Sunday, October 21, 2007
Evidence Of King's Dream: Picking Cotton Together As A Learning Experience Rather Than As Child Labor
A recent trip with my son's kindergarten class on a fall outing to a local farm proved to be eye opening to me about the subtle changes that have taken this society forward as compared to 100 years ago. Several parents tagged along to chaperone this active pack of kids.
After feeding three hungry donkeys some corn and terrorizing them as 20 kids attempted to pet them we moved over to a patch of land that was ladened with symbolism for me: the cotton patch.
The tour guide asked the kids a series of questions concerning cotton: "What do you have at home that is made of cotton?", "What do you have on right now that is made of cotton?", "What other things do we use cotton for?". I whispered in the ear of a little White boy who was part of the group of 3 kids that I was charged to look after "oil". He said "No. We don't get oil out of cotton". Then I asked my son to say "oil" and he dutifully complied with me. The tour guide said "That's right. You are pretty smart. We use cotton seed oil in a lot of food that we eat".
The tour guide then taught us the various parts of the cotton plant - the cotton fiber, the seeds, the flower that sprouts from the plant which has assorted colors and the "boll" which is the bloom of the cotton which has not yet cracked open to expose the fiber.
The tour guide then handed out little bags for each of the kids to go through the cotton patch and pick their own cotton for use later on the tour. At this point I could not help to note the symbolism of this entire episode. There was a swarm of White kids, Black kids, Hispanic kids, Asian kids and Indian kids going through a cotton patch, picking cotton as a recreational exercise rather than in an act of child labor as was the case in the past. Instead of being DENIED an education because they had to pick cotton.........today they picked cotton as part of their education.
The tour guide had showed us the difficulty in separating the seeds from the fiber. Prior to the advent of the cotton gin this was done by hand. Upon direct inspection of the plant I could see why so many of our ancestor's fingers grew calloused because of the hard, prickly shell of the boll that stuck them as they reached for the fiber. I commented as such to a White father who was making a piece of thread out of the cotton while removing the seeds as a means of provoking a conversation about the labor (ie: slave labor) that was used to harvest this rich crop from the South in the past but he did not bite.
At the end of the day - all of the people involved in the exercise - Black, White, Indian, Hispanic and Asian were too far removed from the legacy of when the cotton was turned pink by the pricked skin of the African slave who was forced to work the fields under the duress of physical violence.
I had to assume the role of "overseer" as I worked to round up all of the stray kids who were still in the field conducting their recreational exercise as the rest of the people began to walk over to feed the cows and the chickens.
(Preemptive Note - Please do not mangle my words to assume that I am saying that based on this one scene that I am saying that the injury and assault from centuries of slavery is now "water under the bridge". There is no such hidden message in these words. I am simply depicting one experience from one snapshot of America on one day. It is clear to me that our children have more upside potential in regards to being shaped by what we introduce them to today more than they are bound by our slave/sharecropper past. Our job is to expose them to the painful truths of the past but more importantly to equip them with what they will need to blossom into their future)