Prejudice at the Playground

Biracial girl

I just want to protect my children. I want to sweep away the evil forces in the world and raise them in a blissful bubble of peace, love and happy faces.

But today, I had the chance to stand up to a bigoted little girl, and I blew it. I couldn’t think straight. My fight-or-flight response said FLIGHT rather than fight. I guess that’s the product of growing up as a nice girl. The possibility of a confrontation with her caregiver didn’t even cross my mind until I was outta there.

Giovanna and I were at Playdate SEA, a new-ish indoor playground in Seattle’s South Lake Union Neighborhood, when a 4 or 5 year old girl started advertising for a playmate. Gigi wanted to play, but the girl ran away from her. Repeatedly. Gigi returned to the table where I sat, defeated and upset and confused as to why the girl wouldn’t play with her.

Then, the girl came out of the play structure and circled our table calling out, “I want a friend to play with WHO HAS BLONDE HAIR LIKE ME.” She did this several more times, repeating this phrase in different iterations, coming and going and lingering to make sure we heard her, while I cleared the table and put on our shoes and convinced my sweet girl it was time to leave.

I know it wasn’t just the blonde hair that the girl believed Gigi was missing, it was the white skin, too. Though I was grateful that this girl could not yet articulate this part of her desire, I wondered how long it would be until she could. I prayed that Gigi wouldn’t understood what was happening, but the look in her eyes told me otherwise. I got her out of there, but she wouldn’t stop talking about the girl.

I just wanted to play with her! I just wanted ___! Can we go back? 

I explained to her that not every girl is nice, and we don’t have to be friends with people who aren’t nice. What else was I supposed to say?

Why was she not not nice?

 I told her that some people are unhappy and so they try to make other people unhappy, too. I asked her if she was happy, and she nodded her head yes. Relief flooded my shaking heart.

I took her to a book store in search of a distraction. She couldn’t find it in herself to get out of the car, she could only talk about her lost friend. So I carried my girl down the block, all 32 pounds wrapped around my shoulders, and I reminded her how very loved she is. I entertained the idea of returning to the scene of the crime, but I knew it would only deepen the wound for my baby. We needed to get as far from the girl as possible.

I failed to confront the girl’s caregiver. I will never forgive myself. But I’m doing everything I know how to do in search of invisible redemption. I wrote an email to a sizable list serve of parents in Seattle, describing the event, searching for the girl’s parents, hoping against all odds that the right person will read it.

And now, I’m telling this story here. Because so many people, especially in the liberal city of Seattle, want to believe that racism is fading like newspapers and land lines. But this day is proof that there are children out there picking up strange ideals and spreading them like a disease.

Please don’t let your child be like the girl. Please celebrate diversity in your home and teach your children that the beauty of the human race lies in our differences. What would a rainbow be without the spectrum of colors?

If you have had a similar experience, I would love to hear about it, and your reaction. Post in the comments section or email me at lucy[at]lucilleinthesky[dot]com. Thank you.

Children of different races playing together

We have so many sweet friends.

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22 thoughts on “Prejudice at the Playground

  1. This is so sad, but you are doing so great by your girl teaching her all about love and it sounds like you did a great job of being honest about the situation while keeping your hurt and anger out of the conversation. Go momma, stay strong an dont beat yourself up, you are spreading a message of love and acceptance and that is invaluable. You are walking the walk and your girl may be young now, but you will surely be such a future source of inspiration to her.
    Bernard (ps sorry about the long message)

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  2. Luc,
    I’m so sorry you had to experience this. The greatest pain has to be that of a mother when her child is hurt- physically and even worse if their heart is hurt. Giovanna is very much an angel. I’m so glad she has a mother that is strong and wise and will lead her safely throughout life. She’s got to have that same strong spirit you have and that will aid her as life presents ugly situations like this one. I bet she’ll be a leader and people will look up to her because she knows who she is and wants others to have that same peace that comes from knowing… at least that’s what I think judging by who you are and the example you must be providing. Love you, Luc.

