Racism and prejudice: apparently it starts in grade 2

It’s happened now, twice: racism and prejudice. Sigh. I was hoping that they would get past grade two before this happened.

This week I read about a young man who was in an accident, and when he ran to a nearby woman’s door for help, she called the police and the police shot him 10 times. Why? Because he was black. As my friend who posted the article said, if you think parents of black children are overreacting to the existence of racism, think again.

Yesterday, the girls and I were shopping in a bulk food store. We had a negative experience there before, with a lady telling Spice not to touch the bins. Last time, she had walked down the aisle and tapped the top of each bin as she walked by. So this time, I told the girls to make sure they did not open any containers and did not touch the scoops. We went in to buy barley and whole wheat flour to make injera.

I couldn’t find the barley flour so I called over the lady to help us. She came over, I asked her where the flour was, and while listening to my request she gave Sugar the strangest look. She looked her up and down. Then said to me “follow me.”

She started to walk away and Sugar said “Mommy, why did that lady look at me that way? She looked up at my head and down at my toes. It made me feel very weird. ”

I whispered to her: “I don’t know. That was strange.” I was worried, but followed the lady to the flour bin.

Then I realized this was the same woman who had chastised Spice before. She showed us where the flour was, and turned to go. Spice started to write down the number of the bin on one of those twisty tags..

“Please don’t lean on the bins! “the lady snapped at Spice.

My blood started to boil. The lady walked away quickly, so I told the girls that lady was very rude and her behavior was not acceptable. Obviously, I did not want a confrontation in the middle of the store.

We walked to the front till and while we were waiting, Spice started to finger some of the little charms at the till. She gets an allowance and was thinking of buying one. the till lady- another lady altogether- saw her, and snapped at her “please don’t pick up the keychains.”

What? Why? “She gets an allowance, and was thinking of buying one,” I snapped back. “She is a CUSTOMER.” Now I was getting really p*ssed off.

“Well, they are very breakable, “said the lady as a hasty explanation. I looked at the charms… They were rocks.

I took the girls out of the store to the car and told them what they had experienced was not acceptable. Mommy was going inside to talk to the manager about it.

So I did. I went inside and talk to the manager and she was very concerned. She had me point out the two ladies. And then I went back to the car.

With my blood still boiling, I talked to the girls as I was driving away. They could tell I was very very angry. I explained what prejudice was, and that the ladies were treating them with prejudice.

“Don’t they like any kids?” Asked one of my daughters.

“I don’t know, honey.” I replied. “But certainly they have ideas about how children behave and they are painting you with that brush.

I chalked it up to prejudice against children… But who knows. That creepy crawling feeling was real. The only thing I don’t know for sure is what the root of the prejudice is.

Then I ask the girls if they had ever encountered prejudice because they were girls, and not boys. They didn’t think so.

I knew I was setting the stage, but I was sad when it came.

“But we have had prejudice because we have brown skin, “said one of my daughters. My heart sank. I cried a little inside. Why? Already grade 2?

They told me that one of their friend’s brothers said she should not play with the girls because they had brown skin. They were “no good “because there skin is brown. The friend still played with them, but it made them sad.

The irony of this is that the friend and her older brother are both visible minorities. Am I wrong to expect more of other people who encounter systemic racism? I don’t know. But I was sad, and disappointed. I talked to them about how we can’t change what people think. However, if the boy ever bothered them or acted meanly towards them, that was something that we could work on. I told them that prejudice is something that is too big for little girls to handle. If they were to encounter any prejudice, they should get the help of mommy, daddy, or the school principal. They should not try to handle it alone, not this young.

Anyway, this is not the first discussion we’ve ever had about racism. In fact, at the end of the conversation, Spice was all fired up and started quoting Nina Simone’s songs and talking about Martin Luther King. However, it’s the first time the girls have had that horrible sinking feeling, and it made me unbelievably sad. And, scared for them. If it starts in grade 2, how many times will they encounter this in life?

Today I am going back to the bulk food store again. I will follow up with the manager, and make sure something really will get done. This shouldn’t happen to any other child. No child should experience that yucky horrible feeling of prejudice.

14 thoughts on “Racism and prejudice: apparently it starts in grade 2

  1. Arnica, I cannot express the sadness I feel when I read about issues like these. This is a very real problem the girls will face as they grow and children of other race react out of ignorance of real love and the inability to accept others for who they are.

    Your girls are blessed and fortunate to have parents like you and Jason to teach and guide their holistic development. You handled that situation with dignity and maturity, a true role model for your girls. My wish is that every parent will teach and demonstrate to their children what real love and acceptance is all about. How each and every human being has value and is capable of bringing such richness to this world and that we all need each other, regardless of our race, geography, sexual preference, religion, social standing, boy, girl, man, woman.

    Am sitting here thinking that as parents we MUST educate, create awareness and demonstrate same in our own lives. Such a big responsibility and a necessary one.

    Just so you are aware, I am following your care of your family and is so impressed with your parenting skills but then you are radiate love, you and your family can only continue to be successful and grow.

    One love

  2. Yuck, just yuck. We had an experience this summer in another town (in your province) where I experienced outright racism towards our kids and disgust towards our family for looking the way we do and it was indescribable. It made me feel physically ill. I have never had anyone look at myself or my kids like that before and I hope to never see it again. But sadly, I suspect I will.

    It wasn’t one person or one group of people. It was everywhere we went in that town and I was so sad. I am just horrified that this actually happens and goes on in this day. My kids kept asking me “why is everyone looking at us that way?”. It was awful.

    At least your girls got to see you stand up for them. They will remember that.

    • Hi Sharla,
      We also have had similar experiences but always with individuals. It must have been very difficult to have experienced a large group. Can I ask which town it was? Just so we are prepared if we head that way! Thank you so much for writing about your experience.

  3. I’m so sorry that happened. It sounds like you handled it very well and I commend you dealing with it head on – both with your kids and with the store manager.

    • I went back today and talked more with e store manager. It was actually the assistant manager yesterday. Apparently, she had heard all about it, and watched the video playback. She took it very seriously, teared up herself, and said “the look on your face just made the mother in me upset too.” Guess I wasn’t exactly using my poker face…

  4. Thank you Arnica for sharing the good, bad and the ugly. We also have had similar experiences, in grocery stores, our school, with a food vendor at The Children’s Festival in Vancouver, LOL!, and more recently at a campground in Missoula Montana. And we have had very similar experiences in the way racism presents itself. Its always hard to deal with because it hits you at your very core. We try our best to not ignore it, to expose it, and to leave with our dignity intact! Thank you so much for being open about it and sharing your story. I am so thankful for your blog ! : )

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