Yesterday as I picked Jacob up from school and we were rushing out the door two younger boys said, “Hi, Chocolate” then a minute later added “pudding”. I wasn’t able to process what they’d said quickly enough to have a talk with them, but I also know that would have made Jacob very uncomfortable.
I asked him if he knew the boys and he basically said they were just annoying 2nd graders. We talked about it a bit and I told Jacob and his sister that, just like their older siblings, if they were friends or family and they called each other chocolate and vanilla or Asian and Mexican, as his siblings do, that’d be different. If they aren’t really friends and these boys just decided that was okay to call him – it’s not.
I’ve sent an e-mail to inform the teachers and let them know I realize these boys likely meant nothing racist by it and wasn’t sure there was much they could do about it, but that I wanted them aware in case they overheard it sometime. I also let them know that, different place, different person and the response might be much less pleasant than Jacob’s rushed “hi” back to them.
The acceptance of a nickname indicating anything to do with race has everything to do with the relationship between those people. Those of us with young men of color whose core group of friends are a racial blend know that using names that might be slurs in another setting – just to be clear, not the “N” word, that’s never ok with me – is part of how they show their affection for each other. Much like young men may slug each other or wrestle each other – it’s just what they do.
They tease each other with racial stereotypes – because they know it’s safe between them to do that and they’ve all had those stereotypes used against them. Many black men use the “N” word basically in place of the word “brother”. As an older white woman who grew up during the civil rights era – it just makes me really uncomfortable.
Just another reminder to talk to your kids about race. It’s so often a subject white people don’t discuss, but when you don’t your kids assume there’s something bad or wrong about people whose race differs from their own. This article Even Babies Discriminate shows that kids do think about it and if we’re not talking about it, then they think it must be bad. Another great resource I just read is Five Myths of Talking About Race With Your Child.