Early Mornings.. and shades of skin color

I enjoy the mornings most of all.  I love waking up at five, Ganga’s smile …

Well, that’s how i started this just a minute ago, but instead I’ll write about what just went on, because it’s how things are here, moment to moment, with these children… basically with any children. Class was just over.  One girl (Girl A) came down first and stood next to me, gave me a hug, said something I didn’t understand, but it was just nice babble.  next think I know, just as I started writing, is that Gibi is bringing her to me, and the others are all coming too.  (no one wants to miss a good scolding of someone else).  The first girl (A)had called another girl (B) cross eyed (some truth) and said she would hit her, and lifted her hand in the threat.  Gibi heard the whole thing.  We don’t know the provocation, but Girl A if often more predator and Girl B more vulnerable.  Some of this is directly related to shades of skin color… which we struggle with in terms of ingrained prejudices.   Anyway, I heard the whole report (I’m the judge) and said Girl A had to say she was sorry, and touch Girl B’s feet.  Girl A was crying by now, and did what she was told.  At that moment Girl B put her arms around her and wiped her tears, and hugged her and the two of them went off arm in arm.

I don’t know what it’s like as reader, and maybe it’s my own blindness to my kids, but they see so NORMAL.  Because they are orphans, their behavior is much more examined.  They have some very bad street language, but other than that, even the extremes of their misbehavior are within range of what I’ve seen in the peers of my American daughters, children of friends, professionals and non…  Recently I saw a listing at the bottom of a yahoo group for help with misbehavior — something to effect of "dontscream?"  but it listed behavior problems, spitting, biting, hoarding, hitting, tantrums.  It’s not that my kids are deserving of "best behaved children of the year" award, but they are so NORMAL!

They were very moody when they came.  One incident would define the rest of the day.  But that’s changed… there won’t be remnants of today’s skirmish… each seems to want her moment of justice, of being heard, and that’s it…..

The skin color stuff will crop up again… it never goes away.

Well, back to the morning… the girls no longer walk like ducklings.  They walk in twos or threes, sometimes holding my hands or Seema’s… just ordinary school girls on their way.  These days Ganga comes in my backpack, and she is truly our ambassador of friendship.  People stop to ask about her, take her hand, say tata…  She makes people smile, which is what she does at five when I open my eyes, and she is waiting for me to see her, and then she smiles… 

Interrupted again… now late in the afternoon.  Here is what happened:  Girl B (the dark and vulnerable one) came to Gibi crying.  Girl C hit her.  I sent Girl C to the corner after yelling she was never to do that again.  Now we had two incidents.  The "provocation" was that Girl B was cleaning her dish too slowly and Girl C wanted to start washing the floor.  (The girls have regular cleaning chores).  I remembered back several months, near the beginning, when the girls got together and announced that they all wanted to leave, to go back to the institution where they had been.  I interpreted this as their wanting assurance they wouldn’t be sent back.  We all talked about it, and on individual polls, only two wanted to go back… Girl A and Girl B.  I wasn’t surprised about Girl A as she was accustomed to be praised for reporting bad behavior of others.  For instance she once complained that another girl had belongings of yet another girl in her locker.  So I asked her what she was doing in her locker.  Are you the police?  "That is not your locker."  I sent her to the corner for going into someone else’s locker.  She had been in a system where you got points for reporting bad behavior of others.  Here I ask, "What your business?"   Girl B said she wanted to leave because Girl C was hitting her, which we did not know at all.  We made it clear this was not acceptable, and would not continue.

Girl C has never hit anyone else.  Clearly others have provoked her.  Girl A hit two of our staff people, our darkest skinned childcare workers.  Of course we dealt with the color issue, which is that I yelled at her that she thought she was better just because her skin was lighter… and this was disgusting.  (I"m sure experts would suggest other things to say). 

On this same day I was chatting online with my younger daughter in NY, my Indian daughter.  She said, "Mom, an odd thing happened to me today.  I was having coffee with a (white) friend of mine, and this man (white) came up to me and said, ‘Are you untouchable?  Do you want me to fix that?"  She was upset… and the next morning was still upset.

So Gibi and I talked with Girl C, and I actually asked if she had ever hit anyone else, and she had not.  I talked to her about skin color, and untouchables… and interestingly Gibi translated the same word as dark, and untouchable.  We had a long talk.  She seemed to understand.  She was shocked when i told of my daughter’s NY experience.  I let her know this is everywhere, and terrible.. and why, and about worth of human beings… all the stuff we tell our kids when we try to instill our values, and counteract those they get from outside.  I have no idea if it helped, except she knows that hitting Girl B is something that comes with a lot of discussion afterwords.

Girl B: What is her contribution to being hit?  Well, from my perspective, NONE.  She can be difficult, irritable, fight at times, compete as they all do.;.. but there is no behavior that other’s don’t have in some form.  I don’t think she "invites" it.  This is all about believing the consequences for hitting a dark skinned person are less than hitting a light skinned person.  I don’t know if we can make a dent.  But we all try with our kids because it’s too terrible not to even try. When our children are under discriminatory attack in some way, they can at least know, "Mom says that what is happening to me is wrong."  And when our children are the perpetrators, they can at least know that they are going against our moral values and teaching.  Mom says it’s disgusting.

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