On Wednesday, O a disturbing photo of a teacher and three students dressed in period clothing started making the rounds. It wasn't disturbing because of the clothing, but rather, because of how one of the students was depicted in the photo, and what her attire in particular looked like. In the photo, a black girl tied to two leashes, or what looks like leashes, is front and center. Behind her stands an adult, and two other students who appear to be holding onto the leashes.
Sound horrifying? Apparently, the whole thing was a misunderstanding, but people are understandably outraged by the picture anyway. The students' school district said that the class was recently involved in an "enrichment program," where instructors from the Plimoth Plantation taught the group of third-graders a lesson on 17th Century living and clothing, according to Cafe Mom. That's why the kids were dressed up in strange clothing in the photo. But what about the "leashes?"
The Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District, in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, said that the "leashes" attached to the little girl in the photo were actually "tethering straps," according to Cafe Mom. These straps were apparently used by parents of that time to help their kids learn how to walk, WCVB reported. So technically, they would be period-appropriate for a lesson on 17th Century fashion. But that doesn't really make the optics of putting a black girl on leashes held by two white children any better.
Romper has not received a response from the Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District in regards to this incident. However, on its website, the district provided a press release about the situation, signed by Superintendent Derek J. Swenson. The statement included an apology for the incident, which read:
Please note it was never the intent of the lesson to demean or degrade any one person or group. The Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District sincerely apologizes to the students, staff and community at large for this unfortunate incident.
But regardless of the statement, it's shocking that a teacher thought a photo where it appears two white children are restraining a black student looked at all appropriate.
In just four hours, the photo was shared on Facebook more than 7,000 times, WCVB reported — so it obviously got a lot of attention, very quickly. And much of that attention hasn't been good.
The adult in the photo isn't the teacher, for the record. She's actually a Pilgrim re-enactor, and was invited to Mitchell Elementary School, according to The Daily Mail. That means that more than one adult was present for this situation, and saw nothing wrong with positioning and dressing the kids in question the way they did.
Swenson said that the black girl on the "tethering straps" in the photo volunteered to pretend to be a toddler, not a slave as the photo might suggest, according to The Daily Mail. But the thousands of comments from angry Facebook users — and those responding on other social media platforms like Twitter — might not be appeased by that explanation, or by the district's apology.
Comments on posts about the incident on Facebook included responses like, "Why what are you THINKING," "Oh hell no," and "Based off that bullsh*t excuse they sent out this has to be a joke. Please say this is a joke."
In the press release, the superintendent and the district said, "We realize without this context added to the photo that was shared by the classroom teacher it could be perceived differently." But critics argue that the teacher and the school should have seen that the photo might be disturbing to people, regardless of "context," according to Cafe Mom. People on social media argued that anyone with any kind of history education would see this photo and think it's related to slavery.