Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Just Call Me a Boy

There seems to be a racial war that begins in elementary schools long before people even recognize that racial tension exists among children.  Often this tension begins with children simply repeating what they have heard adults say and then, over the years, as that tension grows, may end with an internalization of attitudes and belief structures we like to believe were eradicated decades ago.

There is in our country and thus in our schools a dichotomy of what it means to be an American.  We are divided into the privileged and the not:  into those who speak English and those who don’t, those who have parents and those who don’t, those who have money (and thus access to technology) and those who don't, those who have access to a quality education and those who don't, those who have a home and those who don’t.

Some of these issues are the planting of the seed that ultimately develops into a deeply-felt sense of racism and prejudice and injustice. 

There was a fight on the playground amongst the 4th graders the other day.  One child spoke a racial slur and another child retaliated with a punch.  The child who threw the punch was suspended for fighting and the child who spoke a racial slur was lectured.

Their teacher felt the situation had been poorly addressed by the building's administration.  How did suspending the child who had defended his entire race help resolve the situation?  As a result, she had a sit-down session with her entire class and discussed with them the unacceptability of using racial slurs in any circumstance. 

One student raised his hand and said, “yeah, but I don’t like it when they call me African-American either.”

His teacher asked, “Well, what do you want people to call you?”

“I just want them to call me a boy,” the ten-year-old replied.

How utterly and singularly profound.  Just call me a boy.

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