A Black woman faces up to one year in jail for vehemently protesting a racially-insensitive middle school dance production skit in Arlington last year. Jackie Carter was charged with disorderly conduct in public places, a class-one misdemeanor. A hearing on Jan. 26 will determine the judge in the General District Court for Arlington County before whom she will appear.

Outraged by an April 30, 2011 performance produced by the Bowen McCauley Dance Company at Kenmore Middle School, which her daughter attends, Carter stood up and booed. She was detained and arrested shortly after being restrained and allegedly assaulted by several people. Carter alleged her attackers included Mary Hynes, who is White and co-chair of the Arlington County Board and Bowen McCauley, board treasurer.

The presentation, promoted as a tribute to American folk traditions supposedly to honor Duke Ellington, contained a skit, “Little Rabbit, Where’s Your Mammy?” Carter viewed this as a throwback to the most pernicious racial stereotypes of a century ago, which celebrated the long era in which enslaved Black women were exploited as wet-nurses, and the many other unspeakable crimes committed against their minds, souls and bodies.

For most Blacks this is no small matter. “Nothing can claim to be literary art that derogates human beings because of their race, religion, or gender; this is nothing more than buffoonery which has as its purpose nothing grand or sublime, but something mean and detestable,” said Molefi Kete Asante, a professor in the Department of African American Studies at Temple University.

The booing was the culmination of a two-day period of frustration on Carter’s part. After witnessing a previous performance on the morning of April 29 at Kenmore, Carter said she complained to a succession of officials, including Arlington County School Superintendent Robert Murphy, Meg Tuccillo, assistant superintendent of principals, John A. Word, principal of Kenmore and Betty Spencer-Chapman, Kenmore assistant principal. Carter said she also tried unsuccessfully to contact the dance company’s founder and owner, Lucy Bowen McCauley.

All her efforts went to no avail. “The principal told me the Bowen McCauley Dance Company was a partner of the school,” Carter recalled. “Therefore, he was not going to challenge it.”

She felt compelled to act. “They left me with no choice,” Carter said.

She booed the afternoon performance and handed out protest letters the next day. On April 30, when she booed the mammy scene again, Carter alleged she was attacked, seized and arrested.

Carter, a long-time stage director well-known in D.C.’s Black theatre milieu, maintains the historical context of the performance centers on the image of the slave birthing woman, an all-purpose Black maternal figure, whose role was to have as many slave children as possible, and to care for White children as well.

Carter holds a bachelors degree in fine arts in drama and is fully alert to foundational African traditions. “This image that was originally benign changed over the course of time until finally being grotesquely distorted by plantation culture.”

The school principal, defended the term in a letter to parents on May 2, in which he wrote, “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.”

Linda Erdos, assistant superintendent for School and Community Relations for Arlington County Schools, defended the right of the company to perform the skit.

“The Arlington School Board encourages and allows the use of school buildings and grounds by the community for educational, recreational, civic and cultural activities to the extent possible under the law.”

Robin Roberts, a parent who witnessed the April 30 incident, said, “Around here, they call it the Arlington Way.”

The Arlington County NAACP is reviewing the matter.

DeRutter Jones contributed to this article.

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO