“Mama, can I tell you what happened at recess today?” said my ten-year old daughter. She proceeded to tell me that as she sat on the soccer field at school with an African-American and a Latina friend, a group of boys walked passed them and started chanting, “Build the wall!”
Two weeks prior, an African American boy came up to me after school as the kids walked home through a nearby park. He asked me to help him confront a group of boys who were making fun of him and told him that he couldn’t play with them because he is Black.
“We’re scared of Mexicans in our house,” said one child to her classmate as they played.
“Some boys keep telling my son that he can’t play kickball at recess because he’s Black,” said one mother to me about her son’s experience.
“Some classmates told my African American daughter that she would be pretty if she straightened her natural hair,” said another mother to me.
In the last few weeks, local newspapers including the LA Times, reported that students at a high school football game were chanting “Build the wall,” to students of color on the field.
These are the experiences of many children of color as we navigate through today’s toxic political climate. As the rhetoric of some of our current leaders seeps into our homes and into the psyches of our impressionable children, this rhetoric is taken into schools where children of color are being subjected to its hateful vibe. As I witness, read, or hear these stories, I can’t help but wonder…at who’s feet do we lay the blame for dragging our most precious beings down into the hole of hate and racism?
I am not looking for someone to take my frustration out on. I am not seeking to point a finger simply for the sake of pointing a finger. I believe that to truly combat ignorance and hate, accountability and responsibility must first be taken and that is the step that I have noticed is missing when attempting to address and combat these issues.
The parents blame the schools and outside forces and the schools blame the parents and home.
The mother of one of the bullies in the park made her son apologize to the African American boy. She then turned to me and said, “He’s never heard or seen such things from us at home. He must be picking it up from kids at school.” According to some of the parents who shared the stories above, the overwhelming response from their children’s schools was that racism is not an issue in the schools and that the schools can’t control what kids are learning at home. In other words, the parents blame the schools and outside forces and the schools blame the parents and home. No one ever stops to think about how they are either directly or indirectly playing a role in indoctrinating racist ideology into these children.
When I talk to some parents about how race is addressed in their homes, they usually say something like, “We don’t talk about race because the color of someone’s skin is not important to us”. In their opinions, not talking about race makes it somehow non-existent. To them it sounds like a noble idea except for the fact that race does exist and with it also exists racism. To deny that is to deny reality and it also denies the pain of the people on the receiving end of racism, which is insensitive and uncaring at best. People of color do not have the luxury of pretending that racism doesn’t happen. We don’t get to live in a bubble that shields us and our children from the hate. That is a privilege only afforded to those who don’t have to be on the receiving end of racism.
When parents don’t openly and boldly declare that racism is wrong, children will adapt the beliefs of others who openly and boldly declare to them that it is right.
Also, children are not actually shielded from racism just because you refuse to acknowledge it. What your children don’t learn from you, they will learn from others. When parents don’t openly and boldly declare that racism is wrong, children will adapt the beliefs of others who openly and boldly declare to them that it is right. Therefore, the silence of parents on racism is actually not silence at all but a covert yet deafening acceptance of it.
As far as the schools denying that racial issues exist on the campuses, they are also giving permission for racial incidents to continue. As I mentioned before, a denial of racism does not make it non-existent. On the contrary, denying racism when it happens, only gives it power. When you don’t confront it and chop it down with a swift blow, it grows.
A swift blow would have been immediate discipline of the student perpetrators. A swift blow would have been immediate strong statements to both parents and students letting them know exactly what happened and that there is zero-tolerance for any racist behavior and language. A swift blow would have been immediate, honest, and compassionate outreach to the students on the receiving end of the hate to ensure them and their parents that the school is dedicated to their safety, comfort, and inclusion. A swift blow would have been meaningful action taken after the very first incident occurred and was reported. A swift blow would have been taking the time to ensure that the schools’ environments, staff, and curriculums reflect the diversity of the students and the world which we all inhabit.
I do not believe that the actions taken so far by the schools are swift blows to racism. I believe that they actually participated in perpetuating the racial problems by not addressing them boldly, swiftly, and strongly enough. I believe that their concern was more about not upsetting the status quo rather than about protecting the students of color from further racist incidents. It reminds me of MLK Jr’s quote which states, the “great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the white citizens councilor or the klu klux klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
But since these stories have been coming out and after hearing from many parents of many backgrounds about how they don’t want racist behaviors in their schools; after having seen some of the actions they are willing to take to combat it; and after hearing how one of the school principals has already scheduled to meet with parents and community leaders about how to better deal with these issues, I am cautiously optimistic that positive changes are on the horizon. I believe that like most of the country and the world, we are on the verge of an awakening process.
It’s an awakening process where we realize that fighting racism and hate is not just about fighting those in hoods and those marching with torches but also about confronting our friends, family, neighbors, and even ourselves about the inner biases we carry and pass on to our own children. For when we don’t confront and address these issues openly and honestly, we become the perpetrators of them.
– Shereen Rahming