Thursday, November 29, 2007

Inevitable Milestone

My dear sweet, Olivia, recently experienced a sad milestone. Olivia’s 8 and in the third grade and yesterday, while in school, she got into a discussion with one of her classmates about religion. The other little girl is Jewish and she and Olivia have been in the same class since kindergarten. During this discussion, the other little girl proclaimed that she didn’t believe in Olivia’s God, Olivia countered that there’s only one God, and then the little girl went on to say that not only didn’t she believe in Olivia’s God, but she didn’t like Black people either.

Now, most Black folks can vividly remember the first time they experienced an overtly racist moment and for Miss Olivia it was yesterday. As prepared, as I know Olivia was for this moment, it didn’t dampen the wave of sadness I felt as I realized the bloom in some respects is off the rose. There’s no way to get around it, a layer of Olivia’s childhood simply slipped away with this exchange.

When I asked Olivia how she felt about her classmate’s comment, Olivia said she thought the girl said what she did because she wanted to hurt Olivia’s feelings. Olivia didn’t seem to take it too personally, in fact, she thought it was sort of funny that this little girl could make such a general statement about not liking Black people, because from what Olivia’s observed, this young lady doesn’t seem to know too many Black people, so how does she have enough experience to declare that she doesn’t like any Black people?

After discussing the day’s events with Loverman, we agreed I should reach out to the little girl’s parents, especially since I’d developed a friendly rapport with her mother over the past four years. Hell, Olivia and the girl have even had a couple of play dates over the years, and despite the fact that Olivia seemed to have weathered this exchange unfazed, I wanted to let this mother know that her daughter had come to a place where she was feeling comfortable with voicing her budding prejudices. I’m also aware that these pronouncements come from somewhere; it may be in school or even at home. Maybe the parents need to check the racial overtones they may be unconsciously projecting.

The girl’s mom made a surprising admission when relayed her daughter’s comments. Over the past few weeks, she’s heard both her daughters make mildly racist statements. This alone is scary since her daughters’ ages are 9 and 7. She went on to lament that she and her husband didn’t know where these feelings were coming from and were at their wits end as to how to address it. I asked her if other than at school did she and her family have any contact with people that didn’t look like them? “Not very often,” she sighed. Well, for me, therein lies the problem.

When discussing this incident with my mom, she reminded me of some of my early racially motivated encounters. Throughout elementary and high school I was the only Black student in most of my classes. Nowadays, schools don’t want students distributing birthday invitations in class if every student isn’t being invited, but back in the days before political correctness, I was often excluded and rarely received an invitation as they were doled out among my classmates. My mom recounted the numerous times she told me she wasn’t paying the school’s tuition for me to be invited to birthday parties. I can’t remember when I stopped caring, but believe me; I don’t have many fond memories of my elementary or high school years.

Look people, it all boils down to breaking the cycle and when these precious creatures come into the world they don’t have preconceived ideas of black, white, green or yellow. They get those cues directly from the horse’s mouth. Let’s be mindful.


DMB said...

Wow. Having grown up in an all-black environment, I cannot relate to the experience. But I applaud your daughter's wisdom in assessing the situation! And how painful it must have been for you, as a mom, to hear such a thing from your daughter's lips--even if you reasoned it might happen eventually.

Wow. here's hoping your little girl continues to grow in wisdom and in her ability to sort out what's important to focus on and what (emotional and mental rubbish) is better left behind! Good for her for not letting the experience get to her!

jillybean said...

Mango Mama, the Spirit is moving with us tonight. We both recounted painful racial incidents that happened to our daughters. Our precious little girls. We both handled the situations differently, but I think the bottom line for both of us is that we have to continue to raise strong, proud, informed, kind intelligent Black little girls who know that they are Black. They are unique.

Please send my hugs to Olivia.

Barb said...

Mango Mama my heart squeezes with sadness for you and your baby. My little white girl, 4 years old said she was pretending to be an "Indian" yesterday. It sent me into a tizzy. I told her NEVER to use that word. After a 20 minute discussion about the racist start of this country and practicing the words Native American she hopped off and WILL never use the word again. Us white folks have a huge responsibility with our babes. We must be diligent and careful because white people in a racist society are racist, especially when they do nothing. We need to take action in order to not be racist. It means being with people that are different, having books and dolls that look different and parents that never let any prejudices slip by. Yes, Mango Mama we have to be VERY mindful.

Mayumi said...

oh wow. thank you for sharing this story.

being a person of mixed heritage, i am ALL for the mingling of cultures and races ... socially, romantically, maritally, etc.

kate said...

Firstly, the wisdom of your daughter astounds me. You and Loverman must be doing something very right in teaching her to be who she is.

Secondly, religion and race. Two very loaded subjects for young kids to be talking about. Unfortunately the one who made the most cutting statements might not have been able to verbalize what she was feeling so she just said something to end the conversation. (not a defense, I get that)

This experience could be a really great learning tool for everyone. Maybe the two families could get together and teach each other about tolerance.

Everyday Yogini said...

I am touched by the spacious response of you daughter. I am also touched by your passionate and very articulate assessment that we need to practice mindfulness with our children.

As my daughter grows, my deepest wish and aspiration is for her to be an openhearted, global citizen. Your post gives me ideas of how I might make that more of a reality for her.

Thank you.

I found your post through Melissa the Mouth's meme and I love it!

Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Mango Mama,

Thanks for sharing this. Unfortunately this is a lesson that most African American and other children of color learn eventually.

I think that the kids with a strong sense of self and family are able to handle it fairly well as your daughter has.

I think another result is that by the time kids are teens they have learned, from various sources, to associate with those that share their same ancestry.

Go to an elementary school and you will see kids of all so-called races playing together. Go to a high school and that's pretty much over.


Mango Mama said...

MDC, Unfortunately, you're so right on that last point and we need to find a way to counter this phenomenon. I can't believe we can't find a healthier way to talk about race in this country.

Thanks for stopping by.