This is one of those posts that I have to write, but I’m not going to enjoy it. It isn’t going to make me feel good and it isn’t probably going to make you feel good either. It isn’t full of warm fuzzies, puppies, kittens, and rainbows. It’s one of those things that I need to write. If I don’t, my heart will die just a little bit. My soul will begin to shrivel up. My conscience will become like a flower trampled under a thousand feet and left praying for a moment of peace and sunlight. I will have denied everything I know to be true and done the opposite of what I know is right and encourage my children to do. Am I being serious enough for you yet?
This afternoon I went to my son’s elementary school for the book fair. I was planning to stay for just a few minutes so I could redeem a gift card he had won by reading a ridiculous amount of books back in March. I went in and began perusing the books and games and located the librarian to enquire about the gift certificate. She told me that my son’s teacher probably had it in the classroom. I really didn’t want to spend a lot of time. I was on a schedule and had some babies at home that I really wanted to get back to (my husband was home-they weren’t alone) so I quickly went to the classroom to get the paper. My son excitedly showed me all the literacy stations in his classroom and the others nearby. We spent at least 15 minutes there and I told him that we really needed to go.
When I was about halfway down the hall I heard the voice of another teacher say, “I just heard something that made me ill.” I turned around and my son’s assistant teacher and another teacher with whom I’m not especially familiar, were standing there looking at us. She touched her forehead jokingly and repeated, “I just heard something that made me ill.” I was pretty sure that she was referring to our son switching schools next year. I said, “Oh, is it about Kitty-Cat Elementary?” (I changed the name of the school for privacy and so we could have a few puppies and kittens). “Yes,” she replied as they walked toward me. I turned to face them. Smiling, I said, “Well, we moved mid-year and having to pick Emery up has been a challenge for us. We have only one car and we are in the district for Kitty-Cat Elementary. They will be able to bus him to our house and that will be a lot easier for us.” She responded, “Well, have you looked into maybe going to Puppy-Dog Elementary instead?” I’m new to the area so I’m not especially familiar with each school in the district, but I have heard of Puppy-Dog, but we aren’t in that district so I said, “Oh? Would they bus him to our house from Puppy-Dog?” “Oh, I don’t know about that. It’s just that Kitty-Cat isn’t a very good school. He is up here,” as she put her hand up to eye level, “and they are down here,” as she put her hand by her waist, “He is just beyond those kids.” “Oh really?” was all I could get out still thinking about the time. “You know, they cater to the lower eschelon kids…you know,” and here it came…she turned her face toward the side, as if she was about to tell me that they teach sorcery and witchcraft, “hispanics and blacks.” Her face looked irritated, disgusted, and full of disdain.
I can’t imagine that the look of surprise on my face could be missed. I wasn’t even sure if I had just heard what I thought I did. Could the woman who had been assisting my son’s class actually feel that way about “hispanics and blacks?” Could someone who had loved my son for the last 9 months, showered him with praise, and made him so happy really be this ignorant? I had no idea what to even say, “Oh really? Well, I have a good friend who teaches at Kitty-Cat so I’m sure I will just talk to her about what the school is like.” “I think that would be a good idea,” she said, nodding arrogantly.
And I walked away feeling as if someone had just punched me in the stomach. A million thoughts were flying through my head, but none of them were clear. Do I report her? Do I say something? If I do say something, will it affect how she treats my son for the rest of the year? What if it really is a bad school? What if he really doesn’t like it there? She obviously doesn’t know that I am part Mexican or I don’t think she would have included “hispanics” in her list of naughty words.
I left that conversation feeling so frustrated, hurt, confused, angry, sad…every negative emotion you can think of. It would have been different if she had said, “I don’t recommend Kitty-Cat because the test scores are quite low,” or “I don’t recommend kitty-cat because the funding is low and they aren’t able to offer programs that I think your son really enjoys,” or “there have been many reports at Kitty-Cat of gang violence, head lice, or bad breath.” I mean…ANYTHING else but what she said.
And as I walked out to my car, my mind reeling, the word popped into my head…the word I hate to use because it is, in my mind, often overused. A word that carries with it so much pain, suffering, and hatred that I avoid using it at all costs because it implies something intentional and vindictive…something violent, even if only in the heart of man: Racism. This woman was racist. She is ignorant. She is foolish.
As I mentioned, I’m not normally one to pull out that word. I think that the label of racist needs to be reserved for only the select few who truly are complete and total a-holes. It is reserved for people like Hilly Holbrook from The Help. And maybe that’s not fair of me to reserve it only for those people, but I do. Maybe I’ve been so fortunate to be in a family who believes that all men and women are created equal that I had hoped that this kind of private racism didn’t exist anymore…at least not where I live…or with anyone I know.
I don’t know if Kitty-Cat is a good school or not. I don’t know if they have a great budget, wonderful programs, high test scores, and the best playground equipment. As long as it doesn’t have a “white” drinking fountain and a “black” drinking fountain, I really don’t care. Why is a school not “good enough” for my son just because he’s a white boy? If it isn’t “good enough” for my son, then it isn’t “good enough” for anyone else’s. These are children, after all. Don’t we want each and every single child to be provided with the same opportunities to grow, learn, and thrive? Don’t we want every single child to believe in himself? Don’t we want every single child to feel loved, cared for, and nurtured?
As I unlocked my car door and put the children in the van I thought that I need to do something…say something. But what? When? How? Who do I tell?
I put the keys in the ignition and started the van. “It’s all God’s children singing Glory Glory! Hallelujah! He reigns! He reigns!” In the midst of my chaos and frustration, God stepped in. Through the perfect song on the radio He reminded me that every single one is HIS child. He created all of us. He created the beauty that is seen in the diversity of our skin. He himself said to go out and share the good news with EVERYONE. EVERY tribe. EVERY tongue. EVERY nation.
Now I am praying for Kitty-Cat. I’m praying that the hearts of the community are opened. I’m praying that my son’s heart is nurtured. I’m praying for the friends we will surely meet. And I’m praying for that teacher. I’m praying that she will realize the error of her thoughts…that her heart would be soften and her mind would be renewed.
So. My son is going to Kitty-Cat elementary next year…