In my current curriculum we use the book The Skin I’m In, by Sharon G. Flake. It is a realistic fiction book that fits into Unit one with the focus on self-identification. The main topics are bullying, discrimination, poverty, grief, and colorism. The common thread that binds the topics together stems from colorism and the characters not understanding their history as it relates to slavery.
In the novel, the main character Maleeka creates fictional diary entries of an enslaved girl named Akeelma. Akeelma is traveling to America on a slave ship. On that voyage, Akeelma suffers atrocities and abuse. Throughout the novel Maleeka is ridiculed for choosing to create a slave girl. The other students do not realize that she is describing their collective history. They feel a disconnect and Maleeka feels an affinity to the character she created. As an ice breaker, I would ask the students to tell me what does bullying look like, sound like, and feel like. I would do that with the subsequent vocabulary words (discrimination, poverty, grief, and colorism). I would post this information around the room, allowing the students to add information as we move along in the unit. Subsequently, my first objective and starting point would be to ask the students “who are you?” They will be able to express who they are through visual aids, graphic organizers, and personal cultural content. This activity will serve as a sort of “pre” idea, concept and knowledge point. More than focus on defining the words as simple vocabulary they will revisit the words and their connotation. I will incorporate different genres of reading material that define and describe each topic as we see it in the world today. Students will acquire new vocabulary and be able to recognize, analyze and react critically to these articles in relation to themselves, the world and implicit or explicit colorism.
Once we are done exploring the topics and concepts aforementioned, another objective for my unit will be to ask the big question, “Where does colorism come from?” “What is our history as a people?” “Where do our similarities lie and what makes us different?” I chose to address these concepts in this order because I think once we know who we are and why we have preconceived notions, we can see where it comes from and begin to change the narrative. During this time students will be able to dive into excerpts of non-fiction works of literature and articles that explore the history of slavery and “freedom” with a lens on the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Students can begin to see the link between slavery, dominance, “white privilege”, socio-economics, and oppression in regards to colorism. In the Unit novel, The Skin I’m In, the main character Maleeka Madison embarks on a project and creates a fictional diary of a slave girl coming over from Africa. This is important and will serve as a way to bridge slavery in the Caribbean with slavery in the United States but more in regards to the treatment of human life and oppression based on color because even though slavery is slavery, the historical information is slightly different as to why slavery exists in these two societies. We will examine the social aspect and the formation of community structures within the slave communities. These unifications to progress and form communities did not sit well with white European-descended Hacienda owners, because they knew there was power in numbers. The Europeans could not fathom sharing a space with a black man.
Students will be able to read about and understand that many people of color come from generations of resilient people who wanted freedom first and foremost. When we read about and study the history and struggles of the Dominican Republic and its many conquerors, students will be able to identify how ideologies came into existence and then how they morphed over time to become modern day racism and discrimination. In the case of Puerto Rico, because it is not a free nation, students will be able to compare and contrast the colorism and racism between the two Islands. Students will then be able to determine if being a territory of the United States has any impact on colorism or is it an engrained ideology based on history and the influence of slavery.
By the end of this unit study, students will be able to read, analyze, discuss, and formulate written responses to critical concepts explored in a fictional piece of text bridging it with non-fiction text and literature. Students will be able to use critical information in regards to the history of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic as a starting point when identifying the characteristics of a society and its practice of colorism. Some enduring understandings I would like the students to walk away with are:
As an individual, we can we do something about changing the narrative of modern-day colorism.
We can teach others our history and in turn promote courageous conversations in regards to racism and colorism.
We can be the source of knowledge in regards to reading materials that can further someone else’s learning about our history that still affects us today.
We as citizens of the world are agents of change because we are armed with the knowledge necessary to understand where we come from and where we need to go to promote equity and unity amongst all “colors”.