Dear ARP: How do I talk to my child’s teacher about racism in the classroom?

Dear Anti-Racist Parent,

I am Spanish, living in the UK with my white British husband and our two children, a birth son aged 7 and a daughter adopted from China who is now 4.

My question has to do with pre-school. It’s now the school holidays, and the other day, playing in bed with my daughter, she got angry with me and ‘stretched her eyes’ sideways with her fingers, and made a mean face. I asked her, “what is that face?” She said, “This is what Pete does to me in school when he is angry with me.” I explain why this is not right, and we had a talk about it.

My question really is about the nursery school (which is ethnically very mixed). I am going to discuss this with her teacher when the school holidays are over, but I was wondering if there any materials that I can bring with me – leaflets, booklets or similar. So far I have found useful stuff for primary school children and older, but nothing much for the littlest ones (3-5). My aim is to impress upon the teacher that this is not acceptable, and that she has to address it (I am suspect she will say ‘”They are so little; they don’t know what they are doing. It doesn’t mean anything.”) but I’d also like to offer her useful material for her to use. It may be that this will be unnecessary, but my hunch is that it won’t.

Any help would be more than welcome.

Best wishes,

Paloma

From the Editor:

I am so sorry. I always feel like I should begin my responses to “Ask ARP” by apologizing. It’s silly. I know I have no personal responsiblity for what happened to your daughter. But I am so very sorry that this stuff still happens to our children.

You are right that the teacher might use your daughter’s friend’s young age to avoid addressing the situation. But the age of the children involved is all the more reason to use this as a teaching moment. You might stress to the teacher that you realize the boy is young and is eithering parroting something seen elsewhere or calling out a perceived difference in a way that is unacceptable. He likely does not realize the impact of his actions. By gently teaching him and his other classmates now (in a way that is age-appropriate), she can help ensure that these race-biased behaviors that are unwitting now don’t become ingrained and continued in adulthood. We cannot ensure a more equal future if we do not talk to our children about racial equality today.

And here is something else to share–the important part really–no matter the age of the person who voices the racial prejudice, the comments can stick with the victim. I remember very well when Chrissy W. told me I wasn’t invited to her birthday party because I was black and she and her friends were white.  I am 38. That incident happened when I was six. Your daughter deserves to be safe from racial prejudice in the classroom.

I hope that we are both wrong, Paloma, and that your daughter’s instructor “gets it” without much prompting on your part.

Our readers always have great recommendations for resources, so I hope lots of people will chime in on this one. But I’d like to direct you to the Web site Teaching Tolerance for a host of anti-racist resources for children, parents and teachers. You may find that many of the kits and handouts are U.S.-focused, but I think the basic ideas can be adapted to any community. Pay particular attention to The Preschool Years page.

Best of luck.

Tami

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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