Perceived Racism and the Playground

Dear Reader,

I had been thinking about this topic but had been afraid to blog on it. Then I ran across this wonderful article by Glenn Sunshine at Under the Sun. He says basically what I have been thinking but with bigger words.

The problem we have is that we have met two new families within the last year at our homeschool park days. Each family has two girls roughly the ages of my two girls. I had been praying for friends for my oldest daughter particularly for a while so it has been wonderful to meet more families with girls her age. And my girls get along with both sets of sisters. The problem is they don’t get along with each other. One family is white and the other has a mom of Asian descent and a dad of very mixed descent but who definitely looks neither white nor Asian. I first became aware there was a problem when the mom of the mixed race family told me that they had tried to play with the white family many years ago at park days (before we lived in the area) but that this other family had seemed like they didn’t want anything to do with them. She attributed this lack of pursuing the friendship to racism.

So I have had this information for a while. I had noticed that when we invited both families to things, the mixed race family would turn us down. I am not sure if this has been deliberately done because the white family will be there or not.

Last week the situation changed a little because my 10-year-old daughter became aware of the problem. She had been playing with the mixed race girls and they needed more people for their game so she said let’s ask M- and H-, the two girls from the white family. The other girls told her basically they don’t like us so we don’t play with them. My daughter asked anyway and M- and H- had to say no because they were leaving to go home just then. But she was asking me afterwards how to deal with the situation. All I could think to say was be friends to both. Don’t choose sides.

I honestly don’t think the white family has an idea that there is an issue. They have certainly never said anything to me about the whole situation. And I can’t think of a polite way to say, “Um, are you racist??”

There have been numerous times when I have started to make a new friend, when I’ve gotten together with someone once or twice, and then they have become evasive about meeting up and basically the friendship hasn’t worked out. Being white, I have never been able to say they don’t like me because of my race. It almost seems like it would be kind of nice to blame the problem on someone else’s flaws (racism) than to have to consider that maybe there is something about me personally that they didn’t like.

This is not the only time I can think of such situations either. There is one in my family which I would rather not get into here but which leads to certain family members having reduced contact with others. There was also an African-American friend in grad school who said certain professors were harder on him because of his race. Frankly,I don’t think that was true. I think his work was poor, but once again he had the luxury of blaming race.

Now I know that there is genuine racism in the world. I can see how if you have been the victim of racism, or your family members have, or you have even just been raised to think it is out there everywhere, that it is natural to fall back on it as the easiest answer to why things didn’t go your way or why people are treating you in ways you don’t like. But even if you have experienced legitimate racism, that doesn’t mean every perceived snub is racism. Trust me, I am white and I have been snubbed  a lot. And as a white person, I can say that most of us don’t really think about race that much. More often than not, we are probably acting out of other motivations. But it is natural, I think, to think that if I am always thinking about a certain subject that others are too. So if you are someone that has to be aware of their own race a lot, then you would naturally assume that others are also aware and thinking about race.

Honestly, when my Asian friend first told me she had lost friends after they met her husband, I thought it was because he was a large person. It never occurred to me that they would lose friends because theirs is a mixed race marriage. It didn’t bother me that he was a very imposing figure, by the way. He reminded me of my oldest brother, also a large person, whom many of my friends in high school found intimidating. Now I can see that what I thought was a  bit silly, but my point is that I interpreted the experience through the lens of what I had known. Not knowing racism, that hadn’t even occurred to me as an explanation. If you have experienced racism, you will have a tendency to see every situation in those terms. But if you haven’t, race just may not play into your thinking at all. So what I would like to be able to tell my friend (and also a certain family member) is that race is really not an issue for many of us white people. We don’t think about it as much as you assume we do. Sometimes you need to look for other explanations.

So I still don’t really know how to deal with the playground situation other than to say we will be friends with both and hope that if they have to come into contact they will each find the other is not so bad (though as far as I know the white family has no problem with the other or no idea there is a problem). But if anyone has any advice on how to deal with the situation. I’d love some input.

Nebby

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Thought-provoking post. Thank you. I don’t think I have advice to give other than what you will have already thought about. BTW, if the white family did end up having problems with the mixed-race family, on the basis of their race, I would have serious issues with them but I am like you, I have had lots of rebuffs making new friends and frankly I have rebuffed others and I’m sure they had no more idea why this was happening to them than I did for me – and it wasn’t for race either. There are lots of reasons people don’t get on and it’s not always obvious why. And sometimes it’s due to false assumptions or incorrect info. which is unfortunate and I know this because sometimes I’ve had to keep meeting people I didn’t warm to and then found they were different than I thought and I’m sure this has happened the other way around too. Brave choice of subjects. Well done 🙂

    Reply

  2. No advice from me either, but I don’t eny the situation. I am also one who coesn’t give much thought to ones race but I think you are doing the right thing to show friendship to both, and most improtantly that ypur children see you being unpredjuduced. Long time, no comments here. Ihope you and your family are all doing well health wise. How is the head ache boy? the diabetes?

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  3. Thank you both for your comments. They are very encouraging. I suppose it is possible there is real racism involved but if it is at the level of “my kids can’t even play with your Asian (or mixed race but I am not sure if thye know this; the kids just look Asian) kids” then I would think it would slip out in conversation sometime like there would be negative comments to me about why I let my kids play with them. So without further evidence, I choose to believe that my friend is not racist.

    Ruby– thanks for asking about the health issues. Diabetes, as you know, is constant. No better, no worse. Just a lot of work. Overall her numbers are decent and we haven;’t had any serious situation in quite a while.

    My son with the headaches is doing a lot better. After almost 2 full years of having a headache, he has now been headache free for 6 weeks straight. What seems to work for him is a combination of homeopathic medicine and acupuncture. We are trying now to stretch out the acupuncture appointments. He has been going about every 3 weeks to maintain the lack of headache.

    We have also been working on my youngest’s eczema. She had been doing okay just avoiding wheat and dairy but summer’s have always been tough on her and we have found we need to eliminate soy too.

    Nebby

    Reply

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