Tuesday, August 16, 2011
You may have noticed that Anna Green, who I wrote about a few days ago (she's the one who ended up drawing the short straw in a bankruptcy settlement), had a black dot on her report card -- a dot very much like the one that appears on Ethel Adamson's card, which is shown above. You may also have noticed that Anna and Ethel were both black.
This is no coincidence. Only about 5% of the Manhattan Trade School report cards in my collection are from black students, but they all have this small, adhesive black dot. The dot also appears on the card of a Native American student, and a Hispanic student was given half a dot. So the dots were apparently used for all students of color.
You've heard of the term "a black mark on your record"? Here it is, literally.
I initially thought the black dots were meant to stigmatize the students in some way (like a scarlet letter, or a concentration camp tattoo), but I eventually figured out a more benign reason for them. I don't want to give everything away, so I'll explain this more fully in the Slate series; for now, take my word when I say I don't think the dots are as offensive as they initially appear to be.