It’s rare that anyone would boo a children’s dance recital but that’s exactly what Jackie Carter, mother of a Kenwood Middle School girl in Arlington, VA, did when the Bowen McCauley Dance Company performed “Little Rabbit, Where’s Your Mammy?” Now, she faces up to one year in jail for her actions.
Jackie first saw the performance involving a white kid and his black mammy singing and dancing to the tune of “Little Rabbit” on the morning of April 29, 2011. She immediately reached out to school officials and the founder of the dance company with no success to discuss the skit which she said was “racist and offensive to African-Americans and African American women especially.” That afternoon, she returned for another performance during which she stood up and booed and also handed out letters of protest. When Jackie returned to see yet another performance April 30 and began booing, she said she was attacked by Bowen McCauley staff members who began hitting her, blocking her from returning to her seat, and pulling her in different directions. Jackie was subsequently arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, a Class 1 misdemeanor which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. She told Afro her actions were justified:
“The principal told me the Bowen McCauley Dance Company was a partner of the school, therefore, he was not going to challenge it. They left me with no choice.”
The school principal continued to defend the skit in a letter to Kenwood parents on May 2 as well, writing:
“The word ‘mammy’ used in the song is a colloquial affectionate term for mother or grandmother and was used historically and still today in some areas by both African and White Americans, especially in the south. I recognize that the term mammy is sometimes viewed as an offensive term for a Black nursemaid in the southern U.S.”
Jackie, a long-time and well-known stage director in the DC area, isn’t buying it, and neither should anyone else. She wrote that the mammy scene centers on the image of the slave birthing women used as wet-nurses and “the many other unspeakable crimes committed against their enslaved minds, souls and bodies,” therefore it should not be performed. The school may not have listened but Jackie will have another chance to defend her point of view and her actions at her next hearing April 23.
I can’t call this one. Do you think Jackie deserves jail time for disrupting the recital? Were her actions justified?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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