Monday, January 17, 2011

I'm OK. You're OK.

Isaiah this morning: Living the dream. . .

 "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

~ Eleanor Roosevelt
I was riding in the car with Isaiah the other day on the way home from school.  Like always, he was running down, in great detail, every little thing that had happened that day. Usually, I drive along saying, "Uh huh. . uh huh. . oh wow, bud, really?. . . .uh huh. . .you did?. . . uh huh. . ." 

You get the picture.

Mostly it's stuff like who got a "silent lunch" or who was the mystery reader or what girl he thinks he (just might) consider marrying.  But this day, he threw me for a loop.

"One of my friends asked me to come over for a play date soon, but I don't think so."

"Oh, yeah? Which one?"

He said the name and I was a bit surprised. This kid was a part of his "crew."  Isaiah has a group of pals at school, all of whom are kindergartners, and as a pack, they literally look like a Benetton ad.  He speaks of them nonstop, and the thought of him referring to part of the UN posse as a no go for a play date was perplexing.

"Why wouldn't you want to go over his house? Isn't he your friend?"

"He is."

Uh okay.

"So why wouldn't you want to go for a play date with him?"

"Oh, because he said that people with black skin are bad and not smart."


You know the needle scratched the record on that one.  I could feel my protective mommy instincts revving up BIG TIME.

"What???"  I tried not to sound as outraged as I was feeling.

Isaiah was super, duper calm.  So I decided I needed to follow his lead.  I took a deep breath and asked more questions.

"Why would he say something like that?" (Dumb question, right? He's in kindergarten so of course he heard an adult say it. Duh.) "I mean, how did that make you feel?"

"Well, it didn't make me feel good, Mom. That's for sure."

And I'm telling you. He said it like he was talking about soccer practice or something on his Nintendo DSi. Like it was no big deal.  No sweat off of his back.

"Who was there with you?"  (Yes, another dumb question. I know who is in his crew and that he is the only member that happens to be black. Interestingly, the child who dropped this zinger was of color--just not the black persuasion.)

He named all of the kids who were there. In that group of five kids, a myriad of ethnicities were represented.  But my Isaiah was the lone African-American kid. I thought I would be sick. Or worse, that I would go to the school and kick someone's ass.

"So. . . . .what happened next? I mean. . .what did you do, son?"

I hated the thought of him being singled out or bullied or even having some seed of self hatred planted for his race at such an early age.  I could feel my blood boiling. . . . .

"Mom, I just looked at him and said, 'What are you even talking about? That is a dumb thing to say.'"

"So then what happened?" I pressed.  I wanted every detail. I was prepared to march on Washington, and I needed facts. Facts, I say.

"He said it again. He said that people with black skin are bad and not smart."

What the. . .? Now I was sure I was going to kick somebody's ass. Or their mama's ass. 100% guar-own-teed.

"But you know what, Mom? I knew it wasn't true so I didn't care."

Yay. Yay, yay, yay.

I can't tell you how many times I've worried about my child not loving who he is, especially considering we don't live in a predominantly black neighborhood. Without being militant, I make every effort to give him as many reasons as possible to be proud of his heritage and of the ancestors that gave so much for us to be here. The day I learned that he would be the only black male in his class, I remember praying that the things we'd discussed with him had marinated enough to carry him through times like this.

I could feel my eyes tingling with tears, the emotions behind which I could not explain. I was speechless. But Isaiah wasn't.

"So you know what I said to him?  I said, 'That's a dumb thing to say because that is not true. FIRST of all, Miss W. is our teacher and SHE has black skin. And SECOND of all, Mr. M. has black skin and he's the PRINCIPAL so you KNOW he's smart and not bad!"  He said it all with that exasperated "duh" type voice. Like his friend had said something that was total nonsense.

I felt this weird mixture of wanting to cry and pride at the same time. He kept going.

With a childishly innocent laugh he added, "and guess what my other friend said?" (His Jewish friend with white skin, that is.)

I was afraid to guess, but knew I needed to hear it. "What did he say?"

He snorted and giggled, "He said, Yeah and THIRD of all, OBAMA has black skin and HE is the PRESIDENT of the WHOLE UNITED STATES! So DUHHHH!' and Mommy, everybody started laughing really hard because how can the president be bad and not smart?" He cackled a silly cackle.

Now I really wanted to cry.

"Did you tell anyone?"

"About what?"

"About what he said to you."

"It was a dumb thing to say so we all just ignored it and kept playing."

"Oh. . . okay. Do you think maybe we should tell Miss W.?"

"About what?"

"Isaiah! About what he said to you about black skin."

"No, Mom. That was a dumb thing to say. Hey, can I have a hot dog for dinner?"

"Maybe.  So are you okay. . .I mean, about what he said about people with black skin?"

"I'm okay with having black skin because that's how God made me. And you and dad told me to be proud of how God made me." That one knocked the wind from my chest. "Oh, Mom? I definitely don't want any brussel sprouts or spaghetti again."

I caught my breath and said, "Okay. You can have salad.  Uuhhh. . .so are y'all still friends? You and him?"

"Oh yeah, Mom, he's still my friend. Now he knows that what he said was dumb so now he doesn't think that anymore. . . . ."


I drove in silence trying to get my head around the whole conversation and marveling at the beautiful innocence of children.

". . .but, Mom? I still don't want to go to his house for a play date."



  1. Wow. I can only pray I'm giving James as much confidence and belief in *who he is* as you've given Isaiah, so that when my James faces something like that, he's able to call it out for what it is: dumb (perhaps I'd choose stronger words, but boy, does that sum it up from the perspective of a 5 year old). Good job, mama, and good job, Isaiah.

  2. Becs, thought of you and James when I wrote this, actually. . . . don't worry. He'll be fine.

  3. That is how God made him, bless his heart :) I teared up when I read that. I feel so sorry for that little boy, he doesn't have good parents like Isaiah does.

    ( I am going to try to be better about commenting- I promise! :) )

  4. Dr. M, you are awesome, and your son, even more awesome.

    I love reading your blog for posts like this.

  5. That entry made me cry. Your son is a lucky child to have a parent who teaches him as you do.

  6. P.S. I linked your post in mine. Hope that was okay! :)

  7. Found you through Becca's blog.

    I am just in awe that your son handled this with such poise and confidence at a young age. I can only imagine how proud that must have made you.

    It saddens me beyond belief that sentiments such as these still exist. I had hoped that, by the time I had children, my own wouldn't have to face some of the ignorance that I did growing up. I hope that if it ever comes their way, I've raised them well enough to handle it like your son did.

    Thank you for this!

  8. Wow. You've taught your son well, you should be proud of him. My 10 year old experienced the same thing and it can be heart breaking (and make you want to kick someone's ass).

  9. Out of the mouths of babes.

  10. Kim,
    I am tearing up. Good for Isaiah, for his parents and for his friend. The friend learned a vital lesson from his peer. Teach that Isaiah! ....train a child in the way that he should go and he will not depart from it... You two are doing a great job. Thanks for sharing.

  11. This is funny, sad & awesome all at once. I can totally see Isaiah in the back seat having this conversation with you, which is funny. It's sad that a 5 year old in 2011 is living with people & learning ignorance... and it's awesome that Isaiah and his friends thought to teach him what was right rather than turn their back on him.

    I'm still a little suspect of his parents & I'd have to talk to them before I'd want my nephew hanging out at his house. But knowing Isaiah he might teach those parents a thing or two!



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