As I alluded to in my last post, Bug got her first taste of racial ugliness at school on Thursday. Here’s what happened:
We were in the car on the way to supper out, and Bug said, “Mom, do people in China sleep on beds, because Bozo (name changed to protect a child) said at lunch today people in China don’t have beds and sleep on the ground. Did I sleep on the ground?” Graham and I assured her Bozo didn’t know what he was talking about, that we had been to China, and yes, there were beds. We also told her that we know for a fact she slept in a bed in China. We assured her that China was remarkably similar to here, and that they had beds and all the other basic comforts of life we all take for granted. We’ve been to China, we told her, and we seriously doubted Bozo had.
Alas, Bozo wasn’t done. Bug then said, “Well, Bozo said that people in China eat dirty food off the floor and that I did too. Did I do that?” That’s when I started to get mad. I told her in no uncertain terms that Chinese people wash their food before eating, just like we do, and that they don’t eat off the ground.
We then asked her if Bozo had made her feel bad. She said yes, and that she wanted to cry, but that she didn’t want him to know she was that upset. I told her it perfectly OK to cry if someone hurt her feelings that badly. I also asked her if she told her teacher. She said yes, she told the paraprofessional, but all the para told her was to ignore Bozo. It didn’t seem as if the para even talked to Bozo, though to be fair, it’s not clear whether Bug explained the nature of the taunts. I asked Bug if she wanted me to email her teacher, and she said yes. In fact, she asked me three more times that night if I was going to send the email, and two more times the next morning, including right when she woke up. So I think it’s safe to say that she was pretty upset by it.
The next morning, as soon as I got to work, I sent a carefully drafted email. I didn’t want to come off as being too overprotective, but I know that you can’t let race issues slide. So here’s what I sent:
“I just wanted to let you know that June came home very upset last night because one of her classmates was taunting her yesterday for being from China and making some rather bizarre derogatory comments about China. I normally wouldn’t make a big deal out of classroom taunts, but racial/ethnic slurs are so tied into poor self-esteem for minority children I really felt like I shouldn’t just let it go. (As an aside, the same child pushed her down on the playground during aftercare on Wednesday, but that may just be a coincidence—I know those things happen a lot). Would you mind keeping an eye on the situation, and letting me know if something like this happens again so I can talk June through it at home? Thanks so much. I appreciate you keeping an eye on it.”
To her credit, the teacher responded back within two hours. She was clearly appalled this had happened, and promised to talk both to June and to the offender. She also said that nothing like this would be tolerated at all, and she was glad I brought it to her attention. When Bug came home on Friday, she was all smiles, and was happy that her teacher had talked to her, and to Bozo.
So, since Friday morning I’ve had a few thoughts about this incident. First, did I overreact? My answer, after much thought, is a resounding no. Yes, these aren’t the worst things a kid could have said about my child’s racial/ethnic background, but the comments were clearly designed to make Bug feel bad, and it worked. She did feel bad. She was really upset. And after reading about racial/ethnic issues from the prospective of adult transracial adoptees, I know I have to take even these kids of bizarre comments serously, and I have to let my Bug know that I take them seriously or she’ll stop talking to me about it. I can’t let that happen.
Second, I was very happy with the teacher’s response. I know this kind of crap will happen. What matters to me is how the school responds. And so far, the response has been good.
Third, I have been thinking a lot about just what Bozo said and where he would have gotten this. These comments had to come from somewhere, either parents or an older sibling. I wouldn’t have necessarily thought that if Bozo were commenting on physical differences, but the fact he came up with comments that portrayed Chinese as almost animalistic makes me think that he had to get that from someone. That makes me really sad.
And finally, I’ve been thinking a lot about G’s and my initial response of shock, and the shock of every white person I’ve told this story. The usual response, “Really? In kindergarten?” It later occurred to me that an Asian parent, or an African-American or Latino parent, would have been saddened but not shocked to get this kind of crap in kindergarten. Racial slurs and bullying starts early. We white people have the luxury of not having to deal with it, so when we are confronted with it, we are shocked. While not the absolute saddest part of this story to me (Bug’s sadness and hurt obviously ranks higher for me), this living, breathing expression of white privilge smacking me in the face is a wakeup call. I shouldn’t and can’t be shocked by this. I need to be prepared.
So, what does anyone out there think? Did I overreact? Am I right to be happy with the school’s response thusfar? Are white people too shocked by this?