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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Yes, Kids Still Do It

Although I don't volunteer in the Tongginator's classroom daily as I did last year, I'm still volunteering at school just as often, but in different ways (such as in the library). I average about eight hours a week at the school, which means I'm getting to know many of the children fairly well.

And they all pretty much know me.

I'm "the Tongginator's mom."

Some of y'all may remember my fret-fest this past August, wondering how much diversity was enough. (The Tongginator's class is about 75% white, and there are three other Asian-American children in the classroom.) Some of y'all may also remember my opinion on an incident at the Tongginator's school last year, which I labeled innocent racism. We've dealt with a few more of those types of situations this year, ones I deem teachable moments rather than malicious hostility.

Twice I've seen a little girl in the Tongginator's class position her pointer fingers at the outer corner of each of her eyes, pulling the skin around her eyes as taut as could be. The first time I witnessed it in the lunchroom, and the little boy sitting next to her joined in. As soon as I saw it happen, I walked over to both of them and spoke to them about it. I told them that people who are Asian or Asian-American have eyes that often look different from Caucasian eyes, and that when people use their hands to change the shape of their own eyes, it hurts feelings. I told them that people from Korea, or China, or Japan, or Thailand would feel sad if they saw them do such a thing. Then I asked them who they knew from Korea, or China, or Japan, or Thailand. They named three children from the class, including the Tongginator, as well as several other students and one teacher. I told them I did not want to see such behavior again.

When I stood up to leave the lunchroom (I always squat at eye-level to a child during conversation), I bumped into the Vice-Principal. I'd never met him before. I didn't actually meet him then. But he nodded his head at me as if to say "okay" and that was it.

Except it wasn't.

Two weeks ago I saw the same little girl, this time sitting at her desk in the classroom, make the same gesture. A different little boy joined in, and then a third boy (this one of Thai descent). I glanced at the Tongginator's teacher, the Pirate Queen, but she stood frozen in the doorway, visibly at a loss as to what to do or say. I don't judge her... because who the heck does know how to handle these types of situations? Diversity, acceptance, tolerance are buzzwords tossed around by educators and school administrators. They sincerely deem said words IMPORTANT, but teachers still receive little in the way of practical training when it comes to situations such as this.

I walked over to the children and spoke very seriously to the little girl. I reminded her of our previous conversation. I kept my explanation as simple as I did the first time around, and then I told the little girl that, if I ever saw her do this again, I would have to talk to the principal about it.

That it was THAT serious.

I also later checked in with the boy of Thai descent, sharing that I knew he didn't understand what that gesture meant. But I suggested he talk with his mommy about it, and to share with her all that I said. (The following week he stopped me in the hall to tell me that his mommy said I was right. And she told him to never, ever do that again.)

Teachable moments.

Truly.

Teachable moments.

I had to chant that to myself over and over earlier this week. Because something happened a few days ago that didn't feel like innocent racism. It just felt plain racist, despite the fact that it left the mouth of a seven-year-old. A different little girl in the class told the Tongginator and her best buddy, who is Indian-American, that they both couldn't talk to her because they have dark skin.

Deep breaths.

Deep, deep breaths.

I didn't even find out about the comment until two days later. Because the Tongginator didn't talk to me about it. I'm not sure if the Tongginator's buddy spilled the beans or if it was M2 (yes, THAT M2 from last year), but someone surely did. The Tongginator's teacher dealt with it very effectively, probably with some coaching. And I spoke with both the Tongginator and her teacher about it.

The Tongginator even asked me, "Momma, was that a racist comment?"

I answered yes, but explained that little children often don't know any better, that they need someone to teach them why it's wrong. At first the Tongginator could NOT figure out how the Pirate Queen found out about the comment, since she didn't say anything, and her best buddy also denied telling anyone. And then the Tongginator had a thought...

TONGGINATOR: Momma, do you think maybe M2 was the one who told the Pirate Queen? Because M2 heard what she said. She was sitting right next to her. And my best buddy told me that she didn't say anything to the teacher or her mommy.

TONGGU MOMMA: Oh. Well, did M2 say anything when it happened?

TONGGINATOR: No, but she looked worried.

TONGGU MOMMA: Well, maybe M2 was the one who told the Pirate Queen. Just because she's white doesn't mean that she doesn't know those kinds of words are wrong.

TONGGINATOR: Yeah. Because maybe she learned about this kind of stuff last year. And maybe this other girl will learn, too. I hope so. Cuz, Momma? She really, really needs to learn.

Teachable moments, y'all.

Teachable moments.

27 comments:

Myrnie said...

Oh dear. I wonder about kids, and their need to organize and compartmentalize their world.

