The first time I remember thinking about race is when I was four, in kindergarten, and holding hands with my friend, a white girl named Robin. I remember quite clearly that we were walking from the main elementary building to the little kindergarten building at our school. I looked down and noted the color difference of our entwined hands. And I remember being a bit jealous of her lighter skin. I don't remember a time when I didn't know (and as a child, believe) what the children in A Girl Like Me know, that white was good and pretty and just plain better.
I learned about racism from my parents and older relatives, too, who taught me to be careful (always careful) and suspicious, to fashion "the mask"' that shielded the real me.
When I taught fourth grade, one little black girl in my class was incensed that another black student, in describing her recently deceased grandmother, said that her grandmother was in heaven. "That's not true," she told me privately. "How do you know?" I asked. "Because black people don't go to heaven." That was one of the things that almost killed me during my brief teaching career.
My son has not expressed (aloud, at least) signs of the inferiority complex yet, but he has expressed concern about the dearth of black teachers at his school and is beginning to get that awkward feeling when he is the only black child in a group of children. Last night, he cuddled with me for a minute and, knowing my usual summer pattern of nonstop Food Network-watching, asked why I wasn't watching the channel. "Nothing good on," I said. "No Paula or Rachael?" he asked. "Nuh-uh." "What about the Hispanic guy you like?" He was talking about Emeril. That floored me--of course I used cues like hair and skin color when I was his age, but living in a biracial town, I encoded everyone as black, white, or other. No other distinctions (even erroneous ones like his) for me.
And of course, these children of whom Vox speaks, have learned definite lessons about race and racism:
In the past two months, we’ve heard of Shaquanda Cotton (14, shoved a teacher’s aide, sentenced to up to 7 years in prison, released last month after one year), Desre’e Watson (6, threw a tantrum at school, charged with two misdemeanors and a felony), Lucilia (13, forced to have sex by pimp after running away from abusive home, in and out of prison for prostitution), Gerard Mungo Jr. (7, sat on dirt bike — not running at the time — on sidewalk waiting for father, arrested, processed, and let go; bike was confiscated), and the Jena Six (high school students, defended themselves against racist white bullies, charged with conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder).I've said all this to opine that we know that children of color, sometimes from early ages, know about, experience, construct ideas about race and racism.
And now an 11-year-old Ojibwe boy, whose name was not released, was arrested because he failed to appear in court as a witness (or rather, his mother failed to take him) in a case where a 13-year-old boy bullied him and his mother assaulted his attacker. Police handcuffed him and dragged him out of class.
So where does the assumption, the expectation, that white children do not, come from? I'm thinking of LaSalle Parish School Board Superintendent who dismissed white children's (in Jena) hanging nooses from a tree with "“Adolescents play pranks... I don’t think it was a threat against anybody.” An of the case in Ohio, where after white children at a football game "yelled racial slurs, painted their faces black, beat on frying pans, and wore Afro wigs when their team played a predominantly black opponent"* the president of the youth football association said, “Their actions, albeit unwise, foolish and insensitive, were meant to be totally supportive and not intended to insult or offend anyone in any way.”
Let's, for a minute, pretend that the men who made these statements are sincere. How do we arrive at the conclusion that white children, who live in the same racially coded and stratified society as children of color, do not construct notions of race and hierarchy, cannot knowingly use symbols and language of racism? Of course, their constructions and personal knowledge are different than those of children of color, but to posit that they are absent?
I think it is related to the idea of colorblindness--who else cannot afford to see color? More generally, I think the assumption stems from the positioning of white as normative, as somehow not a race or color, and of "whiteness" as default rather than privileged. Of course, this obscures the works of "whiteness" scholars, who posit that whites spent (and spend) an inordinate amount of time creating and strengthening notions of whiteness and protecting its benefits.
I think a question like "how do white children learn about and construct race and racism," is not solely what I want to ask--there are millions of individual answers to that one. I need to focus on narrowing my questions but also in examining, beyond these two examples, how this assumption is perpetuated.
Rachel's words from here.