Sunday, February 22, 2009

How Kids Learn Racism

So, this morning, the kids were happily playing together, which is always a bonus. But then I realized that they were talking about how the "Mexican Guy" was coming to get them. Yes. Their bad guy was "Mexican Guy." Now, I'm sure they don't even really know what that means, but, of course, I had to stop them. I also asked where they got that game, and my son said he got it from a certain friend at school, and based on my knowledge of that kid, I'm not a bit surprised. (And that's not a stereotype; that's my knowledge of that individual kid, who is a certified stinker.)

So, then I began to try to explain why their game was inappropriate and why they couldn't play it anymore, why they needed a different bad guy (e.g., Darth Vader, Pink Panther's cartoon nemesis, whatever). I found it very hard to explain to little kids why they can't talk about "Mexican Guy."

I don't know if they understood what I was saying. They cried because they felt bad. They cried and asked if they needed a timeout. They cried because I had buzz killed their game. I didn't yell at them, mind you, and I told them it was okay. They hadn't known it was bad. But they still acted as if their spirits were a bit crushed.

But, of course, it had to be done. I just have no idea if I explained it well, and it made me wonder how I will continue to deal with those kind of things as they pop up in the future.


Ink said...

It sounds like you took steps to make them aware of the issue, and that's very admirable!

As with all types of parental instruction, we just have to trust that over time and with repetition, it will sink in, right?

Contemporary Troubadour said...

Their reaction was so contrite! That *is* hard to explain to kids. Fortunately, you were able to do it at home and not have to intervene in the middle of more public play ... not that what uninformed total strangers think should matter, of course. It's just a lot harder to say important things well when other people are watching you intently to see if you'll screw it up. I had to deal with racism in my classroom of seventh graders in the Bronx, and it was no easy topic to help them navigate -- especially under the eyes of school administrators.

baxie said...

apropos comment overheard on the sidewalk about 10 seconds ago:

"Well, she's half Mexican...but you would NEVER, EVER know to look at her!"

(original emphasis preserved)

Petunia Face said...

Oy. The other day we were at J Crew NOT shopping when the saleslady said something to Zoey. Instead of answering her, Zoey looked at me and said "Mommy, her face is black." And I wanted to die right there amid racks of lemon colored polos. I don't even think I said anything really, not my finest moment. I smiled at the saleswoman and got us the hell out of there.

Tonight for some reason Zoey brought it up again and alone in our living room I was calm enough to explain that some people have black skin, some people have white skin, and others have all the tans and ivories in between.

Oy. It's funny that at two she sees the difference and brings it up as a point of fact, no judgment. It's us, the adults, that get all rattled and freaked out. How wonderful if we could all have the innocent perception of children.