Kim K. said...

Kindergarten starts next year for Josie. We've been blessed with a very diverse preschool with several international adoptions throw in. Kindergarten will be a whole different situation. Thanks for sharing your teachable moments with all of us!

Aus said...

Way to go TM - it is something that will follow our kids forever. And I really like the expression "innocent racisim" - I've told my 'gook' story already - but that was exactly it - a child simply repeating innocently what s/he heard an adult say. And ya know - the adult used the slur but nicely "Isn't see a beautiful little gook" kind of thing....makes you just wonder about folks!


Sounds to me like ya'll are handling things GREAT - and props to the Pirate Queen too!

hugs - aus and co.

bbmomof2boys said...

We can teach our kids and explain to other ones during the teachabe moments...but the other parents who are saying these things or doing these things are the ones the other kids look up to. THAT'S what stinks. Adults are mean and teach their children to be mean, plain and simple. Hopefully our words will ring true with them as they grow. Case in point - Chinese friends have 2 stove burners not working in their rented apartment. Called and landlord has fixed quite a few times. Called again and they wouldn't come back out to fix. I called and asked why and was told "I don't know what THOSE people are cooking on that stove but they are cooking too much or are cooking for that restuarant". Huh? I told them it doesn't matter HOW MUCH Mr. Chen cooks on that stove, it should work and if it doesn't get fixed I would find a lawyer for them. They went to fix it that day. Ugh....and yes, they have kids.

Keep up the good work TM!

Many hugs (heh)
Carla

jen@odbt said...

Ugh. Brings back horrible memories for me. It hurts my heart to know that this is still happening even with all the diversity around us.

I think the first time can be innocent but a second/third time...they know it's wrong and are choosing to do it anyway. Good for you to speak to her. Maybe the school should have an assembly about bullying.

lmgnyc said...

Wow TM, you did such a good thing. I love how you handled it, especially the second time follow up with that little girl. Can I link this on my blog? This is such a good story, I almost never do this kind of thing but this is too good, too clear of an example of "innocent" racism and how to handle it.

Tam-A-Roo said...

I love how you handled both situations. Thanks for teaching the little ones... and for teaching us too! Could I share your story on my blog? I'm an adoptive mama who's waiting for my little one.

a Tonggu Momma said...

Sure, anyone can link. I do want to say, though, that I am sure there are better ways to handle these types of conversations. I'm just stumbling my way through it all, but I also know that half the battle is just not sticking my head in the sand, hoping the situation will go away.

happygeek said...

I love that phrase, innocent racism. Because when they are little kids pick on any differences. A friend's little girl has people who won't play with her because she doesn't take the bus.
However at the end of the day, it was racism and can't be ignored.
I am so glad m2 stood up. Good for her.

sara said...

Oh I want to cry. You dealt with those moments beautifully and that Tongginator is wise beyond her years.

Reena said...

I appreciate you sharing! I know I have such incidents coming up in the next few years--it helps to hear how other parents handle these situations.

My stepkids are Hispanic/Dutch. SD has encountered racism a few times (that we know of). Once when she was younger ( 7or 8 years old) a girl told her she couldn't sit next to her because she (the girl) doesn't like other girls with curly hair (SD-- has the MOST beautiful hair). DH explained to her that it was racism and why. I am not sure if he called the school or anyone-- that is outside of my area where the stepkids are concerned.

Another time just a few years ago (12 or 13 years old) a boy at camp told her to go back to Mexico. SD was very upset, tearful about this incident. DH and her Mom do talk to SD about racism-- but her personality comes into play as well.

I suggested to her she that in the future she could respond.- that she isn't from MX she is American-- that there are a lot of Latino countries besides MX and he should go back to geography class.

Niether DH or his Ex really seem to address these issues well-- IMO. I do plan to make more of an issue if/when this type of incident comes up.

the meaklims said...

I like having my girl at home with me, I like that we attend a purely adoptive playgroup together, and the diversity there is huge.

Lilah starts JK in September, and this part of life, scares the life out of me.

Jill

snekcip said...

Being an African-American woman, and having my own share of "hurtful moments" from childhood, I think you dealt with this beautifully. I also believe these days, the zero-tolerance schools are establishing is great in dealing with these sort of issues. Our kids are faced with so much these days, its literally leaves me speechless.

Andrea said...

This just reaffirmed why I admire you so much! I'm not sure I'd have been as gracious in the moment.

I'm hoping our move to a largely Asian community will protect my daughters from innocent or deliberate racism. It is more likely I will get comments for being white and frankly, that is fine. I'd rather model how to react to hurtful comments myself than see my child made a target. We've only had 2-3 kids say things here, but even that felt like too many since they haven't been forgotten by the little recipient.

