Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kindergarten & Racism: Welcome to the Real World, Kid


Lesson #501:

Kindergarten + Playground = Education


Choing-chong-dong-dung! Choing-chong-chung-chong!

My classmates are jumping around in and out of my face, in a dancing, clown-like way. They’re all laughing and pulling at the corners of their eyes.

I crinkle my nose and squint my eyes, as I pull my head back, and wonder to myself, What are they doing? They look and sound so silly.

I look behind me. I look around me. I feel confused. Why are they doing that?

I feel something in my chest sink. Something about this hurts, but I’m only five years old, and I can’t make sense of it.

So, I just laugh. Not because I think they’re funny, but because I guess that maybe I should laugh, too, so that I at least look like I get the joke, even though I have no idea what’s going on.

* * *

Once I get home from school, I race to the bathroom, because I’ve been holding it since afternoon naptime.

I flush the toilet and go to the sink to wash my hands. I step up onto my little stool so I can reach the faucet. I turn the water on, and happen to glance at the mirror.

As I catch a glimpse of my reflection, I am surprised by what I see.

I splash some water on my face. I try to smile. I hurry down off of my step stool and slap the light off.

All of a sudden, what happened at school during recess begins to make sense. And I realize that the other kids on the playground weren’t talking to me—they were making fun of me.

* * *

After five short years of living, a kind of harsh light began to crawl out from underneath its rock.

That day on the playground, it flexed its shoulders and pushed up the rock until the rock stood on edge.

The light quivered a bit, and then gave the rock one last heave.

The rock tumbled back and landed with a thud. The light began to pour itself out into the open.

That kind of light does not know how to lie. It is brazenly honest.

When I got home from school that day, the light had followed me home. It hit the mirror, and for the first time in my life I became uncomfortably aware that somehow I was never going to be like all the other kids.

I had begun my education.

That day I learned that grown-ups don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to words. That day I learned that words hurt more than sticks or stones ever could.

* * *


[Click here to read the entire series on "Growing Up as a KAD"]


16 comments:

Raina said...

You are killing me girl. I guess we all went through this, alone, together.

Wait until you start freaking out and screaming at your own kids because THEY pull their eyes back - because the other kids at school do it. Unnerving.

I linked this on my facebook.

Julia said...

Honestly, I don't know why we tell children that. OF COURSE words hurt.

I hope the increased frequency of posting means that you are feeling better.

Mei Mei Journal said...

Lauren starts Kindergarten next week. She will be 1 of 4 Asian children in her racially diverse class of 16 , but I know that this won't prevent bullying. It is gut wrenching to imagine her as the target of that behavior.
There is a huge anti-bullying initiative in our district and I am sure most others. Kids seem to be reporting each other for this type of behavior.

shauna said...

This post made my stomach plummet... My baby is only 15 months old now, but I fear/know that she will be the receiving end of such behavior at some point in her childhood... Thank you for sharing.

Melissa said...

Yes, Raina. That's in part why I wanted to share these entries...I know that I am not alone in my childhood experiences...so many of us had (and continue to have) similar encounters and interactions...but it's never fun to talk about or revisit. Somehow, though, knowing that I wasn't alone provides some amount of consolation...

Oh my lawd...thanks for the warning...it never dawned on me that my own kid might do that...and yet, I shouldn't be surprised...

* * *

Julia, thanks for the acknowledgment that words hurt! That saying drove me CRAZY when I was growing up!

And I am feeling much better these days...still nauseous unfortunately & food still tastes like dirt, but at least the nausea seems to be waning little by little...

I'm definitely on a blogging binge, though, after so many months of being on involuntary hiatus. ;)

* * *

MM Journal,

Yes, unfortunately, as long as the human race exists, racism, too, will exist. We're in the 21st century and still it runs rampant. It's an unfortunate part of life, and as adoptees our experiences of racism are compounded by the fact that we can't go home and receive validation from our families for our physical differences--because, well, our families look just like the ones who are making fun of us...

* * *

Shauna,

I know it' s not pleasant to imagine your daughter encountering such treatment. But as long as you let yourself be aware that this kind of thing inevitably happens, you can help & equip your daughter to learn positive ways to cope and deal with it...

Von said...

Ah the joys of transnational adoption!And adopters are still inflicting this on kids they adopt.

Yoli said...

As a recipient of racial slurs myself, I know how much they hurt and how deep they cut into one's psych. Unfortunately both my children have already been subject to bullying. When two older kids from another class was taunting my daughter with "Chinese people eat dogs" to which my daughter replied, "we also eat stupid little boys too." The comeback was funny but she is not there to defend herself at 4 years of age. Inevitably when the teasing did not stop she came crying to me. Poor baby was holding it all in trying to fix it herself. That is what many parents don't know, sometimes your child will not tell you. As a parent what I do is be pro-active when any incident happens. Keep the lines of communication open ask how their day went, even if it annoys them. We honestly have to stand together and not allow this kind of bullying, this kind of abuse. The old fashioned line of "oh well they didn't know any better and don't pay any attention to them" does not cut it. Children need to feel safe.

nialovesyou said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nialovesyou said...

i know how it feels to be teased mercilessly...i grew up much darker than the rest of my surroundings and it was miserable...kids learn this behavior from somewhere (parents, grands, uncles, aunts, etc)...i know there is evil in the world to appreciate good but i just hope for the day that we don't have to expose kids to it so early :-(

Melissa said...

