I'm a social worker, right? So, I know racism exists. I guess I've just never been so personally affected as I was yesterday. Sexism? Sure...all the time. But racism, never. Not until yesterday at least. And now I'm just pissed.
Yesterday afternoon I left work a little early to meet hubby and the kid at the neighborhood pool to watch the kid at his swim lesson. I watched him play for a few minutes, then we went to have a little rest and snack before his lesson started. We were seated under an awning and a man came over and asked if he could sit down next to us. We were friendly and told him no one was there and the space was his. The kid, being the kid, went over and immediately started talking to him. This always makes me nervous because it hurts my heart when people don't respond to his efforts to be friendly. The man, I could tell, was a little...uh "off", for lack of a better term. He spoke briefly to the kid and I quickly asked the kid to sit back down and finish his snack. The man went over to swim and I thought the awkward encounter was over.
The man jumped off the diving board a few times then came back over. He walked right up to us and said, "What is it today, Nigerian day at the pool?". The kid started to say something friendly to the man again and I quickly told him to sit down and eat his snack. Hubby and I looked at each other and didn't respond to the man. You'd think that would have told him to shut up, but no. He then said, "what nobody has an answer for me about if today's Nigerian day?". Either hubby or I said, "uh, no" and left it at that. I then got the kid up and went over to wait near the pool for his lesson, mostly to get him away from the jack@ss. By the time the lesson was over, the man had thankfully left.
And the more I've thought about the incident, the angrier I've become. I'm not just angry with the ignorant, rude, racist man. I'm mostly angry with myself. I can't believe I just sat there and said nothing. I feel like I failed as a person, as a social worker, but most importantly, I failed as a mother. Not that I've come up with a better way to have handled it, but I certainly wish I'd done something.
My son knows that he's a different color than we are, but, at 4, he hasn't attached anything to that, other than color (like "Momma's dress is black, tomatoes are red, Poppa's shirt is blue, my skin is brown"). I know something like this is going to happen again, as much as we try to shelter and protect him. He will eventually know what these kinds of comments mean and it will hurt him. That about breaks my heart because I don't know how to prepare him, much less how to protect him. How do we insulate him and prepare him and love him enough that he can handle the racism that is bound to attack him??? I really don't know...
Today's lesson is something I learned about myself yesterday evening, though it's maybe more of a re-learning of a lesson. Here it is: never assume you know how you'll react in a particular situation. I've always assumed I would respond directly and immediately in situations such as what happened to us, but I didn't. I think we need to be gentle with ourselves (heck, it's not like this is the first of my parenting failings, and I'm sure it sadly won't be the last) and then figure out how to do better next time.
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