Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Rebel crosses the line: is she a racist?

This story is painful to tell. I'm almost embarassed that it actually went down.

But i am going to share it with you all, in hopes of finding some way to deal with it. I've told you before that the name of this blog is "Raising a Revolutionary" because i seem to have produced the most rebellious little angel the world could know.

But most of the time, i think all of her rebellion is really just some big attention-getting scheme.

We were in the car at the airport yesterday, just her and me. She was about to fly off for three weeks with her grandparents, and we were spending a few moments together alone. A lady was loading a baby with cute pink fingernails, coffee-colored skin, and a tuft of sweet baby fluff into a car next to where we parked. I said something like, "look at that cute little baby over there," to my rebelangel. She sighed, and with a mischievious look, responded "I don't like brown people."

O. My. God.

A few weeks ago we talked about Dr. King and how he helped make sure all kids could go to school together.

A few weeks before that she'd been at the birthday party of one of her favorite friends, who is a lovely shade of caffe-con-leche.

And one of her favorite things to do is enjoy a clandestine bowl of ice cream with one of my favorite friends' husbands -- who is a shade of tawny brown.

During that talk about Dr. King i called them "brown people" because i don't like the term "black" to describe someone who really is not "black" at all. So here she was, parrotting my term and twisting it around, knowing full well it would piss me off.

So should i let it? Or should i just know that it was something she said to get a rise out of me, and i should just let it go?

In my dismay, i told her harshly that that is not the way we talk about people, just because they are different. I tried to explain that how would she feel if someone didn't like her, just because she has yellow hair and blue eyes. And i reminded her of all her brown friends, who would be sad if they heard her say such things. (This reminds me of my radio show with Damali Ayo, an activist who speaks out against the concept of having the "token black friend." Perhaps pointing out who our dark-skinned friends are is in this category, but it's also teaching a humanizing lesson in this case...)

She got a little choked up when i mentioned her favorite friend and her favorite ice cream conspirator. So i hope the admonishment hit home.

Like i said, i think she acts the rebel part just to get a rise out of me. This time, it really worked. But i hope she walked away knowing that somethings are just not ok to be a rebel about. I can handle the fact that she's a lifelong vegetarian who is curious about meat. I can handle that she likes Hannah Montana shirts over the organic cotton one i bought her. But this is too much, and i hope she gets that.


GaBrilla Ballard said...

Thanks for being brave enough to post this. I think that part of dismantling racism is being brave enough to address it with your daughter in a way that is non-judgmental. I had a similar experience with my son, except, he was on the receiving end. I think I was more affected by the comment the little girl made than he was. But since he's 3, I may never know unless he tells me.

There's a book that I read about raising children to be peacemakers that may be helpful, " Starting out right: Nurturing Children as Peacemakers" I read a section in the book that directly addressed issues regarding difference.

There's so much I could say, that can not fit in one, two or one hundred comment bars, Just know that your willingness to address this with your daughter will have a lasting affect.

May this find you well,

by Nicole Vulcan said...

Thanks for the positive comments, GaBrilla! All i know is, these sort of lessons HAVE to come at a very young age, because obviously kids are not necessarily born with the notion that differences are a positive thing.

incalculable said...

I'd have done pretty much the same thing too. I'm a bit tough-love with my kids when it comes to stuff like this (although, yes, nurturing is important - sometimes coming down hard it too). So my guys understand pretty well the legacy of damages brought about by the centuries of colonialism, racism and patriarchy that have shaped our world (although we use simpler terms in our discussions), and where they stand in all of that (ie, with significant amount of power and responsibility). Sounds like your little rebel really knows how to push the buttons, although I suspect she's testing out what all this stuff really means....

by Nicole Vulcan said...

yeah, she was pretty shaken up when she saw my reaction. i think she knew she had gone too far. i think the tough love really worked in this case.

sascha matuszak said...

I know indie well and yes she absolutely wanted to anger you because she does this with everything that is important to you.

when i was a kid i said Patrick Ewing looked like a gorilla and my dad tore me a new asshole when i said it. it helped me realize the right side of the war between my mind and the tentacles of our society.

with indie i (as you know) always prescribe tough love. if she wants to anger you, teach her the old "watch what you wish for" adage

by Nicole Vulcan said...

O, Scratch...

You always paint your father as this hardass, but maybe it was just that you, like the rebelangel, were trying to push his buttons all the time so he had to.

But i don't want to be a hardass...

Anonymous said...

I know how you feel and the reason that sometimes harsh reactions can't be helped. I had a similar reaction with my nephews talking about queer people. I usually handle conversations pretty evenly keeled, but this just drove me over the edge...a little bit. I think you are doing a fantastic job and sometimes kids need a little dose of reality.

Anonymous said...

What a smart daughter you have. You could learn one thing or two with her.