Go figure. I post a blog about the color blindness of my daughters’ school friends, and exactly one week later, the older one gets served her first real slice of racism – with some bullying as the icing and a little cherry of betrayal on top.
It happened at the bus stop after school with a hundred people standing around. My daughter was waiting with some friends when a group of kids from a different school walked over and stood near them. Among them was a boy who had sporadically said strange things to her and her friends in the past. The most recent incident was him holding some headphones with music blaring to my daughter’s ear and saying “Listen to this!” Although he had called her “Schoko” once, my impression was that it wasn’t really a racial taunt, rather that this boy basically wanted her attention. I guess I was wrong about that.
This time began with the boy yelling ”Schoko!” loudly and his friends laughing. He then walked up to her and poked her from behind, saying “Schoko, Schoko.” My daughter just turned to him and said ”What? No headphones today?” and turned her back on him. The boy went back to his friends and resumed the name yelling. This time another boy joined him. ”Schoko! Schoko!” turned into ”Neger! Neger!” and the laughter continued. The boy came back. He started poking her and saying ”AIDS! AIDS!” One of my daughter’s friends told him to go away and got an insult hurled at her as a response. But he did leave. This friend and others asked my daughter why she didn’t say something back too, but she didn’t know what to say or just didn’t want to. She walked over to some other friends a bit farther away.
The boy came up to her again, this time with his yelling buddy in tow. He said “I thank God every day that its the Negroes who are starving and not me.” And then they went back to their little group. The laughter from them was getting thinner, but it was still there. That was when my daughter noticed that a girl from her own class a friend – was among the laughers. In the meantime, my daughter had been joined by more of her friends, but the boy showed up again for his final act. He had a bottle of Coke and tried to splash some of it on my daughter. She managed to dodge away in time and just a few drops hit her shoe. The boy said, ”That is what it looks like when Negroes leak!” And then he left for good.
The girl who had been among the laughers meandered back to my daughter’s circle. She was promptly told by all the classmates that she wasn’t welcome there. She could go back to new friends.
When my daughter came home, she told the story first to her little sister who was enraged by everything she heard. “I wish I had been there. I would have kicked him!” she exclaimed. In that conversation, it first began to dawn on my older daughter, just how bad the situation was. After retelling the story to me and then my husband and seeing our reactions, she finally understood that this was a real thing. She dropped the ”Please dont say anything” and allowed us to take charge. My husband called the principal of the boy’s school and I made an appointment with my daughter’s homeroom teacher. We are going to request that the entire class gets some counseling and learns about racism, bullying and civil courage. Meanwhile, up in my daughter’s room, the WhatsApp and text messages were flying back and forth. Her friends who didn’t witness the scene all proclaimed what they would have done if they had been there. I’m not sure how believable those declarations are, but at least they made my daughter feel better.
Later, in the evening, I saw my daughter’s singing teacher and the subject came up. She was equally enraged and started lamenting about how the message of tolerance just isn’t getting through to kids these days. I couldn’t really respond because I had a visceral reaction to that word “tolerance”. It gets thrown around all the time here as if it were the be-all-and-end-all of a civilized multicultural society; and no one seems to notice how pathetic the notion of tolerance is. Is that really the best we can do? Be tolerant of other people? Should my daughter be grateful that people tolerate her?
When you set a bar that low it is no wonder so many people trip over it.
If there is any bright side in this whole episode it is that my daughter is relearning the importance of sticking up for herself. Today, at the bus stop the same boy came up to her again and their encounter consisted of two short statements before he walked away again:
“Your dad is a school principal?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she answered, “isn’t yours?”