Yoli you wrote, "...was holding it all in trying to fix it herself. That is what many parents don't know, sometimes your child will not tell you."

This is SO true, at least in my case, not only about the racism I encountered but about my overall thoughts, questions, emotions regarding my adoption itself.

I never uttered a word about all the things that happened to me at school and otherwise. Even more so, I never mentioned a thing about my adoption, out of fear of endangering my position within the family--didn't want to be burdensome, ungrateful, a "cry baby," etc...Nonetheless, however, I was like a ticking time bomb and eventually, the nice, pleasant, happy veneer began to crumble and I imploded...but not until much later in life...Even now I am still trying to sort through the pieces and create some form of semblance...better later than never...

Kris said...

I have a son who has sensory processing disorder, a language disorder and is possibly on the autism spectrum. He (at 7) is just starting to "stick out" as being different to the other kids because of the way he behaves and communicates. There is nothing worse than watching your child be bullied and your post broke my heart. I would rather someone just punched him than call him wierd or say he can't play with them. Words Hurt.
Hugs.

day by day said...

thank-you for sharing this. Perfect timing as my 2 little ones begin K this week! One of my girls is very upset that she looks different than us and talks about it a lot.
My question for you....is there anything I can/should do as an AP to prepare my girls for the rasicm that will one day come their way? I want to be sure they will come to me if and when this kind of thing happens to them.
thanks for your thoughts!

Michele said...

I'm not adopted, but I am Mexican American and went to a predominantly white high school. It was the first time I knew that my ethnicity really mattered to some people. It's funny, but learning about these issues by studying transracial adoption has helped me work through that hurt and confusion, all these years later. My parents pretty much told me to ignore it because they're stupid--but that didn't help. I hope I'm better equipped to help my daughter.

Lisa said...

As both a teacher ( home now with little ones, but plan to teach again one day) and an adoptive parent I want to rage against this kind of racism and blatant cruelty.

This was not tolerated, if witnessed or reported(sadly I know many children do not report said attacks), at my former elementary school and it sickens me to think it happens today. Sadly I know it does, as several friends have reported similiar encounters for their minority children.

I wonder if this is a learned behavior from children or something else altogether? And honestly its not your's or another's job to discern the root.

Its disgraceful and unacceptable. Thank you for calling attention to this brand of bullying. Our little guy is only 2 and our 7 year old has been asked a few times why his eyes appear "different". We are taking a team approach to tackling this issue, but oneday I know he won't have us nearby to circle the wagons so to speak. Prepare him we will.....but I worry if it will be enough.

Finally, and sorry for the length of this, I had a close friend in college who was adopted as a toddler from Korea once tell me that she thought she was "white" right up until she entered said college.

I think about that often....and the impact of what she said haunts me today because I know I was sympathetic at the time, but I know that I just didn't "get it"....not entirely anyways. I wish I had understood better and been able to help more.

Thank you for sharing this.

Claudia said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. And I agree with Julia - anyone who tells kdis that words don't hurt has a VERY bad memory about what it felt like to be a kid.

Brightin said...

This hit a real nerve with me. I am still reeling in despair over the horrendous race issues my Chinese daughter's endured, in a small mid west high school. . . where even the school staff and superintendent were indifferent to the hate words and crimes that happened to my daughter's. The most painful scene in my life was hurrying to the school where my daughter had called me in hysteric's. Another racist experience and she collapsed under it. As I went in to the school...she was down one end of the hall way, her face contorted in such pain, and the other end of the hall way was the principle and nurse. I held my daughter and the principle wanted to talk to me. Finally, I thought, there might be some accountability happening here. No, the principle told me my daughter broke the school rules by using her cell phone to call me. The nurse, explained my daughter also tried to get to go home, when she wasn't ill, another criminal offense. Not ill? She couldn't have been more ill had a freight train run her over. My heart is pierced and will forever be pierced. I never knew, when I brought my baby home from the orphanage that it wouldn't be a happily ever after journey. I am so grateful for this blog. It will be a healing haven for my daughter when I introduce this to her.
I have been heavenly guided.
I will share this with other adoptive parent's I know. Whose heads are still in the "savior" role. There is so much ego and so little knowledge in most adoptive parents. Yes, I said most. If you really love your daughter's, then love them enough to understand their pain, feel their hurt, and bring them to places where they may vent and find a support system, that no one but people like Melissa can help them with.