Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Racisim - How do I protect my daughter?

I was very surprised on Saturday when an English friend of mine told me that her daughter was being bullied in school. But surprise turned to genuine shock when she told me the reason why. Her daughter was being bullied because of the colour of her skin. She had come home with bruises on her legs from being kicked under the table by the bully and she had tried scrub herself 'white' at bath time. She is being called Jungle Girl by her schoolmates.
As a result of this, her daughters self confidence has plummeted to zero, she cries herself to sleep every night and is now questioning if she is a bad person because she is brown skinned. She is only nine years old. How do you explain discrimination to a nine year old child who has never encountered anything as ugly as the situation she finds herself in? I realised that up until Saturday I lived in a bubble when it came to racism. That has now been burst and a whole can of worms has been opened up for me.

I am mixed race, as my friends daughter is, and I took a lot from my mother in terms of physical appearance (just as my friends daughter has from her) which means that a lot of the time I have to pick peoples jaws off the floor when I tell them I am Nigerian. But NEVER, NEVER did I ever experience any sort of racism in Nigeria because of the colour of my skin. Apart from the usual calls of Oyinbo, Bature or Aniocha (hope I spelt this right) mostly from traders (and never said with any trace of malice or discrimination) I have never given my skin colouration a second thought.

The first time I ever had to confront my ethnicity was when I first came to the UK and was applying for jobs. In addition to the application form, an Equal Opportunity form was always included. The first problem I had with them was that I didn't fit into any of the categories (things have changed now as the categories have been broadened to include White and Black African) and so I made one up for myself - EuroNigerian and I have used that ever since. The other thing I just could not wrap my head around was the need for a potential employer to know my race. I don't buy the equal opps thing; I should be hired because of my qualifications, experience and intelligence, not to fit some national quota. Or am I being ignorant here?

Since Saturday I have been racked by irrational fear and panic. I fear for my daughters future should my husband and I decide to remain here till the end of our days. I cannot stand the thought of her being bullied, made to feel ashamed of who she is or being disadvantaged in some way because of the colour of her skin. Since I never faced these issues growing up in Nigeria, I feel guilty over the fact that I may be placing her in the very situation that I want to protect her from. I want her to grow up to be proud of who she is, to be strong enough to fight back when she is faced with racism, to achieve her maximum potential without the obstacle of discrimination. Do I take her back to Nigeria/Africa to become a grounded person and then bring her back here? Do I put her in public or private school? My thoughts are just all over the place made moreso by this irrational panic that I am feeling. It would break my heart if she came home one day and tried to wash her colour off or be in tears every night because she is being called a jungle girl. I am very afraid for my daughter.


Blogger sokari said...

I had some similar experiences as you discuss in this piece. I schooled in Nigeria but for the most part my children schooled in the US and UK. All three experienced racism in school not from other children but from staff particularly my youngest. I did deal with it and I am happy to say that all three are now well adjusted young adults. The experience has not left any negative marks on the contrary it has made them more aware of their envionrment and the ability to deal with racism and other bigotry in a mature way.

I hope this helps.

6:28 pm  
Blogger Pilgrimage to Self said...

Owukori: Thanks for your comment. Up until Saturday, racisim was something I just never really thought about. I guess it was a case of if I didn't think about it, it wouldn't happen. I am just so shocked that children as young as eight or nine are being filled with such hatefulness for others who are different from them by their parents (who else can they be getting these ideas from?). It's time to take off my rose coloured glasses.

8:13 pm  
Blogger sokari said...

yes that is very worrying. I hope you have taken it up with the form teacher and head teacher? We learn so much once our children start school - its all out there unfortunately and it hurts more when it affects our kids than when it affects us.

Good luck

6:10 pm  
Anonymous Godfrey Daniel said...

Very difficult. I think the best way to deal with this as regards the children--confrontation is needed when staff are involved--is to remember childhood is a time of emotional testing and this can play out as cruelty. While the case with your friend's child has the appearance of clear racism, and there very well may be an issue of it being passed on by the parents, it can sometimes be simply a matter of targeting "otherness".

