Am I too insensitive because I think that this is crazy?
LIBERTY TWP. – A widely performed school playhas been cancelled by Lakota officials after a recent meeting with a local NAACP official.
The internationally acclaimed play – Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” – was to be performed by students at Lakota East High School this weekend.
But Gary Hines, president of a local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter, recently complained to Lakota officials that the play, which is based on Christie’s 1939 mystery novel, was inappropriate for a school production
Hines said the book’s original title and cover illustration used for its initial publishing that year in England was a racial slur toward African Americans and included a cover illustration of a black person and a hangman’s noose.
The title of the international best-seller was widely changed after 1939 and school theatre productions in America have performed the murder mystery play as either “Ten Little Indians” or “And Then There Were None” for decades since.
“The original title was Ten Little (N - - - - - - -) and it is important to say that because that was the actual title,” said Hines Monday.
He claims that a lack of racial diversity among Lakota’s students and teachers allowed the play to be chosen despite the history surrounding its original title.
“It’s a lack of diversity knowledge on their part. Diversity is not a way of life in Lakota,” said Hines,
But Hines, who operates GPH Consultants – a diversity training company – in West Chester Township, said despite his strong protest it was Lakota officials’ idea to cancel the play in response to his complaints.
Jon Weidlich, spokesman for Butler County school district, said subsequent discussions - after district officials met with Hines earlier this month - among students and staff at Lakota East High School led to the decision to cancel the play.
“After learning of the play’s origins and the hurt that it caused, we had hoped to use the performances as a way to create a discussion about diversity of all kinds in our community. However, students and staff continued to raise issues, and it was quickly obvious that bad feelings about the play were much more widespread and strong than originally thought. The best action seemed to be to switch to a different play,” Weidlich said.
Keith Kline, Lakota East principal, said “certainly it was a tough decision but one that needed to be made.”
“Doing the play now is not a way to promote the respectfulness we are trying to promote,” said Kline.
But Joan Powell, president of the Lakota Board of Education, criticized Hines, who has a history of raising racial issues with Lakota schools, as having a financial interest fueling his complaints.
In 2002 Hines accused Lakota schools of wide-spread, systemic racism and recommended that more than 2,000 Lakota employees be required to enroll in diversity and cultural sensitivity training similar to what was offered by his company. He promised to compile a report months later detailing his accusations against the schools but never produced a document.
Hines, however, has continued to allege systemic racism in the school district.
Most recently in a Nov. 20 e-mail to Powell and other Lakota school board members he wrote: “Given the history of the district, anything short of involving the NAACP in planning, developing, and executing a systemic approach to diversity is not acceptable and certainly not good enough for the district’s students, faculty, and staff.”
Powell countered that “Gary Hines has a certain vested interest in district’s diversity since he has approached us many times in the past about providing that service.”
She disagrees with the district administration’s decision to cancel the play.
“I’m concerned about censorship and I’m concerned about the message it sends to other student productions that we are now in the business of censorship,” said Powell.
Lakota East senior Luke Null, who has rehearsed September to perform as one of the lead characters in the play, said “pressure from the local NAACP cancelled the play”.
“I read the play as part of a class in the ninth grade. There are no racial undertones in it at all and we weren’t putting on the play under it’s original name from 1939, we were putting on the play under another name,” said Null, who now along with other theatre students are now scrambling to find another play to perform some time early in 2008.
“Some of our first amendment rights were censored. The race card is a pretty strong card,” he said.