parens binubus

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  • Thursday, June 08, 2006
    Thorny Things --- Kids and Race
    Last night I went to say goodnight to Thing One, and she had been waiting for me, with her finger holding a place in the book (magazine) she had been reading. She asked me to read this short story that she really liked. i was pleased - that she would read something moved her, and wanted to share. She said she had a friend at school who she also wanted to share it with.

    I read the story. It was about a freshman in high school who was ostricized by the other students because she was at a rich New York private prep school, and she was a scholarship student (one of three), and Black (one of one). She lived with her father, and the story takes place about 2 months after her mom left her father. The daughter had refused to go with the mom - the mom asked her to.

    The story overtly spoke of the girls feelings as the only Black student (her classmates were mean and horrible), and her feelings as a teenage (or almost) girl without a mom (her dad was kind of a non-presence).

    The friend that my daughter wanted to share the story with 1) is the only Black student in her class (but not her grade and by far not her school); and 2) lost her mother in a car accident some years ago.

    I know that my daughter had nothing but good feelings and thoughts when she wanted to share this story with her friend. But in order to have the thought that this friend of hers had so much in common with the main character of the story, and that she would like it for that very reason, to me, was problematic.

    I was lost about how to bring up inadvertant racism, and about how we need to keep in check the assumptions we make about people, their thoughts, their feelings, even their lives, based on the color of their skin. But I did bring it up - I believe slowly, delicately, and age-appropriately. Thing One threw up her walls soooo fast. Almost like she knew it was coming. She said, "Mom, if you don't want me to bring the book to school, I won't bring it, now can you stop talking to me about it?"

    I wonder if I should have skipped the talk? Let her learn from her own experiences? But the experience isn't only her own. Her friend at school may feel poorly as a result of my daughter's actions.

    I wonder how Thing One would feel, honestly, if someone said, "Hey, this story is about a white girl, so I think you'll really like it!" or more realistically, "oh, here's a book about a girl whose parents are divorced, i bet you'll love it."

    When i spoke to her about it - before she closed the conversation - she did bring up that she more was thinking of the loss of the mother as the reason to share the story with her friend. She was so quick to be defensive about the race component, I did wonder if she is more sensitive and careful than I thought.

    I'm not sure if I handled it right. I'm not sure if there was really something that needed to be "handled."

    Any thoughts?
    posted by Zuska @ 10:12 PM  
    • At Tuesday, June 13, 2006 3:08:00 PM, Anonymous Citations said…

      That's a tough, tough issue. I think it's a good idea to teach kids to think about how others might perceive what we say or do. On the other hand, it's easy to see why she thought her friend would like the article -- as we might be interested in stories about older students going to law school, etc.

      I think there comes a point where all we can do is make sure our hearts are in the right place, and our actions as considerate as they can be. No one can go through life in a thoughtful and active way without risking offending someone, somewhere. We should not be blithe about it, nor should we be paralyzed for fear of it.

      Your daughter, I think, might have been thoughtful and perceptive more than inadvertantly judging her friend. Our revulsion at the thought of racism doesn't mean it doesn't exist, and that some of us don't suffer from it -- and perhaps that is what your daughter saw? She may have thought that in her friend's place, she would have liked to read the article.

    • At Tuesday, June 13, 2006 10:23:00 PM, Blogger Zuska said…

      i definitely think that my daughter's heart was in the right place. no doubt about it in my mind. and i think that if i had the entire conversation with her, about how sometimes making assumptions based on a surface similarity can be offensive to someone whose identity is made up of so much more than a surface similarity - and she thought about that point of view, and decided to go along with her original plan to share the story with her friend, I would be 100% with her. The problem I came up against was how to present the concept without hitting a wall.

      and that is where i believe i failed.

      as it relates to stories about older women going to law school -- i don't want someone to look at me, see that i'm an "older woman going to law school" and therefore assume that I want to work part-time, or decide for me that their full time (and potentially consistent overtime) job is not for me, b/c after all, i'm an "older woman going to law school." Sure, I may want to find stories, but i don't want stories that may not apply to me, and my situation as it TRULY is, foisted upon me b/c of a surface identifier.

      I certainly wouldn't want her paralyzed for fear of offending someone - and I do think that's a real risk of being aware of the fact that sometimes our natural acts ARE offensive. I suppose it's that balance I'm struggling to strike.

    • At Thursday, June 15, 2006 5:48:00 PM, Anonymous Citations said…

      Yep. And just trying to strike that balance, I'm falling off the beam all the time.

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