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Philly schools censored a podcast about Palestinian resistance art because of complaints of antisemitism. Now, there's pushback

Kristen A. Graham, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

The video begins with one of the students’ voices.

“Welcome to the Oppression Art Podcast, where we explore the profound impact of artistic expression on the resistance of oppressed and indigenous people,” it said. “In today’s episode, we delve into the historical use of art as a tool for resistance, drawing parallels between the experiences of enslaved African Americans and the ongoing situation in Palestine and Israel.”

The students go on to describe enslaved Black Americans’ spirituals and visual art, and reference murals on the separation wall between Gaza and Israel, and talking about Palestinian artist Emily Jacir’s work bringing “global attention to the injustice in the region.”

Ridgeway was impressed by the final product, which described the situation as “complex,” and referenced “attempts to erase the Palestinian name.” Because the plan was to show the video at the Black History Month assembly, Ridgeway sent the video to Northeast’s principal, just in case he saw issues with it.

The veteran principal, Omar Crowder, said he saw no problems, Ridgeway said, and was also impressed by the students’ work. He sent the video to district officials to flag if they had objections, but heard nothing back.

The video aired on Feb. 21, at Northeast’s first Black History Month assembly. (The school, with 3,200 students, is so large four Black History Month assemblies were scheduled.)

 

After the assembly, one teacher complained to Crowder, and apparently someone shared a photo of the event, including a screenshot of the video, with others. A parent of a child who attends another district school also emailed Crowder to ask him why there was an assembly about “Palestinian resistance efforts” and request future assemblies be canceled.

Concerns were also raised to district officials, who ordered the video removed. (Ridgeway shared a copy of the video on her personal Instagram account, with the students’ permission, but she said it was an edited copy — the students edited out the image of the Palestinian and Israeli people on their own, Ridgeway said, but made no other substantial changes.)

Telling her student that his project was being killed was excruciating, said Ridgeway, who has won the district’s prestigious Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.

“His first response was, ‘What did I do wrong?’” said Ridgeway, who’s a member of the Racial Justice Organizing Committee. “He did nothing wrong. This is what we want students to do — to think about, to synthesize, to connect history to modern-day issues. You would think the school district would be celebrating a student that’s able to do that at the highest level.”

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