Aftermath

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.

Colorblindness

This morning, while brushing his teeth, the boy says, “Mommy, don’t I look white?”

I wasn’t sure what he meant–like, was he white from his toothpaste.  I asked him to clarify.

“My skin, it looks white, doesn’t it? Not brown.”

“Well, no, honey. It looks brown, and it will always look brown.” I said.

“You mean I’m never going to turn white?!” He cried, upset.

“No, you’re going to stay brown your whole life.” I was beginning to wonder where this was going.

“But, I want to be white! I don’t want to be brown anymore!!”

Oh boy.

“Why not, sweetheart? What makes you say that?” I asked.

“Because B—* told me he doesn’t like brown skin and that made me sad.”

Oy.

Eric walks over and says, “You are beautiful, inside and out.  You have a beautiful heart, and you are a wonderful person, no matter what color you are on the outside.”

I tell him that is true, and that sadly, he may always hear people say bad things about his skin.  “I think your skin is perfect, and I love it, and I would never want it to be any other color.”

This brings a big smile to his face, and we hug, and things seem to be fine again.

Po Bronson wrote a book recently called “Nurtureshock,” and while I haven’t read the entire book (and don’t know that I agree with everything in it based on what I’ve heard), the chapter about race is excerpted in Newsweek here.  In a nutshell, it says that the trend towards NOT talking about race at all or using phrases such as “everyone is equal” have the opposite effect, and do little to instill the colorblindness that they are intended to teach.  According to the studies cited, children as young as 6 months see racial differences, and certainly the 4 year olds in my son’s class do.

Still, what does it mean exactly to talk about race?  I’ve read the examples in the article, and understand those, but I have to think that there’s more than that.  It’s easy to talk about religious differences and say how people believe different things, but it’s not quite so easy to do that for race, is it?  I think the take home point is to make sure that you teach your kids that people DO look different, DO have different skin colors, but are all the same on the inside.

I’m not sure exactly what happened in the classroom.  The boy tells us that he told one of his teachers what happened, and we’re going to ask her about it tomorrow.  Depending on what she says we may or may not talk to B’s parents, but the truth is that the boy has an excellent memory and doesn’t make stuff like this up.  B’s parents are very nice people, and my guess is that they may fall into the category of people who simply don’t talk about race at all, and that it may not be something that they have to deal with much. I mean, I was recently called “the prettiest little colored girl she’d ever seen” by a VERY elderly patient, am asked on a regular basis “where I’m really from,” and have had people comment on how I “don’t have an accent at all”!  I’m quite certain that neither of B’s parents, both Caucasian, have ever had anything like that happen! Bronson mentions a statistic that most white parents don’t talk to their kids about race, and most non-white parents to.  He fails to mention that this is because if you are the majority race, you simply don’t have to deal with the same racial issues as someone of a minority race, and the questions are less likely to arise.

I think we handled it okay so far, but we’ll see how it goes with B’s parents.

And, on a side note, if there is a patron saint of parenting, could you PLEASE slow down on the difficult questions? What’s next? Where do babies really come from?

*name changed to protect the toddler.