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    1. It is so true–“the greatest pain has to be that of a mother when her child is hurt.” Sometimes I think I might go crazy when Giovanna gets physically hurt or sick. I haven’t had as much experience with a hurt heart, and I know this will not be the last time. I have never been able to stop telling her that I love her a zillion times a day. Neither can I stop smothering her with affection. And as mothers, all we can hope is that this is enough! Love you, Minta. You’re an awesome friend 🙂

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  3. I can only imagine how painful it was for you to watch this scene unfold. However, please don’t assume that Mae is the child of ignorant, racist parents. My daughter once made a comment about not wanting to play with kids of another race – it floored me! And it made me realize that we needed to talk more openly about race in our home. It’s too bad you’ll never have the chance to share this article with Mae’s caregivers: http://www4.uwm.edu/letsci/africology/faculty/upload/children_colorblind.pdf

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    1. Thank you for your comment and for sharing this link. I recently attended a workshop about children and race so I am well aware that children are not color blind. The problem I had with this little girl was how she deliberately returned repeatedly to “rub it in” so to speak that she wouldn’t play with my daughter because of her appearance. There was something malicious in her voice, her face, her actions. I certainly did not assume that her parents are racist, but I do believe that they need to, like you said, talk to their daughter openly about race. Before she spreads this kind of hate to other children. I don’t believe her caregiver would have reacted negatively to my confrontation, I believe she would have thanked me. This is why I regret not doing it.

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  4. Lucy, I’m so sorry that this happened to you and your sweet girl. However, please don’t lose faith in Mae or other children. My mother told me that when I was about 4 I came to her crying that a person with brown skin touched me. I was afraid I would also turn brown and I didn’t get why they were different. That day my mother had a long talk with me and bought me my new favorite dolly (a black doll). After that I learned and loved. It wasn’t blatant racism, it was a lack of being exposed to people who didn’t look just like me, I didn’t know better at the time. Maybe Mae’s mother is not yet aware of her child’s ignorance and it’s only a matter of time before someone sheds light on the situation and Mae can be educated like my 4 year old self.

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    1. Thank you for your comment! What a nice story. And this is precisely why I regretted not confronting her caregiver. Because I believe it could have made a difference in this girl’s life. Since we were in central Seattle where you can find people of all colors, I would be surprised if this little girl hasn’t interacted with children of difference races. It is one thing to tell your mommy you are afraid of someone who looks different, and another thing to repeatedly tell the brown-skinned person that you don’t want to play with them. There was something malicious in her face, her words, her actions. I fully understand that she is a small child and not completely aware of the impact her actions had on others, and again, this is why I should have said something. Lesson learned on my part.

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  5. Just trying to be the Devil’s Advocate here but maybe the little girl just really wanted to play with someone with blonde hair. Kids say stupid things and make odd demands all the time, they’re kids. Just want to make sure we’re thinking about that before jumping to the conclusion that this 4 year old is a racist that didn’t like your beautiful little girls skin color.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it and I get what you are saying. If she had said it once and gone on her way, I wouldn’t have even left the playground. In fact, I would have doubted that she even understood what she said. It was the way she circled back again and again to “rub it in” that she wouldn’t play with my daughter because of her appearance. There was something malicious in her voice, her face and her actions that I cannot fully capture in a blog post. Like you said, kids say stupid things that adults find offensive all the time. A few years ago, my stepson very loudly asked me why the female checker at the grocery story had no hair, but I was present and I was able to speak to him about why we don’t comment on other people’s hair, or lack thereof. The caregiver in this situation was not present. She was sitting clear on the other side of the very large indoor play area, near the exit, reading a book. It is our responsibility to educate children on race, and this is why I told the story. I may have failed to notify the caregiver, but I can reach out to my online community and raise awareness about children and race. I tried not to jump to any conclusions, but the way this child treated another child (who was trying to be her friend, no less) was not something I could ignore.

