Thursday, September 30, 2010

When your child is a bit racist...

I do not live in a terribly ethnically diverse area.

Essentially, the demographic is white, middle class 2.4 (actually, more like 3+ children, we are in one of those areas where 3 children is the new 2.4) children. And tons of Japanese students who go to the local language school.

My daughters school has a good mix of nationalities. Iraqi, Jordanian, German, Acadian, and many, many Chinese students etc. But I struggle to think if I have seen any black children at the school.

Nope, still struggling.

I took my daughter to her first cheerleading class yesterday. (hmm...) The class was in, what friend's black nanny (who I often hang out with at the park) described as, a 'ghetto' area. I lived in one of the roughest parts of London for 7 years, so didn't think too much of it. Surely even the worst parts of chirpy Canada-land can't compete with the depths of 'Sarf-Laaandan town'.

Yep, the area was a little intimidating. Scrawny-looking, heavily-tattooed men hung over balconies. Young men loitered in the park, holding up their half-mast jeans with one hand on their crotch. Every surface available was covered in graffiti tags. Swarms of young children, from about age 3 up, ran on the grassy square in the centre of the community centre, with no obvious parental supervision. An enormous part of me envied their freedom, it looked so much healthier than my friends and my helicopter-hover. Altogether, it looked like a cross between 'The Wire' and 'Sesame Street'.

My daughter then asked a question which no cringing middle-class liberal parent wants to hear: "Do you have to be a brown person to live here?"

I went into Guardian reading overdrive, giving what I hoped was a informative, culturally sensitive speech about how we are all the same, yet differences are to be celebrated...yadda yadda. My teeth started itching with how hideously politically correct I was. Trevor Philips would have held me up as a beacon of hope for integration.

Yet here I was, nervously clutching my purse and holding my child's hand a little tighter because we had arrived in a part of the city where folk were unlike me. I try and think, would I be as defensive if there were a bunch of young tattooed white dudes hanging out at a park looking intimidating, and I am relieved to say that I think I would be just as nervous.

My daughter loved the cheerleading lesson. She was the only white girl there. At the end I asked her how she liked the other little girls.
She said, "Mummy, I like brown people, even though I am not meant to call them that."

Nothing like a middle-class cringe to end the day.


  1. Whilst her terminology may need some working on, her attitude certainly doesn't. Children see straight past colour and creed and even at a young age, class. All they want to know is if they are good fun to play with. Shame more adults can adopt the same philosophy.

    PS Any gang of youths, regardless of race or even sex would make me a little anxious and have me clutching my belongings a little tighter.

  2. I have no words of wisdom on children and racism but I just laughed my head off at this post. Glad to have discovered you. Not sure where you are in Canada but I'm in Montreal ex Newcastle and blog about life here. Re expressions - I always cringe when someone here is talking about getting up next morning after a heavy night and say "I was really hung". Surely this cannot be right. Try telling them someone is up the duff also. Blank expressions all round.
    Good luck.

  3. I have a slightly different situ in Chicago - lots of different ethnicities (and ghettoes) but they're all very segregated. I hate that. However, the schools do a good job of trying to ensure diversity, even in the posh private schools.
    Must say that colour doesn't matter as far as scary looking youths go. Since everyone's packin' over here, you never know what you're going to encounter.

  4. Same as expat mum Baltimore is very segregated into areas of poor blacks, poor whites, poor hispanics, middle class whites etc. That said we do all right we are in a middle class mostly white neighborhood and the school has maybe 30 per cent blacks so it is not too bad as these things go!

  5. Relieved that all of you would be as nervous about a gang of youths hanging around the place. Who knows - perhaps they might be part of the anti-graffiti coalition of Canada. But I suspect not.
    Just dropped her off at sparks, (Brownies) and every single girl there was white. Just as odd.

  6. At least your daughter knows she is not supposed to refer to other kids as "brown" people. It would be a good opportunity to speak to her about the different cultures and people that she comes in contact with. It's always good for children to be friends with all different types of children. It makes for a colourful world!

  7. Although my daughter was born in Whitechapel we moved to a middle class part of Essex when she was about 2 so she barely remembers it. However, because we are medical, we know a lot of various ethnicities (medicine seems to attract a wide variety of people), some with non-English accents. A mix is all she's ever known.

    Great post, by the way. Really entertaining writing!

  8. Very amusing writing. Glad I found your blog. My daughter always used to be good at pointing out "fat" people in the street, very loudly. Cringe.

  9. Great post. I agree with VBiC, kids notice colour but then look past it. They see it for what it is, skin deep, then move on. My daughter was trying to explain a family friends of mine to my husband recently, she couldn't remember his name. And she went through every possible description of him, not once mentioning that he was black. I liked that.

  10. Thanks chaps. I just looked at this post again after not being able to write as had family here for a few days and was surprised to see more comments on it!
    Love the idea of 'fat' people. Not sure which is worse really!

  11. I love what my daughter said once while standing side by side with a little girl of mixed race. She said "I'm white and you're brown, and God likes us to be different, because if we were the same, how would you tell us apart?" She was 6 at the time. The little girl's mom and I looked at each other, and she smiled, and so did I. Thing is...not that I don't teach my children equality, I do, I just never taught my daughter that phraseology, she came up with that one, all on her own. I was and am very proud of her for that.