Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Black& Brown & White...

I was kind of waiting and wondering when this would happen... My very diverse group of kindergarteners seemed to all of a sudden realize that they are different. This happened yesterday at approximately 3:14, when we were supposed to be leaving.

Now, in an ordinary school on an ordinary day, it seems to me that kids would be climbing all over themselves to get out the door. Not my kids- they drag their feet, and hide in the bathroom, and lay on the floor under the table just to drag out dismissal time. This causes us to be some of the last kids out of the building. Since some of my kindergarteners have VERY COOL PARENTS who choose to not wear coats or jackets or even a top with sleeves when it's 45* F, I get some pretty adolescent looking snarls and glares as I finally drag their unwilling little feet out the door. In my head I am composing a Budweiser-type advertising song about these people, these "Mr. I-Can't-Leave-High-School-Behind" types. I'll let you know if I come up with a whole one, but in the meantime I just smile like a psycho and wave wildly as my kids leave.

Where was I? Oh yeah. It's like that moment in time when kids see what the other gender looks like. One of my students, the girl who likes to copy me, looked up at me and said, "You're white, right Mrs. Clarateaches?"

"Yes, we call people who have this kind of skin white."

Another little boy, Introspective Child, who has a white and a black parent piped up. "I have brown skin, I'm not white."

"No, you're black!" yelled my little Octopus Child, and before he had a chance to clutch at Introspective Child's arm, I intercepted him. There needs to be an Olympics for this sort of thing.

"He's brown, but he's not a Mexican," commented the girl who likes to copy me (who is of Hispanic heritage).

The dismissal bell had already gone off by now, and the first graders were herding past our door. I explained that people are a lot of different shades of peach and brown, but most people call people with lighter skin "white," and darkest skin "black," and that it's always nice to find out more about people. By this point, I was spatula-ing them out the door and into the hallway. Why can't these Vivian Gussein Paley moments happen during the day, dangitall anyways? My students, especially the ones of color, were still looking perplexed. Introspective Child pinched his arm all the way down the hall, and Girl Who Likes to Copy Me was trying to hold her arm by mine to compare the skin tones.

Hoping this continues, I'm really curious about what else they will say. This seems to be one of those discussions where it really needs to be child-led, as honesty will really be a lot more refreshing than a PC talk about how we're all the same, blendy-blendy, and color-blind blah blah blah. They know much better than that- and what's wrong with that?


Sunflowers said...

I had to have a conversation with a 3rd grader about using sentences like "all black people..." He was rapping a little ditty he had created about the cafeteria food (very good rhyming actually), and the girl next to him (also black) told him to shut his mouth and eat his food, that she didnt like or want to hear his song. He told her, all black people like this music. Then I asked him if she liked the song, and if she was black. And he was like oh, huh, she dont like it. Then I told him how much I liked it and he was like - wow and you are not even black...yea slowly we change race relations one kiddo at a time!

Clara said...

LOL! Kids are too hilarious. My group really is pretty diverse, and at this age, their curiosity and wording of things is just so cute. The "Girl Who Likes to Copy Me" is always commenting that people (in books, or in the room, or whatever) are either "Mexican" or "Not Mexican." She's positively speechless with happiness when we do something in Spanish, and when we did activities for Los Dios De Los Muertos, she beamed for days.

I am thinking of doing a more in-depth discovery of all of this after Christmas, in time for MLK Jr day- not so much because of the day, but because there'll be enough time without a vacation to thouroughly explore it. I have to make sure and balance a lot of everything- we did this a little in September; only one of my Hispanic kids is from Puerto Rico, and one is from Cuba, and the other seven are born to parents from Mexico. The kids from Mexico were acting odd about PR, and so my kid from PR was pretending he wasn't from there- we talked about being proud of ourselves no matter what, because there are always good things about everyone in our classroom. We read Little Blue and Little Yellow (Lionni) and that worked for that situation!