Wednesday, March 10, 2010

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 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 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" 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,


Mark & Kris said...

This just broke my heart. I am sorry you had to deal with this. I'm not sure how I would have handled it. Probably not much different from you. I think it probably is best to ignore if the child is not aware of the racism. Had Simone been there and seen it, well, that is a different issue. You would want her to know you will always stand by and defend her, but yet, starting an agrument probaly wouldn't be good either. I just don't know. I will be interested to hear the advice you get. I hate we even have to deal with this. Simone seems like a very wise little girl.

Lisa said...

Oh no! It hurts to read this and I hate that you encountered this kind of cruelty.

I too wonder if I am doing enough and giving my children all the necessary tools for facing racism & discrimination. It breaks my heart to think that this type of "incident" has almost become a dreaded(or expected) milestone for our sweet children of Asian descent ~ by this I mean the "chinese eyes" taunt.

Last summer a friend approached Lauren at the pool and inquired about Tyler's eyes....he wondered (innocently) why his eyes were so different from his and Lauren's.

Lauren responded that his eyes were just right for him, as that was how God had made him. *sniffle*

When he pressed a bit harder and expressed that she and her brother looked nothing alike, she correctly pointed out that he too looked nothing like his brother. LOL To which he shrugged, said, "yeah, that's right" and then they went on to play.

Meanwhile I had been hovering nearby, almost breathless, ready to jump in if needed.....

Later that day I had a chat with her about it and she confided that she felt it was important to protect Tyler and puzzling to her that someone would question their sibling status. It just about broke my heart ~ yet I was so proud of the way she handled herself!

But a part of me knows there will be harder moments.....moments with less clarity or easy answers. Moments that I(or they) will be tested and that will test our patience and tolerance.

I can tell you that I think Simone already has a solid foundation and understands the importance of using her words. I loved her responses. Such a smart girl!

I also love(and respect) that you used this as a teachable moment and allowed her ownership in how it might be handled should it happen again. She is now armed with a response and the tools to address it, should it happen in her presence next time. She too will be a stellar role model for baby Sam!

Jen, I just recently bought the book "Chinese Eyes" and while it doesn't specifically target racism, it does open the dialogue for embracing and celebrating diversity. It might be a nice bridge to starting this complicated discussion in a non threatening way. Or at least I'm hoping it does.

I also think this very topic might be featured in this month's Adoptive Families magazine. My subscription just ran out but I believe I saw something about it! That might be another good resource!

And too, I think you handled it as best you could....I would have been just as upset and speechless......the important thing is that you used it afterwards as a catalyst for examining your own feelings on the subject AND empowering your kiddos!

You are a wonderful Mama!!
Hugs! Sorry for the novel here...

babycrockett2010 said...

Jennifer it is so sad that people judge so much on looks, race and their perception of what they see. When I first started my daycare I began with three babies, a Caucasian, African American and a Puerto Rican.... all of them within weeks of each others age. I was out with them on a walk and some teenage boys pulled up and called me a "whore" I was crushed... and realized how ignorant they were, but words, actions and motions hurt no matter how old you are. You little ones are lucky that you are so aware of the problems they may face so they will be as prepared as possible to handle them. I think you do a great job!


Heather Robinson said...

Don't you hate it when you think of what to say but the person is gone or the moment has passed?!?

I probably would not have handled this well. In my mind I would want to march over look directly into their eyes with an I-see-you and I-heard-you kind of message. Some eyeball to eyeball accountability.

Not sure what I would have done if it was me. I feel for you, though. I worry about all the ways I want to protect my kids but can't.

Sorry that happened to you, but at least (like you said) Simone wasn't there and you get a chance to talk with her about it and decide what you will do if it happens again. Here's hoping it doesn't!

Gisele Schoene said...

I am so sorry to hear this. I think you are doing a great job with your kids to prepare them to handle bullies, you know they are everywhere and they pick on kids not only because the way they look, but the way they talk or dress. Nothing you had done would have changed the bullies, but you can prepare your kids. I am also glad the school has guidance, I know one Gabriel's class see and I love her.

mimifrancoise said...

My oldest granddaughter had to deal with "Chinese eyes" at school. She handled it well because her mother had talked to both her Chinese daughters about racial teasing and bullying. You can read of her conversations with the girls at:
My granddaughters are 6 and 9 and the joy in my life.
Your children are beautiful.