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  6. Hi Lucy,

    It is so great that I read your blog today because I had an interesting conversation with my 5 yr old T Bear today. Honestly, we have never discussed race with him. We teach him all people are children of God and should be treated kindly. So today we were riding in the car, and he asked me “Mom, why do some people have darker skin?” Initially I wasn’t sure what he was talking about because this week we have done a lot of swimming and talking about sunscreen, tan lines, freckles, etc. Then he asked again, I figured out he was talking about natural skin colors related to race. My answer was simple and true. “Everyone is made differently, we may have different hair color, skin color, body size, etc, but we are all human and children of God. That is what makes us so interesting and special.” T Bear nodded in agreement and added, “Yeah, some people may have just one finger or one toe, but they are still people and we should be nice to them.”

    It was our first conversation directly about race, but I would like to believe that because we have tried to be kind and loving to every we meet and not discriminate for people’s differences that T Bear has never really noticed “race” before. I know he notices how people are different, I pray that will never stop him from being kind and loving.

    Unfortunately that little girl has not been taught in the same manner. And honestly that little Mae was probably not consciously being racist, but I do think she was being very unkind. And her way of being cruel was to point out differences in order make Gigi feel inferior. I do believe things like true kindness, charity, empathy have to be taught and modeled for children or they will never learn.

    Take heart that you are doing these things for Gigi and she will be better for it.

    With Love, Tenley

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  7. When I taught preschool, one of the little girls told me that she “couldn’t be friends” with another little girl, because her skin was dark. I took a deep breath, and asked her to hold out her arm. I put mine next to hers, and we looked at our skin, the pigment unique (although I am white no matter how you slice it) and had a moment of talking about skin colors and shades. And talking about people, who have skin of many colors and shades. It broke my heart to hear those words from her mouth. I know she heard them from someone else’s mouth (or learned them from the not-so-subtle racism so present in our society), and I doubt they were from her heart. It is our job to guide children, and I was blessed to be able to do it in that moment. It is often hard to know what to do, or if we are doing enough, but we do what we can in any given moment. Have compassion for yourself, too.

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  8. Thanks for sharing this, Lucy. I’m so sorry your daughter had to experience this, and I think the other commenters are right that it’s our duty as parents to have these conversations early and often. xox

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  9. What I love most is that you took her to a bookstore. A place where black and white words on paper have no race — they have style and class and courage and perseverance and humor and drama and mystery and expressions of boundless joy and struggles overcome and raft trips down the Mississippi River and epic battles with windmills and lost battles against tyrannical governments and the enslaved fight fight fighting for their freedoms.

    That’s precisely what the other kid needs, in my estimation. Knowledge cures ignorance, and you can rest easy knowing your daughter will never suffer such a thing.

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  10. This post broke my heart, in more ways than one. Racism is very much alive in this country, but you would think that dealing with such issues would take place among adults, in workplaces and the like, not in playgroups with three-year old children. My oldest daughter is at an age where she, too, recognizes differences but I’ve taught her to love all children just the same, and she does. So far, her requests, and sometimes, denials for friendships with children of different cultures has not brought out any blatant racism, but I always do worry with each request that it will. I worry that I will be faced with a similar situation as you and have to explain, think, fret over how to explain the unexplainable to my children…to myself as well. I know you’re beating up on yourself for not saying anything to the girl’s caregiver, but I think your response was understandable. You were shocked. In that moment, you just wanted to protect your baby. And you did just that. I think we can’t change how others raise their children, but we can change how we raise ours. We can’t stop racism in others, but we can teach our children what matters and that they are loved. You are doing your best. And that’s what matters. Hugs. xo.

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    1. There are a few bloggers I wish I lived closer to, and you are one of them! I’d love for our daughters to play together. Yes, I had to protect my baby in the moment. I didn’t want to draw any more attention to what had happened. I didn’t want her to see that I was dwelling on it too. So even though I say that I regret walking away, I’m also glad that I did. Kind of a strange but true paradox. Thank you for your comment, Jessica!

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  11. This is really sad, because I really can’t understand how come some children as young as 4-5 can discriminate.
    I love the conversation you had with Gigi, some people are unhappy and they want to ruin the happiness of others. Great words

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