Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Would You Do? *Edited

Bad day at the park today. Here is what happened:

I took Micah to the park this afternoon. He is walking much better now so I figured it would be fun for him to walk around and swing and slide. It was a beautiful day so the playground was pretty busy but we were having a great time. I was helping him up the stairs to the slide when I saw two little girls on the landing at the top of the slide. They were about 5 years old and were playing and laughing. I saw them, they saw us coming (saw my sweet baby taking big steps up the playground steps for the first time), and this is what I heard...

"Run! Run away from the brown skinned kid!"

HUH? I honestly stood there and looked down at Micah and felt tears coming. A five year old at the park was going to make me cry. I scrambled us both up the stairs, searching my mind for something grown-up to say instead of yelling, "Hey! That's not nice!" like I wanted to. The two girls slid down the slide, stood up and then, and then, she yelled it again! "Run! Run away from the brown skinned kid!"

I watched them from the top of the slide run to the swings. I waited for a parent to come around. Should I tell the parent what the child had said? No parent showed up so I took Micah for a drink of water and called Kevin who warned me not to start a fight with a 5 year old at the park. :)

When we went back to play, the little girl was gone. No parent to talk to even if I had decided it was a good idea.

So here are my questions - What would you say to that little girl? Nothing? Anything? Would you talk to her parents? I would want to know if my son said something like that on the playground, but maybe that's because I care. I was totally unprepared for today. You think you're prepared, and then it happens and you realize you're not. How do I help Micah prepare for it? What if he had been old enough to understand? How would I have answered his questions?

*First, thank you all so much for the feedback! It is great hearing your thoughts on this (and I'd love to hear more too!) I've also had some good feedback through email with a couple of families. Some have pointed out that perhaps she was saying it in the same way as, "Run away from the girl with the red hair," or, "Run away from the boy with the blue shirt." I agree that this young girl wasn't completely aware of what she was saying, and perhaps she only meant it in the way that, well, Micah is brown. However, running away from a child at the park because of the color of their shirt, their hair or their skin is still mean-spirited. So, in that sense, I really wish I had said something to her - just to point out that it isn't nice. Would it have mattered? Would she have understood? I'm not sure.

Here's the good part of the story! Today we went to a different park because I had to go to Trader Joe's and this one is down the street from TJ's. As we were packing up our stuff Micah toddled over to two women having lunch - one African American and one Caucasian. They asked if I was his Mom. Yes. Did you adopt him or are you his Mom? Yes, he was adopted and I'm his Mom. At this point I'm a little nervous about the conversation, but then both women start talking about how wonderful adoption is and the Caucasian woman tells me that she was adopted at four years old.

So, I sat with them for almost an hour (while Micah flirted with one of the little girls with them - seriously followed her around and hugged her) and had a great talk about race and adoption. These women were Grandmas so they had a lot of wisdom and experience and I ate it up. I told them about the park and they were both upset by it too. The African American woman talked to me about raising Micah up - always boosting his self esteem so that no one can bring him down. Basically, it was a pretty great conversation and I have to think that God had a little bit to do with me being there to feel some warmth and positive energy. I feel better about yesterday after talking to them and the women told me when they'll be at this particular park so I plan to go back and see them again. And then Micah can see his new older girlfriend again too. :)


  1. I too am sorry that you had this experience today. Unfortunately, this won't be the last for you or any of us. We can only use these experiences to learn from one another. I am sure I would have wanted to fight a 5 year old but would have probably just told her that her words weren't nice. I might have found her mother too and said something...the big problem there is that this child learned this from someone and that could have opened up a whole other set of issues. I am going to watch this post to see what others would do...I am glad you posted about this, like I said, we can learn from one another.

  2. Oh- my heart is broken over that comment! It hurts to think that a couple of 5 year olds already think that way! My son is almost 5 and I don't think he's ever even really considered that his little sister looks different than he does. But, I too probably would have almost cried and then been frozen in what to say. Just this past Sunday, we were at the park for Father's Day and a girl, maybe 7 or 8, looked at me, then my son, and then my little girl and asked me if I was babysitting or if that was my daughter!!! It's sad, but reality is-- the kids that say these things are learning it from adults. YUCK!!

    Not much advice on my part.... just shocked that actually happened to you and cutie pie Micah!


  3. So far we have only had two off comments, both from smaller children saying "Your their Mom?" in a slightly aggressive way that irritated me and ticked me off that the girls heard someone ask something. To maybe, maybe put something in prospective..when I was about 8, I called an African American boy "Buster Brown" during a school yard argument...which resulted in a big to-do and a spell in the principles office. I absolutely remember that this had nothing to do with race at all - I just thought I was calling him a shoe, but it certainly looked like I was making a racist comment...it is really possible that the little girl meant absolutely nothing harmful, but at the same time I know how sensitive I am about even the most well meaning comments, especially as my girls are aware of what is said around them. Uggh. There are some very unpleasant realities to being an interracial family!

  4. I think the "Is that your son or are you babysitting?" question is a pretty innocent one (excluding whatever can be read into tone). I read in this book called Weaving a Family that a good response to that question of who belongs to whom is "I know, it's not obvious is it?" I loved that one because I think most people who ask that truly just are confused and mean no ill-will.
    As for the little girls today: That sounded mean-spirited (the "run away from") part and sadly seems to be something they have learned from somewhere since I remember something in my child development/psych classes about children not noticing race until about the age of 6 or so. And even when they do, it's pretty innocent, like the 7 year old son of my friend who saw Abe for the first time and said, "Oh! I didn't know he would be brown!" with a "Cool!" sort of tone. Very cute.
    So, I think I would have tried to track down the parent/caregiver and talked to them. And if that wasn't possible, I'd say as sweetly as I could muster something to the girls directly about those words being hurtful (though developmentally-speaking, kids don't develop empathy until a certain age, so...I dunno really. Like Jocelyn, I'll be checking back to see what others say, hopefully someone with a Ph.D in child development).

