Wednesday, June 17, 2009

OMG, My Daughter is a Racist… Ooops, Never Mind

You know the drill by now. Morning commute, I’m barely coherent, Isabel is talking up a storm in the back seat and then…she hits me with a doozie. It’s been going on for almost two years. Most of the time, they are quite funny! When they occur, Poor Laurie usually gets a call from me via cell because a) she has a great sense of humor and loves my child and b) I know I won’t remember the details by the end of the day. Thanks, chica!

Most of the time, they are quite funny! I have two all-time favorites.
Last summer (29.5 months) the following took place:

While at a stop light on the way to school one morning, Isabel looked at the truck in the lane to our right and said, “Mom, that man has toys.” I glance over and notice there is a little dream-catcher hanging from the rear view mirror. “Yes, Isabel, that man has toys.” Isabel: "We don’t have toys.” Me: “No, Isabel, we don’t have toys.” There is a 2-3 second pause and then, “Mom, that man has a truck.” Me: “Yes, Isabel, that man has a truck.” Isabel: “We don’t have a truck.” Me: “No, Isabel. We don’t have a truck.” Isabel: “Mom?” Me: “Yes?” Isabel: ”We don’t have a man.”
[I laughed so hard the car behind us had to honk to let me know the light had changed to green.]

Then this past January, there was this:

After her three-year-old check up, we went to "Old McDonalds" for a treat. We get to the drive-thru, I pull up to the speaker and hear an angst-ridden, prepubescent, voice-cracking teenage boy ask for my order. (I didn't think twice about it, as I teach 9th graders and am used to it.) I give him the order and start to pull around the building when I hear from the back seat:
" Whoa! THAT wasn't a girl!... " [Insert 3-4 seconds pause and then...] "but SOO not a man!"
I was laughing so hard, I couldn't even press the button to open my car window.

Other times, Isabel’s will comment on things that bring tears. For all her energy and laughter, she is a pretty perceptive little girl whose ability to process things touches me deeply. The recent incident with the homeless woman was brought up again as we drove past the bench that was, this morning, empty. Isabel immediately wanted to know where the woman was. I suggested that maybe she found a house. Without hesitation and with total conviction, Isabel announced, “She did!” I pray she did.

It is with this background, I bring you to the commute yesterday. We are not even 6 blocks from my house when I hear a police siren. I look in the rearview mirror and see nothing. I continue to drive in the right lane. Suddenly I see the lights in the windshield of an unmarked police car. He accelerates, passes us on the left, and then pulls over the car next to us. All of this is happening as we are approaching an intersection…with a light that just turned red. We had a front seat to the show. I’m watching. Isabel is watching. And then, THIS:

Isabel- I don’t like black police.
Me- (Feeling a pit in my stomach and thinking WTF????) What did you just say?
Isabel- I don’t like black police.
Me- (Determined to find out where this is coming from) Why do you say THAT?
Isabel- I like the white police. I don’t like the black police.
Me- (Starting to hyper-ventilate) Did someone say that to you? At school?
Isabel- No.
Me- (Really starting freak out that racism has entered my daughter’s life at THREE!!!) The white police are good and the black police are good. They are both good. We like all police.
Isabel- (Starting to get irritated with me, evidenced by the not to subtle crossed-arms-over-the-chest body language) Well, I don’t!

At this point, the light turns green and I glance over at the police officer (who, by the way, was WHITE!) and realize that the CAR was black!

I, of course, started laughing (somewhat) hysterically in relief. Later in the day, though, it really caused me to reflect on the whole thing and process what happened. I think that it is important for me to do that. Because I KNOW that this is going to be part of our life together… her walking through the subtle and not-so-subtle racism that lies before her, and me trying my best to give her the tools to do. As a white woman, I’ll never experience what she will. As a member of the majority population, I walk through my life clueless to the judgments that others have passed upon them simply because of their color. I wish it wasn’t so. But it is the world we live in. It is the world that I pray will change with my daughter’s generation. Change to such a degree that this morning’s conversation would never even take place. When a preference of white over black is about a car… and not a person.
Something to think about. At least for me.

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