Saturday, April 2, 2011

Brown vs Black

Interesting scenario this week where race collided with assumptions and a bit of Haitian youthful culture.

Gaelle was told by a class mate that she didn't want to sit next to her because she was black. The little girl who told her this is biracial... white mom, black dad. Lots of extended family involvement on both sides of her family. And this little girl and Gaelle get into it ALL the time because they both have STRONG personalities. They are good friends except when they are not. We parents and teachers have discussed their friendship and have approved of an attempt on the part of the school to limit their interaction during school hours.

So... the teacher informed the office of this statement and the vice principal who is also biracial, decided to come into the class and have a discussion. She brought books that talked about skin color and some of the different words used to describe skin color.

Gaelle eagerly participated and told the VP that God made her just the way she is. The other girl also participated and the VP sensed that by the end of her discussion, the kids in the class felt comfortable talking about race and they understood what she was saying.

So what did Gaelle learn from all of this? I waited until evening after we had done a bit of reading and Gaelle was relaxed and quiet. And I asked.

"My friend told me I was black and that's wrong!" said with great emphasis.

"So if your friend told you you were brown, would that be ok?" I asked.

"Yes. Because I'm brown... not black!" again stated with great emphasis.

"Is it ok for people to call me white, because I'm not really white," I asked.

"No, you're more peach," said slowly.

"So, is it ok for people to call me white?" I persisted.

........ silence because Gaelle is stumped.

"Did your friend tell you she didn't want to sit next to you because you're black?" I decided to be direct.

"NO. She just called me black."

"And that's wrong?" I asked.

"Yes. Because I'm not black. I'm brown."

By this time Gaelle was getting antsy and a bit out of sorts. So I didn't keep up my questions. I just told her how beautiful her brown skin was and we read another book.

So what were the assumptions?

I don't really know if the little girl meant anything racial by her comment. The VP wasn't willing to state that either, but there was an assumption by the VP that this little girl is trying to figure out who she is because the VP remembers dealing with that. Maybe... or maybe she was just pointing out a difference, like she didn't want to sit next to Gaelle because she was wearing purple pants.

But Gaelle isn't in a place to hear anything racial. All she heard was a basic error in this girl's statement. And now Gaelle believes that it is wrong to call anyone black... period.

Gaelle didn't even hear the end of the statement. We sometimes forget that this time last year Gaelle couldn't even string together a sentence in English. She still misses a fair bit of content becasue of her language skills. We notice it more when she is watching TV. But it is the reality that she isn't able to understand and catch all of our conversation.

Our kids from Haiti don't have any awareness of the term black. We've tried to explain it to Peter but quite honestly, the kids don't get it yet. To them it's simply a matter of color.

And they are brown.

So North American racial awareness collided with Haitian youthful perception.

Now who gets to tell the VP that her lesson was lost on one little girl?


Anonymous said...

man. so hard right? the question is...why not brown instead of black? weird right? i don't want to tell my son he is really black, when he is obviously brown, but then society will call him black. oh boy! and, then, how will he perceive himself?

Anonymous said...

Have you read "I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla"? That book addresses the color versus race issue and yeah...they are too young to understand what "black" is at this point. It's just a color. And they're not black, they're brown in their minds. (well and in reality!) I found it a really interesting read. Heidi (Trey's momma) PS man I haven't checked any blogs in a while. Love hearing about the kids!