Today was an off day for me. Have you ever just felt like something wasn’t aligning itself right? I just could not seem to shake this uneasy feeling I had gotten up with this morning. The uneasiness lasted until about the time I went to pick up my daughter from school and just as I was beginning to relax a bit, the teacher informed me that she would need to speak to me after she dismissed everyone. I was a bit confused because my daughter is awesome. I know most people say that about their children, but my daughter really is awesome. She is a good kid. She follows the rules. She is smart and sweet. She is the classic first born child, a real overachiever. So, imagine my surprise that my well mannered child was a topic to be discussed after school with the teacher. I guess I must have given the teacher a look because she quickly followed her announcement up with, “oh, Olivia is always a joy…this isn’t anything to do with her behavior”. I was relieved, but at the same time I could not imagine what we needed to discuss and patiently waited until the teacher was finish dismissing her class.
I came into the classroom with my daughter, son and the teacher. The uneasiness that I had felt earlier returned and instantly I felt a bit guarded. The teacher looked pained in the face and I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I thought I saw sadness. Here is how the conversation went from that point on:
Teacher: Mrs. H, I called you in here because there was an incident on the playground today with a student using a racial slur towards Olivia.
Teacher: While Olivia was out on the playground, one of the little girls excluded her from a game and told her that she could not play because she was Black.
Teacher: One of the teacher’s heard what was going on and quickly got me. I reprimanded the child and she received a colored slip informing her parents of her behavior. There will also be a parent conference with her father in the morning regarding this issue. Mrs. H, in all my years here, I have never heard or witnessed something like this happen and I am truly sorry. Olivia is such a beautiful, smart, and sweet little girl and I am so sorry. This type of behavior is not tolerated in my classroom and I don’t think for one minute that this little girl picked it up on her own. Language and behavior like that is taught in the home and I will inform the parents that I will not tolerate that type of behavior in my classroom.
Me: How was Olivia? Did she cry? Was she hurt?
Teacher: No. She did not cry. She continued her day without missing a beat.
Me: (I began to cry)
Teacher: Oh, Mrs. H., I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how you feel, but I promise you that I will handle it. This transition has not been easy on you with your husband gone. You know I just don’t get it either because the little girl isn’t White. I think she’s Cuban and her father is in the Navy. It is all so senseless. Tomorrow, after school I will let you know what happened in the conference. You know, the kids are sassier and meaner these days or at least the ones who are in the before and after school care. The children like Olivia seem to be nicer and I don’t know if that’s because you’re at home with her, but you are doing an awesome job. I’m so sorry.
Me: Thank you for informing me.
That was the basics of the conversation. I was left breathless and all I really wanted to do was run off with my child and hold her real tight. I’ve been her protector for so long and it pains me to know that this happened to her and I wasn’t there to wipe away her tears or tell her that there is nothing wrong with who she is. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, my daughter’s version of the story was a tad bit different. My daughter told me that she went over to play with the other girls in her class. The other ONLY Black girl from another Kindergarten class was there too and when they (all of the girls) were about to play, the mean racist little girl pointed at my daughter and the other Black girl and said they couldn’t play because they were Black. My daughter said that she walked away and sat down on a bench and began to cry, but then the friend she made on the first day of school came to her and asked what was wrong. My daughter told her what happened and that sweet girl hugged her and got up and told the first teacher she could find. After my daughter told me what I believe really happened, I texted the mother of this sweet girl, which by chance we had just exchanged numbers the previous day and told her to tell her daughter thank you for being there for Olivia. The mother texted me back and said her daughter told her, “someone hurt my friend and that was not right and someone needed to know”. Isn’t that awesome?
I have no eloquent words. I could have reacted in so many different ways, but in times like these I long to have my husband near me. I called him while I was still in the parking lot of the school to tell him what happened and his perspective was quite different than what I expected. My husband told me to make sure my daughter felt no shame because she did nothing wrong. He said the other girl who was mean should be shamed and so should her parents. He told me that we have no reason to be hurt because we are raising our daughter right and the proof is in her behavior while the other parents should be hurt that their bad parenting is on display for the whole school to see. I love the way he thinks, but it is hard for me not to be angry or hurt. My daughter is only 5 years old and this is only the 2nd week of Kindergarten.
Truthfully, I want to give the mother a good ole ass whooping, but that wouldn’t solve anything, except to further perpetuate a stereotype about Black woman. I also would love to just tell them that they hurt my child, but from experience, I have learned that logic, feeling, and commonsense are typically lost on these types of people. What I can do is teach my daughter to be proud of herself and give her an example of pride in oneself. I am her first teacher. So, I used this as a moment to listen to my daughter and I asked her if she felt bad for being Black. She hesitated in answering, which struck a chord with me because I know that she has internalized this event. I then informed her that it was quite awesome to be Black and she looked at me and said, “why?”. I told her that all of civilization, EVERYONE, originated in Africa and that she had African blood running through her veins. I told her that her hair was pretty cool too and that it could be styled in any way from braids, curls, to even straight. I told her that she was Black because her father and I loved each other and she was a symbol of our love and because we are both Black then so was she. I couldn’t think of anything else, but I made a point in reminding her that she was my rainbow child, which always makes her smile. I named her Olivia because she brought peace to my life like an Olive tree signifies peace. I prayed long and hard for my daughter to make it here safe. I lost my first child and was told I could never have children, so Olivia is the rainbow in my life after the storm. I more than upset that someone would hurt someone so dear to me.
In the days to come, I will probably be better equipped to process what happened, but for now I am holding on to the belief that there are more good people than bad; however, good can never conquer bad if no one speaks up. Thankfully, the shyest girl in the class spoke up for my daughter. Thank goodness for the good parents and the children with good hearts.