family, politics

Ice Cream and The N Word


It wasn’t until I became the mother of brown children that I truly saw the racism in this world. I mean, yeah, I’m against racism, I don’t tolerate racial jokes at social events, I support diversity, I support #BlackLivesMatter.  But did I ever really know racism? Did I feel it on a personal level? As a white woman, probably not.

My son was berated as an “N-word” at camp this week. Some of the kids have been asking him if he is Mexican and if he is here “legally.” Carl is much darker than I am so sometimes kids ask “how he came out like that.” This kind of ignorance permeates our society today. I have no problem gently educating people that our nation is made up of all kind of different people. Some children are born into families and some are adopted. Not all Mexicans are “illegals” and not all Hispanics are Mexican. Yada yada yada. At this point I realize my lip service is doing nothing whatsoever.

Carl was thrown up against a metal fence and choked at camp on Tuesday. His head was pushed back over the back of a metal fence by a 12-year-old boy named T. And this boy screamed at Carl for being a “N–!” Why? As it turns out Carl had bested him earlier during a sporting event. The camp staff intervened immediately and the rest of the day was spent trying to contain T (who turned on them) while waiting for his mother to pick him up.

I honestly expected the boy’s mother to address the actions of her son. I expected that she would reprimand the boy, educate him, give him consequences and ultiuhave him apologize for his actions. I thought this because I am naive. I am white. This has been my experience so far and in my naivety I expected the same.

Instead, the woman yelled at the camp counselors. According to the other campers she later came back and screamed at the staff some more. This baffles me. There is video of the incident. Clearly her son did something wrong.

Only, according to her this action was justified. Because my little boy is brown. She proudly wears neo-nazi white supremacist emblems on her jacket. She decided not to put her children in Lacrosse last season because my Hispanic husband was the coach. So I guess a bit of strangulation means nothing to her, so long as the victim is a child of color.

I went to the police in town. Of course I did. The state trooper was busy heading out for a narcotics raid. He gave me the email of our local officer instead. Then he gave my son a certificate for free ice cream. So I dutifully sent an email describing the incident, whom to speak with at the program (staff witnesses) etc. I simply asked that the T be spoken to about hate crimes and their repercussions. I thought education was the way to go before this boy became a hate-filled teenager. It seemed reasonable to me. That was on Tuesday. On Thursday I re-sent the email “just in case.”

I was naive again. Almost 2 weeks ago I left my cell phone in a cab. The driver attempted to steal it by stating everything in the cab belonged to him. An officer was at my house in 10 minutes and went to retrieve the phone for me. I baked him a pie, I was so happy he went out of his way for me.

Today is Sunday. It is the Sunday following horrible atrocities committed in Charlottesville VA, in the name of white supremacy.  Have I heard anything from the police about the incident with my son? What do you think?

But I suppose we should be happy with his ice cream.

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

 

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politics

A “Good” American?

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There is one peach color among all of the crayons. I’m at school working with some students on coloring a picture of a boy. There are at least 6 shades of brown, tan, and something called “coffee grounds” in front of my student. She looks perplexed.

Me: “Honey, why don’t you use one of these to color in your boy?”

Student “But I’m coloring an American”

Me: “You can still use another color. Americans come in all different colors.”

Student: (looking confused) “But I’m drawing a good American.”

What?! My jaw hangs open while I try to gain some composure. I explain to her that good American people come in many colors. I ask if she thinks that Hispanic people or African American people are not “good” somehow.  I’m not just a teacher. I’m a mom. I am the adoptive white mom of Hispanic children.
Is she racist 8-year-old? I don’t think so. This is obviously an interpretation she has garnered from what is being said around her. We, as adults, must be careful with the message we are sending our youth.

Maybe it isn’t outright racist comments. Maybe she’s hearing the “Black Lives Matter” movement retorted with “All Lives Matter.” You can justify this to yourself, but a child will see the truth. A child sees it as a denouncement of black lives actually mattering. I’m sure there’s more. In a culture that professes anxiety about the growing number of hispanics, or “dangerous immigrants” in our country, what message are we really sending to our kids? Is she hearing concerns about American Muslims? Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things.

Children are concrete thinkers. They hear the truth behind rhetoric couched in “nationalist” terms. They hear the fear mongering about people of darker skin colors. They hear presidential candidates who want us to fear what is different, what is “other.” Being afraid of differences is harming our culture in so many ways.

As the mother of brown children, I worry. “No,” I tell my Puerto Rican son, “You can’t have the toy gun. Choose another toy.” Is it because I’m anti-gun? Because I don’t want children to play hunting games or Wild West adventures? No. It’s because my son is a darker skinned Hispanic boy. I’m afraid that somehow, somewhere outside of our small town, an officer might mistake his toy for the real thing. I won’t take any chances with him.

My husband and I spend extra time with our kids discussing how to speak to an officer. How to be respectful of the police if they ever stop you. How to explain every physical movement before you make it.  How to avoid being shot. We do this, not because we think police are all bad, but because we are afraid. So we practice. Just in case.

My husband is a paramedic in our town. Everyone knows everyone else here. It’s a wonderful community and we feel safe. When I get pulled over I feel safe. I chat with the officer freely and never think twice about reaching into the glove box. I’m not sure if that’s due to the safety of our little town or the privilege of my white skin. Either way, I want this safe feeling for my kids.

Will our children be subject to discriminatory “stop-and-frisk” policing? Will they grow up to face unfair voter laws which smack of Jim Crow laws to me? I’m not asking about my kids. I’m asking about all of our “good” American children.

Every time I hear rhetoric about “dangerous” Mexicans I get worried. I can’t help it. A country afraid of its brown people isn’t a country that I want my kids to grow up in. I can’t understand the things they might face. The preconceived notions or subtle racism they will experience. I can’t understand it because I’ve never experienced it. It is lucky that I’m raising children with a Hispanic husband. He will understand in ways I may never fully grasp. I’m a product of the white privilege I didn’t even realize I grew up with.

It brings me back to thinking about America. What makes a “good” American? Think about it. Is it hard work? Patriotism?  What about simply being “good” to others? I believe our country is stronger for its diversity.

No matter what side of the political fence you’re on, please be careful. You’re children are listening when you speak. A good American comes in many colors. A good American sees the good in others. A truly good American cares for all of the citizens in our country.

Are you a “good” American? Either way, you’re children are listening.

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