no clue who Ron Stallworth is. And when I asked if she saw the movie, Blackkklansman, she said purposely she did not see it because she tries to stay away from anything with negative messages. She based her opinion of the movie’s message off the title and didn’t bother to inquire any further about the storyline. 

I explained to her what the movie was about and that – although she would have to prepare herself for parts of the movie that would make her mad or sad – the movie’s message was worth getting through those parts. She promised me she would watch it.

I’m telling you this for a reason so stay with me.

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When I saw this same person later that day she mentioned she had caught the end of Harriet, the movie about abolitionist Harriet Tubman who freed more than 700 slaves by helping them cross from the south to the northern United States and some into Canada. When we started to discuss that movie she (again) said she heard about it, but never bothered to watch it for the same reason she didn’t watch Blackkklansman – she didn’t want to see or hear about slavery or people getting whipped, shot or hung.

That’s when I explained to her in the most compassionate way that Black people in America cannot afford to turn a blind eye to even the smallest of racial insensitivity, because if we give a racist an inch that racist will take a mile! When we see it we must confront it.

Everybody has a lane to get in or a role to play. So get in where you fit in, but standing on the sidelines trying to ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ is not something African-Americans can afford to do. 

So when I read about the Montessori school in north Ogden, Utah that allowed White parents to opt their children out of Black history month events and Black history curriculum at their school, I wanted to shine my spotlight on it for its racial insensitivity.

These White parents said the lessons were either too serious for their children to participate in or were not relevant for their children to learn. This is an example of how apathy for our African American culture and ignorance of our contributions to America breeds racism. 

If you hadn’t heard about it, here is a link to the original story

Maria Montessori Academy 02

Apparently this publicly funded charter school is where upper class residents send their children from elementary through junior high. The city’s 25,000 residents are 95% White. The school’s 322 students are 70% White. Just three are Black. Yet America is becoming more diverse every year. Maybe these mostly White parents thought nobody would call them on their racial insensitivity. They thought wrong!

When some of these White parents complained about their children having to participate in Black history month events, school administrators caved under their pressure and emailed letters to parents allowing them to exempt their children from participating. Some of them signed the exemption forms. They thought it was the end of the story.

Then local media reported on it. The school director rescinded the option and miraculously those parents who wanted their children excluded all of a sudden had a change of heart under the spotlight and decided inclusion is best. But It’s too late. We know how they really feel. 

First, the school was founded on the principle that students’ natural curiosity and eagerness to explore would be encouraged. So parents and administrators aren’t supporting its mission. 

Secondly, Micah Hirokawa is the academy director. He’s Asian-American. Hirokawa said his grandparents were detained in concentration camps during WWII, so he understands the need for a curriculum of inclusion. Yet he was poised to allow Black history to be optional. 

Japanese who were jailed during WWII got reparations for their suffering. Yet descendants of American slaves still are waiting on that, but I digress. 

In a local TV interview Hirokawa tried to make it seem as if the exemption letter was a surprise to him. But I find it hard to believe he had no knowledge of it beforehand. He is the director after all. 

Thirdly, while Utah’s state board of education allows for students to opt out of certain approved curriculum due to religious issues or other instances, opting out of Black history class is not allowed.

I wonder what Mormons would do if parents wanted to opt their children out of Utah history lessons because they considered the contribution of Mormons insignificant? 

The accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans are underappreciated because most White people ignore our importance in the creation of inventions, advancements in technology and medicine to name a few. That’s why Black history month is all the more important for them to be a part of instead of trying to opt out. This is why we as African-Americans can’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations and behave as if we see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil. We must address insensitivity before it turns into blatant racism. 

It’s important for students not just to learn education fundamentals, but also to learn how to co-exist with people who on the surface seem different. Most of the time we realize we have more in common than we are different.

We all should learn to appreciate other people’s history, culture, contributions and most of all their humanity. So when blatant racism is on display at school, at work or prejudices against elderly or women or someone’s national origin happens in front of us we are not pre-conditioned to turn our heads and ignore it because someone allowed us to opt out of sensitivity training, also known as Black History month curriculum and events.

It seems most of the problems with children these days stem from their parents! If insensitivity is allowed to grow unchecked it could and often does turn into blatant racism. It’s historically-based movies such as Blackkklansman and Harriet that remind us how far we have come. It’s the modern-day lynching of George Floyd and last month’s Capitol insurrection that tell us we have miles to go before we sleep. 

Since it is Black history month and many White people don’t think it’s important to be part of the conversation, but they stay on social media talking about things such as Tessica Brown from Louisiana. You probably know her as Gorilla Glue girl who used the hardware adhesive for hair spray. Maybe they stopped caring before getting to the part where it said Brown’s hair is glue free thanks to a Black Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. He is Dr. Michael Obeng, a trained chemist. He created his own solution to remove the glue from Brown’s hair. With little to no help from the makers of the product, this Black doctor performed the four-hour surgery on Brown. He said the procedure would have cost $12,000. He didn’t charge her anything, because he has ties to Louisiana and he saw the humanity in her. 

That was a Black man plastic surgeon who did what nobody else was willing to do. That’s a bit of Black history for the White people and anybody else who managed to stay to the end of this Black history month lesson.

Steffanie Rivers

Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. Email her at with your comments, questions and speaking inquiries.




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