By Bill Diem

Tyler Dettloff, the Bay Mills poet, musician, and Lake Superior State professor, asks new students to write 400-500 words as if they were famous and wanted to use their fame to call attention to a community issue. The essay must include all of the following criteria:

“What you are famous for (fictional); What issue interests you (non-fiction); One credible source that discusses the issue (citation); and, How you would draw public attention to the issue.”

So here goes:

I am a famous movie director (fiction) and I am worried about how American racism is trashing our country (non-fiction.) I believe that racism is learned, and unlearning something is not as easy as not learning it in the first place. So instead of trying to change the whole public, I will aim at kindergarten teachers. I will join with a national convention of kindergarten teachers and bring all the movie stars I can convince to join with me, to attract a maximum number of teachers.

We start with a short film documentary, “Who built America?”

America’s world-leading economy was built by white people pushing Native Americans out of their way so that white and black people could work to change wilderness into farms and factories. Most black people were enslaved from 1619 to 1865 (246 years), then they had a few years of federally protected freedom followed by nine decades of federally sanctioned segregation. Native Americans were nearly eliminated by 1900 but are now rebounding.

After that history lesson, the film will show young children playing together happily. Remember the YouTube hit of a little white kid who wanted a new haircut so he would look exactly like his little black playmate?

Then the film will show how even well-meaning adults pass on prejudices. A mother tells her child, ”Don’t play with him, he might have cooties. ” A father who crosses the street with his daughter so they don’t pass closely someone of another color on the sidewalk.

After the film, the sociologist Phillip Atiba Goff of UCLA would share conclusions of a study1 that shows how black children get a bad rap from the start: ”Black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent. ”

And sociologist Jean-Francois Amadieu would discuss international research proving the importance of self-confidence in achieving success.

”Children do end up conforming to the anticipated image and behaving as the adults around them expected. … Children who, for reasons of their appearance, are considered, a priori, as less honest, will have every day, at home or in school, more difficulty in proving their innocence, even when they have done nothing wrong.2

Then I would ask all my movie star friends to talk about how they developed their own self-confidence.

Then we would ask those kindergarten teachers to do everything they can, which is quite a lot, to develop self confidence in the ugly kids and the black-haired kids and the red-haired kids and the blond kids and the brunette kids and the bald kids. Knowing that after school these kids will be influenced by other adults who are not tuned in to the problem, the teachers should be encouraged to work hardest with the ugly kids and black-haired kids, because they will have the toughest times.

And thus, these teachers will start a generation of people who learn how to be self-confident, no matter what they look like. And those people can use things other than appearance to determine how they live together in the United States of America.

1 “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2014

2“Le Poids des Appearances,” Jean-Francois Amadieu, Odile-Jacob, 2002