Friday, May 08, 2009

Is Justice Color Blind . . . to the Extreme?

Craig and I shelled out a large chunk of cash to allow Chris to participate in an after-school robotics program. He missed last week while we were traveling . . . and today when I went to pick up Sarah, her brother was begging to come home, too. He looked pale, and complained of a stomach ache. He'd had a cavity filled that morning, and I thought his jaw might be hurting. But he was adamant that the problem was his stomach.

No sooner had we pulled out of the driveway, the truth came out: That day a student at the school had cornered Chris in the bathroom, pulled him into a stall, pushed him to the floor, slapped his face and punched his stomach, and threatened him with a "swirley" if he told.

Chris had not told ANYONE at school, including his own teacher (who is generally very patient and kind). Quickly I turned the car around and went to the office with my son. He repeated the story three times -- once to the dean, once to the program coordinator, and once to the vice principle. When Chris was unable to give us the name of the other student, we went through yearbooks to pick him out . . . and it turns out that it was the same boy that had picked on Chris last summer during summer school. Back then, I took it upon myself to talk to the boy's father, and then we spoke to the kids together. I thought the situation was resolved.

Now this. When I realized it was the same angry kid we'd dealt with last summer, I realized that the kid had just waited until he had my son alone, with no witnesses, to get even for getting him in trouble with his (big, angry) dad.

Now, I'm not one of those mothers whose children can do no wrong. (For the record, the other kid's dad didn't strike me that way, either.) And yet, I've seen this other kid in the office MANY times, complaining that other kids are picking on him. He has a BIG chip on his shoulder -- the kind other kids just LOVE to poke at.

Ironically, my son is not a picker when it comes to other students. He's not perfect -- he has attention problems, and frequently "flips cards" because of that lack of focus. But he does not have a mean bone in his body, and is honest to a fault. If he says he was assaulted in the bathroom without provocation, I believe him.

What I found puzzling, though, was what happened the moment Chris identified the other student. Suddenly the vice principle was asking for marks on Chris, or other "proof" that the conflict had happened, and telling me that he couldn't take one student's word over another.

On the way home, an uncomfortable thought came to me: the other student is black. (So it Chris' teacher.) Could it be that part of the reason Chris was reluctant to tell was because of the subtle pressure to deny differences -- and potential animosity -- between races?

Now, prejudice is something no one likes to talk about. It's ugly, it's hateful. No one wants to admit -- especially in a rarified environment like this, where global values like compassion and integrity and perseverance are taught alongside the 3Rs -- that at least part of the problem might be race-based. We like to tell ourselves -- especially now that our first black president is in office -- that the color of a person's skin simply doesn't matter.

And yet, one of the subtler forms of prejudice is the chestnut that "race doesn't matter." Hogwash. There are times when it can matter very much because color is a part of a person's lived experience, part of their heritage, one of the many personal filters a person uses to interpret the world around him. We can grow in understanding of others with different racial backgrounds, but speaking as one of the few white women I know who has ever lived for a period of time as a TINY minority (I'm thinking of the year I lived in Senegal), there comes a time when it comes time to stop denying the differences, and to talk frankly about them.

So I asked him, "Chris, was the reason you didn't want to tell your teacher what had happened because that kid was black, and so was she?"

"No," said my son plaintively. "I just didn't want to get one of my best friends in trouble."

I choked. "Chris, you think this kid is one of your best friends -- even when he did those bad things to you?"

He nodded. I almost cried. "Honey," I said. "No one gets to treat you like that. And if anyone does, he is NOT a friend. You need to tell, so other little kids don't get hurt."

Craig says we need to start sending Chris back to tae-kwon-do, to build up his confidence so he can defend himself. That's a good start. But I can't help but think about the next kid who becomes the target. (Not Sarah, of course -- she would have kicked the snot out of the kid.)

If you think of it, please say a prayer over the weekend, that the situation will resolve itself in a way that keeps everyone feeling safe.


Therese said...

Deciding to look for proof and saying he couldn't take one kids word over another's when the child has been identified is treating the other child differently when really we need to treat them all the same. The principals weariness shows a prejudice.

Prayers for your son and I agree with Craig. Tae-kwon-do is a great idea.

Lydia said...

Hey! I found your blog by following my friend's blog at Learning to Surrender. I lived in Senegal for 7 years- WILD!!! We are adopting a special-needs daughter this year!!! WHOOHOO!!!

Bernadette said...

oh. my. GOSH! this is almost the exact same type of bullying that happened to our 9 yr. old several months ago. like your son, ours is a tender-hearted boy who didn't want to get his "friend" in trouble!

in our case, however, the school was entirely cooperative; nonetheless, we began homeschooling all three of our schoolage children just before Lent. this is something we'd felt like we should be doing for some time, so these incidents helped us to make up our minds!

this is the curriculum we're using, if you're curious, and it's terrific!

God *bless* you and those precious babes of yours!!!