Thanks to all who left such insightful comments, and those whom I spoke to in person. We spoke to the teacher’s aide, whose face just dropped when we mentioned what the boy had said. She told us the incident was over a month ago, but had happened basically the way that the boy related to us. She had overheard them, and immediately talked to B about how different people have different skin colors but are all the same. She then talked to the boy, too, and all seemed to be well until the other day.
I felt strongly, as did most people that both Eric and I spoke with, that we should talk to B’s parents and let them know what had transpired.
Eric caught up with B’s father as they were leaving school, and here’s how the conversation went, after pleasantries exchanged:
Eric: “A while ago B said something that really hurt the boy, and I wanted to let you know about it”
B’s dad: “Oh, what was it?”
Eric: “Well, he said he didn’t like brown skin, and it really hurt the boy’s feelings.”
B’s dad: “Oh. Well, I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”
And then walked off.
The next day, B’s mom walked right by Eric in the morning without making eye contact or saying a word.
I was dismayed by this seeming utter lack of concern and even questioning–I mean, if someone ever told me the boy did something like that, I’d at least want to ask more questions about it to know what had happened and express concern for the other kid. I can’t say I was entirely surprised. Even before Eric spoke with B’s dad, though, I steeled myself because I know from experience that when you approach people for conversations like this, the response you get is NEVER satisfying. It was important for them to know, but I can’t control what they do afterwards. Who knows, maybe they’re working on some elaborate apology card for the boy at home, but I’m not saving any space on the mantel.
We also spoke to the teacher’s aide who overheard the conversation, and did say that we wanted to know if anything like that ever happens again. We love her in general, but I do think she should have at least talked to the head teacher about what had happened–maybe they could have had some conversations in class, or songs, or something. Now that I type that, I realize that I’m asking the teacher to teach something because I don’t think the parents are. We ask a lot of our teachers, no?
In the end, I think this has been a good thing. It’s made us more aware of the need to actively teach both our children about race and that despite living in what I perceive to be a fairly liberal, open-minded city that seems to have a lot of mixed couples, they will still have to deal with issues about their skin color. Now that I think about it, it shouldn’t be that hard to talk about. I mean, we talk about how there are all different kinds of families–two mommies, two daddies, adopted, etc., how women can do most anything that men do and vice versa, why not expand that to include talking about how people of different races can do anything, too? It sounds sort of dumb to my ears to even say that as an adult, but maybe that’s what the kids need to be hearing.
I’ve got to think that it’s better than saying nothing at all.
4 thoughts on “Aftermath”
O.M.G.-while you are right in that it may have been a useful reminder to you, I am stunned by the parents’ dismissive response. And I’m also shocked that the aide didn’t share this with you initially.
I’ve had lots of conversations with the daycare about race, and about comments that the kids there have made-usually about my hands, but once about Sylvie’s eyes. They actually searched out children’s books in Spanish about diversity and have incorporated it into everything they do. And the incidents have been minimal.
The preschool is very diverse, in race, and abilities, and the teachers never miss a beat. Every time a kid says something about my hands a teacher reminds them “we’re all different” in a calm voice, and the kid says something like “oh, yeah.” Their book shelf was very diverse before we started there.
But it’s true, we can’t count on other people doing the right thing. We always need to be preparing our kids for reality, so that they don’t hear it first in an unsafe environment. I actually talked to Milo’s new teacher for the fall at orientation next (that sb last, but I’ll leave it as evidence of my aphasia ; ) week and shared that I am preparing him for the first comment about our family. She was very responsive and recognized that we don’t have control over whether it happens, only how prepared he is and how we respond. I feel so lucky that he got into this class. There are certainly lots of people out there like B’s father who shrug and say “they’re just being kids.”
I understand your point about expecting the schools to do what parents aren’t-but it was pretty clear from the response I got to my HM email last fall that most parents won’t. But I thought this was because they didn’t think they needed to in that their child would never say something like that, but they would still be responsive if there was an incident. So disappointing.
I think I told you about the incident at Thanksgiving with my nephew? My whole family was devastated by his behavior toward M, and they all rallied and modeled for the kids going forward. They just had thought the kids would never say that.
No! I never heard about Thanksgiving, but it sounds like it was pretty bad. Their teacher has been out sick for a few days, but we’re definitely going to talk to her about doing some of this stuff in the classroom when she returns.
It’s like I read in Nurture Shock – you’ve got to get a jump start on race by having the conversations in your own home, in as benign and spontaneous a fashion as possible, so hopefully your kids carry that with them when they are confronted by attitudes and parental denial that your son has already experienced.
When Sicily (Cecelia, whatever) started a new school last summer, she befriended a lovely, intelligent girl whose parents were obviously of Indian descent by her appearance and her unique name. Once my mom picked C up from school and overheard C listening to something her friends were saying about the girl’s strange name and her mom’s funny accent. My mom jumped in on the group of girls (it was summer school, so no strict carpool – she just walked on the playground) and said, “Funny? I don’t think that is the word to describe her mom’s accent. It is wonderful. Have you girls ever been to India? I didn’t think so. Well, I have many times. It is a beautiful, amazing country – fabulous, bright, glittery clothes (she was talking to 5 year olds – so being a bit simple) and the languages spoken there are different from ours, but in a really good way. If you are lucky, someday you might get to go there.” C’s little friend glowed, and the other girls responded with appropriate awe. My mom can be pretty convincing, and I like to think that her intervention had some effect.
A few months later I met the girl’s mom at a birthday party. She was wearing a sari (I hope I got that right – it was everyday wear, not fancy) and had a heavy Indian accent. We talked for a long time, I learned about her job away from home (computers) and her connections with other kids and moms there. It was obvious to me that she and her daughter had been nurtured on the whole with their experience with the school, and that reinforced my decision to keep my kids there next year. It’s nice to meet smart moms who have already done the research for you. You are probably going to think this is a horribly racist statement – one of those generalizations – but having spent 10 years in med school/training – a true melting pot in the otherwise black/white South – I have learned that parents of kids that have recently migrated from another country (not like yourself) do much better research into schools than anyone from around here. And have much more intelligent things to say about their choices. I am lucky to have had enough exposure to realize this and benefit from it.
One last thing – while I can’t so much relate to racial prejudices, on a personal level at least – I have had my share (and more) of abuse in this world. We all deal with it, in one form or another. We are ultimately responsible for how our children cope and relate to the world, and can’t (although it is important to try) control the outside situations. Once we realize this, and come to peace with it, it makes our jobs as parents much easier (and harder, and more important).