Wednesday, December 7, 2011

8- & 10-year-old talk about racial slurs at school

No, not my kids this time (mine are 8 & 11 now!).  At Racialicious, an affecting video and transcript of two African-American boys talking about being called the n-word at school:
“Why’d you give that n***** your eraser?”
I send my two sons to school to learn, not so that they can be called racial slurs. But on Wednesday, a boy in 10-year-old Mr. O’s fifth grade class decided to make sure that the classroom was an extra welcoming learning environment. He posed the above question to another student, after that kid decided to give my son an eraser.
My son told me about it when I went to pick him up from his after school program and of course I was angry and upset, but I also felt numb. I am the mother of two black males in the United States. That means this is not the first time my boys have been called a racial slur.
I could write about how we are not post-racial and this is exhibit A of why I believe that racism is still America’s most vital and challenging issue. But it came to me that there’s something powerful about letting children–the most innocent of us all–share what it feels like to be called the n-word in class.
Last night I asked the boys if they’d like to talk about the racial slurs they’ve been called, and how it makes them feel. They were excited to share–we all know it’s cathartic to be able to share something painful that’s happened–and I’m glad that they know that they don’t have to keep the racism they face a secret or act like it’s not a big deal–or that it’s something they have to be ashamed of.
I filmed this interview with my boys before they went to sleep. . . .
Go watch.  The most poignant moment for me is when mom asks if they are worried it will happen again, and the 8-year-old says, "Yes. Because I’ve already been called that so many times."  It reminds me of Zoe's response when I told her I was so sorry a child at ballet had called her "Blackie" and said her skin looked dirty like it was covered with mud -- trying to make me feel better about it, she said, "I'm used to it."  Like I said at the time, "How awful to be 8 years old and used to racial teasing and racial insults."


Anonymous said...

We live in an very racially mixed community, and I can tell you that it DOESN'T help the cause when I hear (constantly) one AA referring to another as "Ni**a!" in a normal conversation. Personally, if I were AA and wanted it to stop, I would start with working on my own cultural acceptance of the word among each other, and I would speak out about that first and foremost. Maybe this mother has already. And obviously, thinking this way does not to take away from the fact that using the word happens outside of the culture, but when the very same word is desensitized on one end, it seems it would become the same sometimes on the other. I've seen white kids on FB calling each other Ni**a, just because they think it's cool to see AA teens do the same.

Anonymous said...

I believe as adoptive parents of non-Caucasian children, one has to expect this kind of teasing/bullying is going to happen (every Asian adult adoptee that I have talked to said it happened to them) and have a plan in your head, what you as the parent will do, when it happens. In my opinion, doing nothing is not acceptable. Interestingly with my daughter, this racial remarks have not occurred in the public elementary school, which runs a very tight ship and a strong anti-bullying policy, where the first day of school, every child (even Kindergardeners) and parent must sign a "No-Bullying" contract. It has occurred in the private pre-K, the private summer camp and the private aftercare facility. But they use the same policies as the public school and in every case, when I learned about the incident, I marched up to the adult in charge and without emotion, told them about what occurred and in every case, the adult in charge was very helpful and approached the other child and explained why their behavior was not acceptable. In each case, I ended my conversation with the adult by asking them politely to make sure this does not happen again, and it never happened again. If I would have an incident occur in the public school, I already know what I would do and how I would handle it. I think every adoptive parent should be proactive and have a gameplan because it will probably happen sooner or later. Of course, my husband's attitude was totally different, saying "Kids tease each other all the time. They have to get used to it." I obviously disagree greatly with him on this subject and thankfully, he has no problems with allowing me to handle these situations. Actually, he's probably relieved.

Dee said...

Anon. #1 (Dec. 7 @3:53 pm), I can't say I agree with your approach. I think it's one thing for people of color to use language between themselves, but quite another for people outside the culture to use it to denigrate, attempt to control, and otherwise "put people in their place." Members of a group can appropriate language for their own use, as a way to reclaim it. As an example, I'm thinking of the use of the word "bastard" in the adoption community (Bastard Nation, anyone?).

Anonymous said...

Anon #2. I handle it the same way. When (my miniority)daughter was teased (by another miniority child) about being asian, the teacher (another miniority) just said it was teasing, not bullying,ans kids tease. True, but-- when racial teasing is tolerated it can easily slide into the bullying catagory. The principal (another miniority) handled this situation swiftly and the problem did not repeat itself.

(I only mention miniority here because I think we often think of race as a black/white issue.)