Bug’s first racial bullying, and why were we white people so shocked?

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?

About mad momma moogacat

I am a 40-year old mother, wife, lawyer and pop culture fiend who is looking for some beauty and meaning in life. I write about parenting, adoption, mental health, work-life balance, and pop culture. Hope you enjoy!
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9 Responses to Bug’s first racial bullying, and why were we white people so shocked?

  1. Bev Wilson says:

    I don’t think you overreacted. You use the word “animalistic,” and I think that’s at the core of a lot of bullying, probably especially ethnic-related, but coming from a poor-white-trash background, I remember it even from my own experiences. The two worst taunts a kid can probably hear are that they are different, and that they are dirty. Bozo hit both of those, and I imagine Bug felt a lot of shame. I don’t know exactly how much worse it is to have that shame tied to your heritage and birth parents and the color of your skin and hair, but it has to be horrible. I’m so glad the teacher took it seriously, but I’m also glad that Bug was able to tell you about it. It’s probably hard for any kid to talk about something that causes shame, but I think it’s harder if you have attachment issues, because the fear of rejection is so strong. I take it as a hopeful sign that she felt safe enough to tell you, and also that she then felt safe enough to keep asking you about sending the email: she trusted that you were on her side, and that you could help her. I didn’t expect to feel good after reading about bullying, but I find myself in a good mood now.

  2. christycanuck says:

    I don’t think you overreated. At all.

    I am wondering if the school will be talking to Bozo’s parents as well? If it was my child, I would certainly want to know so that we could discuss it at home.

    The first experience I had did take me by surprise. A parent told me about her four-year-old DD’s feelings about Black-Canadians during the first week of school, I was shocked and crushed for my DD. Should I have been shocked? Nope. Would I be shocked now? Nope.

  3. Thanks for commenting, guys! Chris– to your question about whether the school sent a note home to Bozo’s parents: I suspect the teacher did, if she followed the school handbook procedure. It’s too bad we are a couple of weeks past parent-teacher-student conferences, because that would have been a great opportunity to bring it up.

    Bev– re the shame issue. It’s interesting you bring that up, because a lot of what I read from adult adoptees talks a lot about the almost primal feelings of shame that often accompany being placed for adoption. Any taunts that cause any more shame for someone like Bug are probably like a punch to the gut.

  4. I am Bug’s grandfather and have been to China many times. I can assure that the people in China live much as we do! It would appear to me the school needs to teach the students tolerance to people of all cultures!!!

  5. Momma C says:

    As a white person I am not shocked but I suspect that I am not your average white person when it comes to understanding privilege. You did not over-react, in fact I think you handled it pretty darn near perfectly. To the issue though of where do they get these beliefs from. It is fascinating (and frightening) to see how pre-opertational children construct meaning from their world and it doesn’t take much subtle innuendo before children have formed very negative concrete beliefs. And since those minor things can build up over time- the end result is a child with negative racial stereotypes and a group of adults scratching their heads going “where the heck did they learn that?” (because no one sees the thousands of seemingly minor, unnoticeable-to white people anyway- things that happen daily) I was thinking about this earlier when listening to a song from the Broadway show Book of Mormon. There is a song called I am Africa and in the song they mention all the beauty of Africa but each time they mention the people (a whole 3 times) they are referred to as “jungle man” “a woman with no bra” and “zulu warrior with spear”- None of which accurately represent the VAST majority of Africans. Then we wonder why our kid have stereotypes of African Americans (okay that last part will be a whole blog post on my blog in the not to distant future) Anyway- all that to say- You did good Momma!

  6. i am sorry your daughter was the victim of bullying. As a pre-k teacher working with a very diverse population (at-risk, low income etc) I witnessed way too many parents exposing their children to such racial slurs through their own behaviors and the kind of tv, movies, music they allow their children to listen to. I don’t think you over reacted at all!

  7. After reading your post, I can’t stop thinking about it. I don’t know why it affected me so profoundly. Could it be because you have experienced something that I fear would happen to my daugthers. They are not in school yet but I’m a worrier by nature and think of everything of this and other things that could happen. Could it be that I’ve been experienced some racial bullying in my life. Too many and none significant to remember. Could it be that I’m thinking of why does this lttle girl have to worry or experience something like this at such an early age. I have done two reports on child bullying as assignments in college. That’s before I had the girls. I was passionate about it then and more so now that I am a mom. I know what it can do for a child’s self-esteem and perception of the world around them.
    I don’t feel like you overracted. It saddens me to hear that your little girl’s innocence world was pierced but ugly comments like those. Those comments are way too mature for a child in kindergarten to have known just by television influence. I’m glad that hear that the teacher responded so quickly. I often wondered how I will handle a situation like that and I think the way you handled it was perfect. I will use it as an example if it ever does happen. Thank you for sharing

  8. I would like to point out that a minority child in a minority household would probably have had their own preconceived notions about white people to combat any racial slurs bandied about: smelling like wet dogs or being inbred colonialist pigs are a few I learned to toss back at racist bullies growing up. 😉

    Not to make too light of the bullying, but her reaction is probably more connected to being Chinese & surrounded by mostly white people than to the racist bullying itself. Though I don’t especially like Jesse Jackson he did make a speech at a black university about ten years ago where these words stuck with me: “Leadership & confidence is bred in the majority!”

    Transracial adoption is difficult for all involved, but telling a Chinese child that her Chinese heritage is perfectly good & respectable despite being removed from that culture and given to a white family to raise smacks of insincerity. I know a few transracial adoptees, (and lived in many white homes myself while in foster care) and the reality of their lives will continue to contradict your words.

    Perhaps having an (un-Americanized) Chinese family for her to have access to would help her self esteem. If she sees that her parents are not afraid, or ashamed, of her picking up Chinese cultural habits her confidence in her heritage may be boosted.

    Also, “Black Baby, White Hands” is a wonderful autobiography by Jaiya John regarding his own transracial adoption experience.

    Good luck!

  9. I’m not one for commenting over first cup of coffee but I HAD to comment on this. As a mother and grandmother, no, you did not over-react. Our children depend on us to protect them and help them understand what happens to them. You reaction was, in my opinion, rational and well-worded, with the perfect pitch of protectiveness and urgency. I also applaud the teacher, and hope she will continue to monitor this situation. I say a big, fat, “WELL DONE!” to your Bug, you and your family and the teacher.

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