Racial rumblings in elementary school.
It was an innocent question. But the reaction to, "Do you rap?" showed the question was not taken as intended. "Your a racist" He said as his blood boiled from the remark. The Indian boy with large brown eyes and mouth agape cried “No, I’m not.” "Yes you are!"
Logan, my 11 year old Black American son, hurt and offended, honed in “Just because I am black doesn’t mean I rap”. Flummoxed and worried “A”, the Indian boy said “I thought because you rapped the Hamilton theme in the talent show, you knew how to rap”. Locked into his fury Logan said “Then why didn’t you ask the white kids that were rapping with me if they know how to rap? You’re a racist”. Meekly, “A” explained, “I just wanted you to be in the talent show with me this year”.
Logan was too consumed by righteousness to see clearly and repeated “You’re a racist”. The other kids watching this escalated the situation by adding “You’re a racist”. Tears flowed from “A” as his classmates pounced. The teacher intervened and the boys, along with several other students, went into a restorative justice meeting.
Logan apologized. "A" apologized.
“Do you rap?” felt wrong to Logan. But after the restorative meeting he also felt embarrassed about reacting so quickly. The intensity of the experience was powerful and moved him to tears too.
When I heard about this I wasn’t surprised. I have openly talked to Logan about racism and stereotypes. He is proud of his black skin. I am grateful he can stand up for himself and calls out racism. Yet mixed in with this pride is the reality that I haven’t done enough. I realized he needs the language to communicate his feelings along with more life experience in reading a person.
My husband and I did some roleplaying with Logan and asked him the following questions. What was the tone of the boys voice? What was the expression on his face? Was he surprised when you called him a racist? How does he normally treat you? Slowly Logan’s face blossomed. This boy was trying to connect with him not offend him.
We agreed. Yes, be hurt, upset and express how you feel. There are endless implicit remarks and micro aggressions that happen to Black Americans or any person of color every day. Yes, correct the person and make sure they know how it is impacting you. But instead if immediately saying "Your a racist?"
“A” is a nice kid. Does he know this is offensive to me?
He doesn’t know this is offending me. “Hey “A”, I am offended by that question. Do you know that sounds like a racist remark? Asking a black person if they rap is stereotyping.“
“A” is from India. Logan’s world is small. He has no idea about the struggles people experience from India. The boy’s mother was surprised by Logan’s reaction and assured me that her family has dealt with plenty of racism. Her son wanted to be in the talent show with Logan. A charming “let’s play” request was slammed shut by an American boy’s black pride.
Logan is wiser from this experience. He learned that not only are Blacks, Mexicans, Asians and American Indians victims of racism but people from all around the world are also treated unfairly. It gave me an opportunity to teach Logan about the Indian culture and their struggles. It helped us fine tune how to read situations from a place of assuming the best and moving forward from there.
Conversations about racism are an ongoing experience. Talking to children about racism is ever relevant. We need to help our children navigate this maddening road of color strata. Kids need tools like roleplaying and open conversation to understand that what they say affects an outcome. Sharing life and culture from people of different races also cultivates empathy and understanding and even an opportunity to be in a talent show. What I love about the outcome of this story is that they have made amends and plan on performing together. Inspired once again to keep talking to parents about talking to their kids about race.