Racism in Kindergarten, Part 1

On the day after election day, Sophie reported that a girl at school told her: “If Obama gets elected, he is going to kill all the white people.”

Yes, a five-year-old said that. In Southern California, in my hippie surfer-gardener-yoga-obsessed town.

I am certain that’s not the kind of thing a five-year-old invents on her own. That must have been overheard from adults.

I spluttered when I heard it. I told Soph we don’t make accusations of killing; that’s really serious and really awful — especially killing by race, which is just wrong. I told Soph that Obama’s own mother is white, that our president actually has lots of different kinds of people in his family and isn’t that neat? I happened to be watching Obama’s acceptance speech that morning, so I asked Sophie, “Does he look like a killer?” Soph agreed that our president looks and sounds like a very nice man, and she liked Malia’s dress, in whatever clip we were watching.

Soph didn’t seem phased by having overheard frighteningly racist hate-speech. She had already informed her schoolmate that she was wrong about Obama, and then Soph moved on.

But I can’t let it go. I keep thinking of the illogic of it all (What about his grandmother? If you believe in racially-motivated genocide, how do you explain Obama’s failure to initiate this during his first term? And, umm, isn’t this what whites were saying about blacks in 1870: have we really not moved beyond such guilt-inspired hate speech?)

I emailed Soph’s classroom teacher, mentioning the remark and urging some curriculum on tolerance or stereotype-challenging or whatever I hope she already teaches. But the comment actually didn’t come from a classmate: it came from a schoolmate in Soph’s school’s after school program. I don’t talk to the after school teachers as much, but maybe I should. Or the principal. I don’t know how much I want to push tolerance on people (it doesn’t seem very tolerant of me, perhaps). I don’t know how much I should be bothered by something that (apparently) doesn’t bother Soph. Still, it has lodged in my mind.

I don’t think I have ever heard such a racist sentence, and to hear it via my daughter is frightening.


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