18
Apr
10

Racism: Is it? Or isn’t it?

The last week has been a rough one for me. Our family is expecting major changes to occur, and the waiting is wearing us all down. So honestly, I’m probably a bit on edge anyway. But Thursday I was in tears over what I perceived to be racist responses to my son. Let me preface this by saying that just about any organized class or activity we do, J is the only child of color there. That’s the case with our zoo class.

It started a week ago actually with some odd responses by a mom in our preschool zoo class, but I didn’t really think much of it. A week later her feelings were hard to miss. The first comment came just as J sat down after gathering up a few plastic animals the teacher puts out for the kids to play with. No one was playing with these toys or even standing near them at the time, so J rounded up about 15 for himself. “Oh, holy moly,” this mom said loudly.

OK, you’re thinking that’s not racist and you’re right. But when another child–a white child–came in a few minutes later and sat down in the seat her daughter had been sitting in and began playing with the little animals she had lined up, the mom’s response was “Oh, it’s OK, my daughter keeps moving around so don’t worry about sitting there.”

Later the kids were coloring a tube that would hold otter treats, and while J and another girl were each coloring one end of a tube. The kids were crowded together and this woman’s daughter, whom last week she mentioned didn’t like or do well with crowds, didn’t have a place to sit and color. Another mom encouraged our kids to scoot back and make room for this little girl in the middle, which they did, but the girl refused to scoot in. Instead of encouraging the girl to participate, the mom who was standing right next to me, said “I know honey, some people should teach their kids to share.”

As the kids visited the otters, the comments continued. If my son even brushed her daughter as they walked, he was being “impolite” while other children could seemingly run the little girl over and no apologies were necessary. She never said anything directly to me or J but made sure she was standing right next to me or looking at me when she made her commentary.

By the end of class I was fuming, but unsure of what to do. What I wanted to do was go up to her and tell her that if she had a problem with me or my son that she should tell me directly. But I chickened out. I tried to let go of my anger and continue our zoo visit.

After lunch we saw several animals and played, but the incident continued to weigh on me. Then back at the otters J began playing with another little girl who appeared to be there with her mom and two other families, all white. I saw that they were playing tag, poking each other to make the other one it. The little girl’s mom saw the poking and seemed to get angry. Then the little girl tagged J and they took off after each other. Then the mom seemed willing to let it go until all of the kids crowded by the glass together, and a little pushing took place as they jockeyed for position. While all of the kids were pushing some, it wasn’t until J pushed one of their kids that the reprimands started, “Hey, no pushing up there.” That’s when I lost it and we left the zoo for the day.

Again, I know maybe it was nothing. And maybe without the comments from the lady in our class, I would have thought nothing of it. But it seems that more and more if there’s “trouble” (pushing, acting up, etc.) the parents see my son as the instigator, especially if he’s the only child of color there. J is far from perfect, I assure you I’m not under such a delusion. But more often than not, he’s the follower not the leader. And regardless, these kids are 3 and 4 so you have to expect that they aren’t always going to share, be impolite, or act they way we want them to.

Once we were in the car, I explained to J that I thought the little girl’s mom thought he was being mean when he was poking the daughter. And I said that some people will think the worst of us because of how we look or because we don’t look like them. I truly believed that’s what happened. I think if a white child had been in J’s place the first assumption wouldn’t have been that he was being mean; that the mom would have taken more time to see what was really going on.

I think that’s the hard part of racism today–it’s so subtle. How someone treats a person of color could be racism or it could be that they’re having a bad day all around. I know I can’t hide from racial issues, but I don’t want to automatically assume an incident is about race either.

That’s why I try to look at the whole situation. I would be less likely to think the mother in our zoo class had racist attitudes if she’d made comments about the white children who displayed the same actions as J. But since the comments were only directed at what he was doing and said in my direction, I assume that racism was playing a part in it.

The whole thing makes me so sad. I’m thankful that I’m educated about race and have an understanding of racism in America. But I’m seeing that I’m not completely equipped to deal with racial issues. These instances are showing me the importance of same race mentors who can use their experience to help our son navigate these experiences when they arise. And we’re working on that.

In the meantime, I think I’ll read Does Anybody Else Look Like Me?by Donna Jackson Nakazawa again. Her talking points and sample conversations start with 4-year-olds so I know it’s a great resource for me to be using right now. Better to be armed for the battle, then left unprotected when the arrows begin to fly.


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