Large noses, big feet, red hair, left-handedness, obesity, thick glasses, speech impediments, and on and on can draw very unkind attention. The purpose is testing for weakness. If your friend speaks to her daughter about this in this context it will serve to shift her focus and she will then notice other children suffering this abuse for things other than blackness. Very important for her not to associate their cruelty with her skin, rather to see it as their problem being played out in different ways with different children. She must stand up for herself, but she wont be able to if she accepts a false guilt imposed by intimidation and confusion.

If she hasn't done so already, you should encourage your friend to go to staff about this. My advice would be to address it as a bullying issue rather than a racial one.

4:38 am  
Blogger Pilgrimage to Self said...

My friend has gone to the Head teacher about this who in turn had a word with the class teacher (who is in charge of her daughters class). Now the twist is, the class teacher turned on her daughter (singling her out in class, ignoring her etc) because she was upset about being talked to by the head teacher. Another black child has stood up for my friends daughter and now he too is getting the same treatment in the school by the other kids in the class. It's all very difficult.

I do agree with you that kids can be cruel to their peers simply because they view them as different and yes, my friends daughter will at some point have to stand up for herself but right now she is feeling very vulnerable and low in herself. I will speak to my friend about it and get her to encourage her daughter to stand up for herself and explain to her that the problem is with the other kids not with her.

Thanks Godfrey.

8:48 am  
Anonymous Godfrey Daniel said...

Three children, a boy and two younger sisters, apparently had not seen many dark skinned people. When they first saw my daughter with her dreadlocks they broke into spontaneous laughter. The boy said, "wow, you are ugly!"

The children were talked to. Race was never mentioned. Time passed. The boy ended up having a crush on my daughter.

Your friend should return to the Head Teacher to inform her of the situation subsequent to her initial complaint.

1:07 am  
Blogger Stefan Schmidt said...

Children are bullied for a multitude of reasons. Being different from the norm is one (and a big reason as a matter of fact).

Being Black you do not fit in a White student body and therefore your (or her) daughter sticks out like a soar thumb.

Quite frankly there is a solution- back to Africa. Therefore your (and her) daughter will feel ‘right at home’ (so to speak).

5:43 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kids today are bullied for a myrid of reasons. It is very sad and heartbreaking for parents to accept.
I don't think going back to Africa will solve your problem though. We need to help our kids realize that leaving the problem isn't going to fix it. Instead we just need to be there for them and always be a sorce of comfort and dependablity. Dealing with the problem won't be easy, but it is necessary in order for learning and growing to take place.
Everyone is different, and that is what makes this world a beautiful place. Stay strong. I hope that everything will work out for you.

10:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

some body please tell me if they think this is racism im married to a muslim but we seperated im now dating a non practicing muslim kurdish i have many black african friends some muslim some not but whilst in a taxi on bonfire night after several drinks my boyfriend called me on my phone he was annoyed at how much id drank but was only teasing when he said haram meaning alcohol ect i said were not bloody muslim in fun the taxi drive asian muslim locked mein his cab and had me arrested at which point i became annoyed and started shouting i dont recall what i said or did i was in a rage and drunk im now facing a public order and racism charge i have no criminal record ive always been against racism but this taxi driver is makng me see why english people ar so racist if this is what happens he knew i wasnt talking to him but his statement is full of lies no mention of me being on the phone my friends think hes after compensation as he kept saying in his statment that he was distressed yeah realy and what the hell am i now chilled no i was pregnant to a muslim and lost it and im trying again do i sound racist

10:51 am  
Anonymous pride said...

What will returning to africa accomplish? i am a 14 year old asian boy, although im christian and have never been brought up with muslims or sihks i am coping with racism all the time, just last week i was beaten up and jad my teeth kicked out just becaus eof my skin colour by 4-5 white adolecents. however i hold my head up high and every time i here the word "paki" i smile and let it pass, because like all bullies racists are no different in the way that if they are recieving no reaction or credit for what they are doing they will give up,

however young i am i worry about how my children will one day suffer racism. but we stand together as one great nation against racism and will fight untill the end, it is shocking how dominated the united kingdom has now come by racists but i have reread history and racism is infact decreasing; there is a black president for the first time and equally the kkk has opened a website challenging this, but we will stand together and will live through this time, and i tell no lies as in racism will always exist but we will not cower down to its demands and our challenge is easying, if anybody wants to discuss this issue further and get a 14 year olds view and opinion talk to me on; thankyou

10:20 pm  

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