  5. Hmmm. This stinks. I don't know what I would have done either! I am already so on the defensive sometimes, especially at the park, because Silas is generally the only brown child there.

    I laughed when you said you called Kevin and he warned you not to get into a fight with a 5 year old. :) Thats funny.

    Ok, but in all seriousness... I would have maybe said something to the kids, but I don't know what. I guess just saying "Thats not nice." I don't know. I too will keep checking back from some intelligent responses.

  6. It sucks that it is 2008 and people STILL have deal with this. This is exactly the kind of situation Staci and I are dreading but we know it is just part of the journey of being an interacial family and are totally up for it. I don't know what I would have done in this instance. I probably would have said something out of line to the children just out of pure anger which probably wouldn't have been the right thing to do. It's too bad that you couldn't find the parents just to make them aware. It's kind of a tricky situation I guess.

  7. Stacie,
    I just found your blog through another blog and saw your post and just felt like I had to comment. How sad...
    My daugher, Rylie, is from Kazakhstan and she has distinctly eurasian features (and is stunningly beautiful if you want my totally objective opionion!). I will never forget that right after we brought Rylie home, we were at the park with friends of our's. The father informed me that he thought their daughter (3) was "bothered by and confused by Rylie's eyes." This was from an educated 35 year old man! I was taken aback and said- what is she bothered or confused about? Truthfully, I don't think the little girl had any "confusion." I think it was acutally the father putting his own issues on his daughter. Perhaps she was innocently confused because she had never seen an Asian person before (kind of ridiculous if you ask me!) Either way, it opened up the reality for us that we too will have to deal with this at various points in our lives.
    I am so sad for you that this happened, but as someone else said, it sadly won't be the last time someone will make some dumb, insensitive comment to you or Micah.
    It is hard to distinguish between the curious comments and the truly mean spirited. But to me, this sounds mean spirited.
    In reality, like you, I would have been totally caught off guard if that happened at the park and I probably would have done the same thing. Having a chance to think about it though, I'd like to think I would say something to the girls. Very politely. But at that age, just distinguishing certain things about them. Like how would you feel if two kids ran away from you because you have glasses, or because your short, or tall, or because you have curly hair, etc. I know it sounds kind of "After School Specialish" (yes- that is a word!) but I think with kids that young, things like that actually work.

    I hope the rest of your summer days at the park are MUCH more pleasant!

  8. Oh man. I can't believe a child that young would say that. I agree that it had to come from someone close to the girls, parents maybe? Kids are parrots. They repeat what they hear. Kids are not born racist or prejudiced either.

    I hate to think there are still parents out there with this mindset, let alone instilling it in their kids. It also made me a little sad to know you couldn't find their parents. I couldn't imagine letting my child play unsupervised in a park, especially a 5 year old girl. I watched my kiddo like a hawk! So it seems like a sad situation all around for those girls.

    I don't know if anything you said could've made a difference to those girls but if this happens again, don't be afraid to speak up and let them know that that kind of language and attitude is disgusting and can hurt and upset your child.

    If this happens again in the future, perhaps you can just put it gently to Micah that some people still harbor such prejudices, that such prejudices are born from stupidity or lack of awareness, and that these prejudices are not his fault.

  9. What a awful situation, I am so sorry you had to deal with this. I read this post last night and I laid awake thinking how awful it must have been for you. I am glad your experiance today was a better one. I don't know what I would have done if I was in your situation I probley would have burst into tears. I think of how I will handle these type of situations when our baby comes and I don't know. I have read alot and tried to prepare myself the best I can but I still don't know how I will react.

  10. Oh Stacie...the mood i'm in today, i'm afraid i might have told the 5 year old she's a meanie!!
    I'm glad you had the conversation with the ladies the next day.

  11. It's so great that you were able to meet these two women, and it sounds like, gain some great perspective!

  12. I'm still trying to figure out what I might do in a similar situation. Letting the kids know that it's mean, I can handle. But I'd be afraid to ask "why" they did it, for fear of them saying something to hurt our child further!

    What impecable timing that you met those two ladies at the other park. I love making new friends and realizing that they have wisdom about having been adopted or about racism that I can soak up. How great that these two ladies have already done that for you :)

    (I rarely comment, but have to add: Micah's getting handsomer by the day!)

  13. Stacie - This is just awful, but unfortunately, the little girl(s) heard it from somewhere. I remember quite a few years ago in college. I was watching I think Geraldo and they had white supremacists and their kids on their. Some of these kids were no more than 4 or 5 and they were singing some made up song about how they hated "n___" and Geraldo asked the child if they knew what a "n___" was and te child goes, "No, but mommytold me to hate them, so I do." So sad, that there are still people like that in this day and age!!!

  14. Wow. I don't have words. We had something happen this past weekend with someone older then five and it was all I could do not to clock him. I think God allows these situations to raise our awareness of just what our children will experience as they grow up.

    I love the advice those sweet ladies gave of building Micah up so much that nothing will tear him down. This is exactly how we see it, I would have confronted these girls because I feel that I'd want to know if it was my child (if my child did that we'd have some serious words) and even if the parents were rude at least maybe, just maybe it would help them think about how their words/actions affect others.