Racism or bullying...
Or a bit of both?
Is racism really just a form of bullying? And when do words, or gestures, cross that line and become a form of racism? And is racism born from ignorance? Okay, last question....how do we prepare our children for either, or both?
I grew up in an Irish/Italian family where even though I didn't look exactly like my extended family I blended well enough. My neighborhood and friends were of the same color and ethnic background. I never dealt with racism as a child, or even young adult. It wasn't until I married that I first dealt with racism. Until a person hears my name-if they hear it- there is no way of them knowing my religion, and even then it's really just a guess. And yes it has happened when my name has been heard...that type of racism. But even so, my religion is my choice- something I can keep private if I choose. My children cannot keep their racial identities secret. It is written all over their faces.
I had allowed myself to believe, maybe falsely, that we lived in a bubble here in our town. We haven't (prior to a few weeks ago) been subjected to any comments about our family. Instead of hearing "Are those kids yours?" we hear things like "What beautiful children you have". Simone has not experienced any teasing in school. And her school is very multi-cultural which is one of the very things I like about it! Sure, when we travel, and in previous places we have lived, I've heard the inappropriate comments- never racist, just ignorant.
So as the story goes, this bubble I had thought was surrounding us burst recently and I am now left asking what more I need to do to prepare my children when it inevitably happens to them and they are old enough to understand.
I was with just Sammy when this happened and I'm glad that Simone was not present. Partly because it was the first time I've dealt with this regarding my children and their racial identity and partly because I'm not sure if I handled it in a way the way I really wanted to....in a way that truly showed my angst. I don't feel that I defended my child in the best way, and for that I am sorry.
So here is what happened:
I was with my Aunt, my close friend and Sammy at a Home Show at the convention center. We were walking around looking at the booths when I noticed a group of three teenagers that kept looking in our direction. Something was off, you know that feeling you get...but I didn't understand yet. I just happened to look back over when I saw the boy in the group "doing Chinese eyes" ...you know the gesture. And the girls looking back at us and laughing. Laughing. It was so weird, I couldn't grasp that they were doing this to us. My first feeling was anger, because I have Asian children, right. But then I realized they were making fun of my baby. A baby for crying out loud, and mine to boot! We were about 15 feet away and all I could do was say "Oh my gosh...are you kidding me" in the most incredulous voice I could muster.
I was dumbstruck and speechless, something again I am not proud of...I wish more than anything I had something so smart to say. When my friends heard my exclamation and I explained... well they were ready to confront the kids. But I didn't think that it would really solve anything, and I wasn't sure what we could say. If I confront them and get angry it just isn't showing Sammy the right way to handle this. And even though he is too young to understand, I try to look at each experience as practice for the next time for both my kids benefit and my own. Should I have confronted the parents? Again, what would I say? I was really in a state of disbelief and by the time I had regained my brain and thought it through- the kids were gone.
Okay, maybe this "incident" was minor, but it still was offensive to me and hurt to see that my children will deal with things like this. It was painful to experience, I really felt like it was done to me, maybe because it was done to a baby, an adorable little innocent baby! MY baby...
And naturally when I got home I used this experience to have a talk with Simone. Stumbling across my words I relayed the story and told her how it made me feel. I asked how she felt and she said that was too bad they were bullies. I said "why do you say they are bullies, what makes them a bully?" She explained to me that when you pick on a person because of how they look or something about them that they can't change it's being a bully and it is not nice. I asked her what I could have said to them. She told me to use my "I's", as in "I feel very sad when you pick on me (or my baby) because of how he looks. You are not being nice and I do not like it". And then she explained "It's much better to use your I's than your hands, Mom. It wouldn't have been okay to hit them". Ahhh, good to know....
We talked some more, but I'm not sure of how much she understands. I am very glad to know her school works on bullying tactics and that obviously she gets it on some level. But when it is aimed at her, what will she do, how will she react? Will she have the skills at hand to handle it the right way? And what is the right way? I know with her, and Sammy, I have a lot of preparing and role playing to do in the future. I have plenty of "adoption" books on our shelves, but I've realized I need to expand into deeper context. And I need to educate myself much more.
So my question to all my bloggy world friends...what would you have done or said? Has this happened to you, and how did you handle it?
I’d love to hear any comments and suggestions or stories you might have!
Until next time,