Get Up, Stand Up…


This morning, I smiled and nodded and let some homophobic comments pass right by me in a schoolyard conversation. I feel disappointed in myself and curious as to the cause of my inability to speak up. I have spent all day considering ways I might deal differently with a similar situation in the future.

This is what happened…

I was joking around with some parents after the drop off. We were having a “cute stories” moment, talking about our little boys liking to dress up in girls’ clothes. Tariku likes to put a toy airplane in his hair and pretend it’s a tiara- that kind of thing. One of the dads piped up with: it’s fine when they’re seven as long as they’re not still wearing dresses when they’re seventeen. “I mean, that’s just not okay,” he said.

And that’s when I said…nothing. I said nothing.

I should have said, I’d be thrilled to have my son in a ball gown at his wedding if that’s what makes him feel good about himself and happy in his own skin. That is the truth.

So why didn’t I?

When I imagine being confronted with racism or sexism or homophobia etc, I think that I would always stand up to it, that I would always do the right thing, no question. In reality, we are often in situations with a great deal of social pressure. We are taken off guard. We want to be liked. We don’t want to make other people uncomfortable.

I feel like an outsider among the parents at pre-school and I am honestly often self conscious about T’s wacky behavior. When we arrive for drop off, most of the kids are sitting nicely, waiting with their parents, while T is running around, hollering and leading dance parties on the playground. I’m conscious that we’re different. The fact that I look like I fell of the side show carnival train doesn’t help. It makes me try extra hard to fit in. I think my desire to be socially accepted at the school is one factor in my silence.

Another factor is practice. It can be helpful to think situations like this through before we get blindsided with them. When I was first walking around in the world with Tariku, it used to be a lot harder for me to speak up when people said boneheaded things about adoption or race. Now I’m more experienced and I have a handful of standard responses that allow me to speak my mind in a way that doesn’t generally create a confrontational dynamic. I rarely wind up in the car later obsessing about what I might have said.

I’ve been thinking about the standard narrative of Rosa Parks. I was always told that she was tired from work one day and refused to move to the back of the bus. The reality is that she was a trained civil rights activist and that her refusal to move was a planned act of civil disobedience. We could all benefit from a little training, from a little practice. Perhaps on all of those back-to-school nights that we spend looking at their macaroni collages, we could take ten minutes to have a conversation about diversity.

Whether or not it’s incorporated at an institutional level, this does remind me how important it is to keep an open dialogue about these issues at home.

I’m going to a parent meeting at the school tonight and I’m going to bring up the idea. Because, as I would say to T when he screws up, “We’re gonna do better next time!”

Wish me luck!

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6 thoughts on “Get Up, Stand Up…

  1. It’s a great idea that you are going to bring it up at the meeting with the parents. I feel diversity should always be included in school settings. It’s hard to watch kids display their parents’ close-minded ideas at school, possibly harming other kids (emotionally and/or physically).
    Part of diversity is people being more introverted or more extroverted too. I hope that they accept Tariku with open arms for the mounds of awesomeness he brings to the school each day.

  2. I am a bad person because I am often willing to let people slide by assuming they are good inside and mean the best. So I would have walked away thinking, “He probably means that it’s EASY for these kids at this age, but because society sucks, it will be HARDER for the ones who are doing it at seventeen.”

    But that guy is a part of the reason it is hard for the seventeen year olds, so he should get a little update.

    (Rosa Parks was not the first, but the first woman was an unwed mother and the civil rights machine (such as it was) decided she wasn’t as good a face for the fight.)

  3. Speaking as a teacher, I think you’re doing a great thing- to bring up diversity is hugely important. I know that I do my best to teach it in the classroom, but I have moments too (with parents and staff) where I’m thrown off guard and don’t speak up. I think knowing what to say all the time would be like having a super power and really.. we’re all human.
    It sounds like you’re doing your best and that is more than many people ever do. Good luck at the meeting!

  4. I’m with you on the practice thing. Also, I have TWO 6-year-olds who are more like Tariku vs the kids who sit nicely. You are not alone!

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