Wednesday, September 7, 2011

When Your Child is the Perpetrator

When Zoe was teased at school with the ubiquitous stretched-eyed "Chinese Eyes" gesture, I reported it here and here.

When Maya was told by a little boy at school that she couldn't sit next to him because she was Chinese, I reported it here.

When a child at ballet told Zoe her skin looked dirty, like it was covered with mud, I reported it here.

So imagine my surprise when Maya came home from school eager to teach her sister a new ditty she'd learned:
Mailman, mailman do your duty.
Come and shake your African booty
She can do the pom pom, she can do the splits
But best of all she can kiss kiss kiss.
Yep, I did the classic spit take, and tried my calmest voice:  "WHAT did you just say?!" And no, it wasn't the kiss kiss kiss or even the booty, unmodified.

Of course Maya had no idea there was anything racist about "African booty," so we had a chat about that.  But I couldn't let her off the hook completely -- didn't she see it might hurt someone's feelings if they happened to be African, just like it hurt her feelings to be told she couldn't sit next to a boy because she happened to be Chinese?

We talked about how important it is to stand up for other people; even when we're not African, we have to stand up when they're teased just like we want others to stand up for us when we're teased because we're Chinese.  Of course, when you're 7-about-to-be-8 it's hard to stand up, especially for Maya who has to fight against her particular issues -- wanting to be popular, wanting to fit in.

We brain-stormed some ideas of what Maya could do if it happened again, including her telling her teacher, her telling her friend to stop.  Finally, she settled on having me talk to the mom of the friend who taught her the rhyme.  That was an easy one, since I know the mom really well and knew she'd be receptive.  Sure enough, she'd already heard the ditty from her child and had the same discussion I had with Maya!  And they very smartly re-wrote the rhyme for future use:
Mailman, mailman do your duty.
Here comes a girl and she’s a cutie.
She can do the pom pom. She can do the splits,
But best of all she can kiss,kiss,kiss.
Thouh I liked even better the version the mom came up with (couldn't get buy-in from her daughter!):
US Postal worker, US Postal worker do your duty,
Here comes a human being and it’s very smart.
They enjoy reading books and learning about art.
But most of all they can fart, fart, fart….
Yes, I've always known that bullies have mommies. I've known the parents of all kids who've racially teased my kids.  But what do you do when your child is the bully, the teaser, the racist? Have you had that turn-around experience? What did you do?


Anonymous said...

I've gotten this one from my 7 year old but she used "American beauty in place of African booty.

But I like this one especially the last line... :-)

Lemonade, Crunchy Ice
Sip it once, sip it twice
Lemonade, Crunchy Ice
Sip it once, sip it twice
turn around, touch the ground
Kick your boyfriend out of town!

LilySea said...

Nat has a classmate who is a little person. He's about half the height of the other kids, but smart as a whip--and has that in common with Nat.
She was talking one day about how he was funny and it was funny to watch him run, and we had to have a chat about how different is not automatically funny and how it might hurt his feelings to be laughed t for his difference.
Then I pointed out how fast he is--he can beat most of the other kids in a foot-race, though his legs are half as long. Nat admired that, because she's a big runner herself.
They are great friends now and we're so glad he's in her class for at least the next three years!

Anonymous said...

I understand what you mean, but I think "perpetrator" is a bit of a harsh and lawyerly label to stick on a kid. They haven't had time to assimilate stuff and make quite the same connections as adults have.
I mean, do you really need to blog about it? Couldn't you just have had a word with her?

Reena said...

I appreciate that you are blogging about it. I believe that racism is something that kids learn from society. At younger ages, I don't think they really understand that these kinds of poems are racist and they offer parents a teachable moment.

I remember when my bi-racial stepkids were younger They were singing one of the Chinese songs with the eye-thing. We had not completed our first adoption yet, but were in the process. DH and I were stunned. We talked to them about it and they had no idea. They thought it was a funny poem.

Teachable moments.

Anonymous said...

It just goes to show you that an anti-racist can raise a racist even when that child has experienced racism.

Racism is complicated.