Sunday, February 17, 2013

Stereotypes and Race: Three Times This Month

The everydayness of stereotypes and racism happened in three's this month.

The first thing that happened:  Misa was called a "Brown ugly girl with a mustache."  So heartbreaking for me to hear as she described her day casually, mentioning this incident in her usual stoic manner, wanting to remain distant so as not to let on that it was harmful.  I knew when she brought it up a few more times that evening that her angst was building.  So on the last mention, I scooped her up in my arms because her feelings seemed just too faraway, and as she settled in, I was met with a well of tears that perhaps helped her say, "It really hurt my feelings."  She went through a painful litany of how to solve the problem - everything from putting on the foundation make-up she uses for her theater performances to wanting to avoid the kids who deflated her, to sucking it up and forgetting about it.  Needing to give this the proper attention, but not wanting to dwell, I swallowed the lump in my throat and coached her through tough and hurtful interactions like these.  We role played a few times, and then when she returned to her spunky self, I asked what she wanted me to do to help heal the situation.

"Maybe you can email my teacher and my principal and tell them it hurts when I'm teased for things I can't help."

Things Misa can't help:  Brown.  Girl.  Mustache (which is really just facial hair above her upper lip, and happens to be dark . . . because well, she's Brown).

The second thing that happened:  Our neighbor, a super friendly guy who always goes out of his way to ask about Emma, Misa and John-Pio made this comment while riding in the elevator to our prospective floors:  "We (he has a super friendly wife, too) notice that your kids play with other kids who are so diverse and we just think that's wonderful to see!"

Translation:  "Diverse" as in their two best friends who are BLACK.  "How wonderful to see" as in, how nice of you to befriend them.

And the third thing that happened just today: This came up on my News Feed from one of my Facebook friends:

Wish my downstair neighbors would STFU!!!! Im about thiiiis close to calling the landlord and letting him know the family of mexicans below me are way over occupancy. Ive had enough screaming and wall hitting to last a lifetime.

So.  If they were a family of white people, would he have noted that?  Because of his experience right then and there, is he somehow absolved from publicly raging a racist remark describing screaming and wall hitting Mexicans, as if that is an integral behavior of Mexican culture?

I point out these everyday acts of stereotypes and racism not out of hyper-awareness, but because they help me understand my own racism and tendencies towards stereotypes.  Whether I act on them or just think them to myself, I have them.  Bringing these acts to a conscious level is one way to face that while being in ambiguous situations like the ones above can be painful and annoying both, there just might be a chance of systemic change even if they are isolated events.  For the sake of Misa and other young people who are directly confronted with confusing and hurtful acts of racism, I believe it's worthwhile to continue to bring these experiences to the forefront - not to encourage anger or victimization, but to empower and reframe.


  1. I enjoyed this immensely. Thank you.

  2. This was a very thought-provoking post. And I'm so sorry about Misa's experience. It makes me wonder what is happening in the minds of the kids at my children's school, and how I can talk with my kids about this sort of thing.

    1. Thanks, Amy. My only experience is to be up-front with kids about stereotypes, prejudism, racism and all things discriminatory, and to do it both incidentally and purposefully. Kids get it more than we think. I am constantly impressed with my middle school students, who come to me somewhat aware, and then grow into being strongly affected by discriminatory acts. Which is why I love teaching these kids, not to mention the fact that when I'm at Sherman Middle School, I feel it represents the best kind of diversity around.