On one of the blogs (loveisnotenough) I follow, a disturbing account was posted of a child being called the “N” word by another child at a park. The story was written by the child’s mother, herself ½ Irish and ½ Black, and what struck me was how the incident made the mother deeply question how she would protect her children from race-based hate they may face in the future.
She was also very hard on herself for how she handled this particular incident, which in summery went like this:
Upon hearing that a child in the park called her child the “N” word, she gingerly approached the mother of the offending child to discuss. However, while walking up to the other mother, she became a little nervous and anxious about how best to proceed with the conversation.
Our mother in question explained that the woman’s son had called her son the “N” word. The other mother then responded, “well maybe your son IS one.”
Anger filled our mother in question, but she didn’t really feel confident about what to say or do. She then abruptly gathered her child and they left the park.
Later, she recounts the overwhelming feelings of failure that she had felt; failure to defend and/or protect her child on that day and she became overwhelmed with questions of how she was going to protect her children in the future.
You can read the full account by clicking the link further down below. However, this story reminded me of a situation, much different, that happened with my own son. He’s 8 now, but when he was 7, he casually said over dinner “Jimmy called me a ‘N’ today! What’s a ‘N?’
Both my husband and I did a double take and then I asked “wait, what did he call you?” My son repeated – “a ‘N’.”
My son had no idea what he was being called, but he knew it wasn’t good. We didn’t know much about little Jimmy so we asked our son some questions about him. It was no surprise to learn that little Jimmy gets in trouble at school, picks on people, has to go to the office a lot and is generally annoying to all.
We made no assumptions of Jimmy’s parents or parenting style. We just called the school to inform them of what our son relayed to us and we shared our assessment; that we didn’t think that little Jimmy knew what he was even saying. However, we noted that nonetheless someone should probably follow-up with his parents.
We told our son that the “N” word was used to put Black people down. Our son knows about the history of slavery in America and the civil rights era, so he could immediately associate what we were saying with history.
We told him that we weren’t sure why little Jimmy was using that word, but that he probably didn’t understand the word’s history. Our son shrugged and that was that.
This brings me back to this week’s post by the ½ Irish ½ Black mother. The incident at the park brought her face-to-face with the potential for overt and/or covert race-based ignorance and even racism that her children may face in the future.
I think most parents try as best they can to prepare their children for whatever they may face. I think one of the best ways to prepare children for life in general, is to do what we, as parents, do all the time, which is to try to help our children develop a healthy self-esteem overall.
Also, in our home, when opportunities present themselves where we can talk about things that are unfair or views that differ from our own, we take them.
It’s the reality of the world we live in that people will think differently from us. And those opinions are really theirs to have. It’s when people try to impose their opinions unfairly on others or try to put or hold people down where it can become problematic.
For me, I try to be careful to expose my child to the unsettling ways of the world in a controlled fashion. I am not a psychologist, but I believe some amount of sheltering is important for young children.
I want my children to have a happy and hopeful childhood, free of too much worry.
I want to allow my children to grow and shape ideas without becoming overwhelmed or depressed by them.
I think as parents, we have to allow ourselves to have a happy and hopeful life as well. I think it is natural to find ourselves worrying about ALL the challenges and struggles our children may face. However, hopefully we can be eased by the idea that our parents worried for our future too and while we are challenged and experience struggles, life is hopefully a good one for us.
The original posting was on the blog “Los Angelista“: How Many More Times Must My 7-Year Old Be Called the “N” Word