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7-Year-Old Girl's Poem, ˜White Nationalism Put U in Bondage,' Causes Stir

Date: Wednesday, March 22, 2006
By: Nia Ngina Meeks, BlackAmericaWeb.com




When most people reference the intellect and curiosity of the average seven-year-old girl, few expect little beyond fascination with the comings and goings of Dora the Explorer or the latest hot new toy.

That a girl at this age is able to -- and did -- drop poetry filled with questions and challenges about standard-issue history lessons has been the talk of the nation since Autum Ashante blew away middle- and high-school parents in upstate New York with her comparisons of Christopher Columbus and Charles Darwin to "pirates" and "vampires."

Autum made her presentation on Feb. 28 at a school in Peekskill, N.Y. upon invitation. Known as a prodigy who has performed at the Apollo Theater and at New York City's African Burial Ground ceremonies, some educators and parents were put off nonetheless with her selection, "White Nationalism Put U in Bondage."

In the weeks following the presentation, the avalanche of letters to the editor in the local newspaper continues. The story has also caused quite a buzz in the online world, with columnists and bloggers across the spectrum weighing in, proclaiming everything from Autum's genius to her misguidance. That she is homeschooled in Mount Vernon, N.Y. by her father, a member of the Nation of Islam, and recited the Black Panther Party's children's pledge after asking the black students alone to stand and recite it with her have further fueled debate.

The Peekskill Public School District issued an apology via a taped recording after the presentation.

Superintendent Judith Johnson, who is black, has been quoted in press reports last week saying that while Autum had the right to express herself, the venue was not the proper one for such a recitation. Rather, Johnson argued, the poem should have been offered in a classroom setting where more discussion could have ensued.

The true failing in this situation was among the adults involved, not the child, Hampton University's Adolph Brown III told BlackAmericaWeb.com. Brown serves as chair of the psychology department and runs the Virginia Beach-based Family Child and Wellness Center.

"When leadership takes a stance to say, ˜I have to apologize because whatever was said was offensive,' of course that's going to be the atmosphere that will have lingered. For those who were looking for a chance to be offended, they found it," Brown said. "People often react with emotion and not with thought. So often, we, as a society, react on our thoughts, our feelings. This was a great launching pad for discussion of race, a discussion of diversity. This could have been an awesome teachable moment for the students, for the teachers."

Such a moment could have been realized with better preparation on the part of the teacher who invited young Autum and the staff who would handle the assembly, Brown said.

"The adults did not do their homework. They did not promote critical education and learning and debate here," he said. "It's the educator's responsibility to take the message and process it for whatever teachable moments you can find in it."

Conservative rants hold that Autum spewed hatred that is a result of "identity politics" and point to her father's professed ideology as a cause.

But whether the ideas were hers alone or spawned by her parents shouldn't even be an issue, said Lawrence Patrick III, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Black Alliance for Educational Options. The more compelling point was that a seven-year-old articulated a view with the passion to stir thought, even if it is considered controversial.

Patrick said he could relate to her passionate oratory. As a gradeschooler, the Detroit native once started a militant black nationalist newsletter, unbeknownst to his parents, "because it was something I was into and interested in, and expressed on my own."

"It's unfair to homeschoolers to say she has these thoughts because she is being indoctrinated," Patrick told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "Children are indoctrinated in public, private, religious schools -- every construct has some level of indoctrination. You're just being indoctrinated with 30 other kids.

"I'm not endorsing what the girl said ... but if I had to choose between millions of black parents indoctrinating how their children think about the world and the status quo, I'd go for the indoctrination. Maybe then we wouldn't have so much negativity, where children think the only way to be powerful is to commit an act of violence," he said.

"Clearly this girl is gifted," added Patrick, "whatever the source of her ideas. That's the thing we should be marveling at."

Even if the student had been white and uttering a reverse view, Brown said, there would still be an opportunity to probe, dissect and search for meaning.

For noted poet Nikki Giovanni, brilliance outshines controversy. She said she would gladly welcome Autum to Virginia Tech University, where she serves as a distinguished professor.

"She deserves her right to speak out," Giovanni told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "Freedom of speech is very important. If you can't call a lie a lie, you're complicit in it. She doesn't have to say, ˜I hope I don't hurt your feelings.' The job of the artist is to disturb the peace, not to bring comfort. That's what church is for. She did her job."

Giovanni expressed hope that the child "keeps that spirit and bearing."

"She sounds extremely creative, in that she turned historical figures into mythical figures. Obviously, she's absorbing images and metaphors, and shows she's thinking," Giovanni added. "What more do we want a seven-year-old to do?"


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Here is Autumn's poem
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White Nationalism Put U In Bondage

White nationalism is what put you in bondage

Pirate and vampires like Columbus, Morgan, and Darwin
Drank the blood of the sheep, trampled all over them with
Steel, tricks and deceit.
Nothing has changed take a look in our streets
The mis-education of she and Hegro -- leaves you on your knee2grow
Black lands taken from your hands, by vampires with no remorse
They took the gold, the wisdom and all of the storytellers
They took the black women, with the black man weak
Made to watch as they changed the paradigm
Of our village
They killed the blind, they killed the lazy, they went
So far as to kill the unborn baby
Yeah White nationalism is what put you in bondage
Pirates and vampires like Columbus, Morgan, and Darwin
They drank the blood of the sheep, trampled all over them with
Steel laden feet, throw in the tricks alcohol and deceit.
Nothing has changed take a look at our streets.
 
 BLACK by NATURE, PROUD by CHOICE.
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This young lady and her father were on the local radio station 98.7 KISS FM in NYC. And if a seven year old can question these things, some of those teachers and other adults should be doing the same. Currently there is a campaign to allow this girl to speak. I believe that the information is on the website of the radio station. Even if you aren't in NY or NYC please drop the NYC Department of Education an e-mail or call in support of this little sista.
The website for KISS FM is www.987kissfm.com More information should be there.

Peace
When I did a search on this, I was very surprised to see how much of a buzz this has caused!! I had heard nothing about it before reading the article ... but, most of the hits that came up where from livid white folks that called this child everything but her name! "Racist Poet" was the most popular! Eek

I say let the little girl speak! I will definitely drop an email to the NY D of E, Yemaya! It will be my pleasure! Smile
quote:
Originally posted by EbonyRose:
most of the hits that came up where from livid white folks that called this child everything but her name! "Racist Poet" was the most popular! Eek

These type of knee-jerk reactions come from people who are still afraid to acknowledge history. Only a truly profound case of self-rightious ignorance would make a adult think it's acceptable to refer to a child this way. If this poem had been written and read by a white child, it wouldn't be any less true... but it would have been more accepted.

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