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The Incident at the Playground (part 3) [Aug. 4th, 2008|01:49 pm]
A New American Family
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Originally published at American Family. Please leave any comments there.

When I decided to take M to the park, I was a little concerned about what might happen.  Sure, I wanted M to learn that she was being silly.  At the same time I didn’t want M to have an opportunity to hurt the other little girl’s feelings, which seemed like a definite possibility given M’s very forthright declaration of not wanting to play with someone who was “different” because she had “brown skin and braids”.  I was planning on very closely monitoring the situation.
As soon as we entered the park and the little girl caught sight of M, she headed straight toward us.  As she ran up, M said “HI!” but kept on doing what she was doing.   The other girl didn’t say anything.   M continued playing (and narrating her play to me and L) and the little girl continued following her wordlessly, always staying about 6-7 feet away.  The lack of interaction was a little strange.

M decided she wanted to swing, so M, L and I headed over there.  The little girl stuck right behind M, still not talking.

When we got to the swings, I decided I would talk if no one else was going to.

“So, what is your name?” I asked.

“Molly.”  she said.

“Hi Molly, this is M and L.”  I said.

“How old are you?” M asked, “I am five years old!  My birthday is on February 9, 2003!  What year were you born?
“I’m three.” Molly said.

Knowing that Molly was three, her lack of conversation made a lot more sense. Molly was only about an inch shorter than 5 1/2 year old M and she really looked 5.  As soon as we found out she was only three, it was clear she was just acting like a three year old who really likes big kids.  As the mostly one-sided conversation (from M) continued, I also concluded that Molly may be bilingual due to the way she was putting her sentences together and a slight accent.  (I am guessing her parents were from Africa, but I don’t know.)

M continued to chatter on and on.  Molly answered her questions occasionally.  M tried to explain an imaginary game that she wanted to play to Molly, but Molly didn’t always follow M’s rules.  I reminded M a few times that Molly was only three and M adjusted her play.  They ran off to the slides together and played uneventfully for another 10 minutes, until we had to go home.

On the way home, I reminded M that she had said she didn’t want to play with Molly before because she looked different.  “Well, that was before I knew her,” M said.  We talked about how silly that was and that Molly ended up being a good playmate.  We talked again about all our friends who had differences and how they are different.  (We have continued to have this conversation over the past few days.  M seems to enjoy it.)  We also talked about how M might feel if someone didn’t want to play with her because she was Chinese or had brown hair or was a girl.  M agreed she would feel sad and she didn’t want to make other people sad.  Then we went home and she went to bed.

Sorry to disappoint the folks who thought there would be some big, dramatic ending to this story, but it was real life.

I will be honest and say some part of me hopes that the original issue came up because Molly was only 3 (but looks 5) and didn’t play the way M expected her to.  Mr. A said they had talked a little before M started to ignore her, so it could be possible.  That doesn’t explain why M would blame Molly’s hair or skin color though.

The truth is I don’t know where this came from.  M does have some friends who are Black and she has made friends with other Black kids in the park easily recently.  There were no African American kids at M’s preschool, but there were a number of very dark-skinned south Asian kids.  While M could tell me where every classmate’s parents immigrated or ancestors originated from and their skin/hair color, she had never placed any good/bad value on it to my knowledge.
I know I shouldn’t have been so surprised that this would happen, but it caught me off guard.  I felt like we are trying to do a decent job of being anti-racist in our parenting.  I think talk a lot about race and ethnicity in what I think is an age-appropriate way.  I am realizing that we have talked a lot about differences, but not much about discrimination.   I think M has shown us it is time for us to broaden the conversation.

Maybe we haven’t done enough in our day to day lives either. Maybe it was a mistake to send M to the preschool where the ethnic mix was mostly Asian, white and hapa.  We knew we were sacrificing other diversity, but I felt like it was worth it for M to come out of preschool with a solid understanding of herself as (half) Asian and knowing other kids who shared that experience (which she did).  I don’t know.

While I am not proud of this situation, but if I had neglected to share it here, it would have been really hypocritical after all my talk about being anti-racist.  Even if we parent in a perfectly anti-racist way, our girls will be out in the world being influenced by people/things out of our control.  We are trying to use it as a learning opportunity.

We just have to keep plugging away, I guess.