Mamatini said...

Deftly handled, TM! Like you said, it HAS to be handled, not ignored.

The other day, Isa relayed an incident that happened on the walk to PE (read: no teachers around). Two girls in front of her in line started the whole "Chinese eyes, Japanese eyes" chant. Not at Isa, mind you, but still!

Isa tapped them on the shoulder and told them that what they were doing was not nice, that it was making fun of Asian people. They haven't repeated it since, but I emailed her teacher to keep her informed and to be on the look-out for such behavior.

I was so proud of Isa for standing up to them.

Yes, kids often don't know the right words (or don't know what are the wrong words) to say things. But that doesn't mean they can't be taught.

Cedar said...

This made me cry. I know racism exists but even innocent racism can hurt and no child should have to experience it. I think you handled it well, but the saddest thing is that it needs to be handled at home, too. At this age the most influential person is still the parents. However, even adults can learn and I have hope for our nation.

prechrswife said...

Thanks for sharing. We haven't faced this yet, but I know it is coming.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post. I have a daughter adopted from China as well. She is now in 1st grade and this happened even at her multi racial school. I wasn't there but she told me how hurtful it was. Fortunately one of the principals used it to talk to all the kids in the school about diversity, how everyone is special yet different and about respecting each others differences. This also falls under the bullying talk because bullies often use differences to bully. Hard to believe we are dealing with this in 1st grade but at least the school handled it well. Yes it is innocent but where does it lead if it isn't addressed? Prejudice is taught and learned. If it isn't addressed people and chldren assume it is truth and OK.
Thanks for your post.

marcie said...

We have not had to deal with this yet, partially, I think because Gus is Hispanic and we have a large Spanish population. However, we have dealt with discrimination towards special needs children and that is just as hard. You handled the situation well and with great patience. Not sure if I could have done that.

The Byrd's Nest said...

I have read this entire post and have one huge problem....the teacher. I would think she would feel obligated to use these moments as "teachable moments". At any rate...I am VERY thankful you help out in the classroom and have an eye for these situations. Pretty amazing that there are really people who think children are born without sin;) You are also teaching your sweet girl to stand up for herself...you are a great Mom my friend!

They do the "pulling on the eyes" to demonstrate my girls have different shaped eyes here. More adults than children? I will say in their favor...there are only Mexicans here...most have never seen an Asian person up close and personal:) The girls haven't noticed any of it yet...Praise God.

Annie said...

Oh TM! I admire your grace under fire! I know I would have been at a loss!!! Sigh!

Patricia/NYC said...

Wow...Tm, you handled this so well...but I have to agree with "The Byrd's Nest" above, I have an issue with the teacher as well. She is not a new teacher, correct?

Love the Tongginator's final comment in all of this too.

We had one similar incident last year in Kindergarten...not fun.

planetnomad said...

I'm glad you're at that school so much. Teachable moments indeed!
And, sad to say, racism is often learned at home. I may have already told these tales...if so, sorry. But I was a naive 19 y/o working day care, and I overheard a black kid call a white kid "white trash." The white kid responsed "N*gger." I dealt with it and talked to the kids, but I also knew the parents needed to know. In my innocence I assumed the parents would be as shocked as I was--I didn't stop to think where the 6 and 7 year olds were learning this. I told the white kid's dad and he started screaming racial insults at the black kid. I was shocked that it took me a couple of minutes to respond, and then I had to get the dad out of there. (This was after school and everyone else was gone) I apologized to the black kid and reported it to the school admin, and learned that the world was not such a rosy place as I had thought!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this- and specifically the words you use with otehr kids and your daughter. I agree that there are many ways to handle this- but reading your words is a good thought-starter for me. I thought about your post all night- what would I have sadi? How would I ahve handled it? Thanks for the inspiration.

~Adoptive Parent of 2 girls from China

Briana's Mom said...

I'm bracing myself for kindergarten. Bri hasn't come to me about anyone ever saying a racist comment to her in preschool, but I know it will happen one day. And I have a feeling it will happen next year. All I can do is brace...

Janet said...

Oh. I just don't know what to say. I hope and pray my kids are/will be more sensitive than this. We talk about it a lot. Especially lately, since we have been dealing with racism within MY OWN FAMILY. I never thought it would come to this, but my cousin has been posting horribly racist things on his FB page. I have taken him off, but it sure hurts to have someone who claims to love my children making horrible jokes about their race. I just don't know what to say. At a complete loss. I need to arm myself better than this.

Alyson and Ford said...

I love reading your "teachable moments", we learn, others learn. Thanks!

Alyzabeth's Mommy