Did you read about the 12-year-old Black boy who was suspended because he had a staring contest with a White girl? Like a lot of things I read or see these days, it sounded entirely too crazy to be true. Initially I figured that there had to be more to the story because that would be just too stupid, right? I mean kids have staring contests all of the time. Hell, I think my husband had one with our 7-year-old the other day and if I remember correctly, he lost.
Stupid or not, something about this story shook loose a memory from many years ago involving one of my sons that makes me think that it is probably, and sadly, more than likely true.
At the time my youngest son was in 4th grade at an elementary school that my older two had already passed through on their way into middle school. He was, shall we say, a handful, but he was an honest handful. Oh, he’d tell you what he had done and be very upfront about it. Made my work a lot easier and I appreciated it. It also meant that I trusted him to tell me the truth because he never tried to hide things from me (even when he should have).
One day, during dinner, I received a phone call from another mother of a student in his class saying that she was calling on behalf of a group of parents concerning my son’s behavior. Apparently, according to her and the concerned parents, he was disruptive to the class and was completely out of control especially – and here’s the part to make note of – when it came to a particular girl. He terrorized her and left her crying and it had gone on long enough. She demanded that I put a stop to it.
I listened and was genuinely concerned because like I said, I knew at times he could be a handful.
However, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard anything about the disruptions, terrorizing or the girl from his teacher nor had I heard it from him, the boy who tells everything. I told the mom that I was surprised by the information and that considering the seriousness of the issue, I hadn’t heard anything from his teacher. She responded by saying that the group had chosen not to take their concerns to the teacher but directly to me (may I point out that it was after a series of private meetings, as if she couldn’t just talk to me when she ran into me at school). I thanked her and noted that even so, the level of disruption that she described was such that the teacher should have noticed without them bringing it to her attention. I assured her that I would look into the matter and get back to her.
And I did.
First, I spoke with my son and asked if there had been any recent trouble with friends, particularly this girl, in school. He responded that things were good and no, he hadn’t been in any trouble and when asked specifically about the girl he indicated that they were friends, but she’s “annoying sometimes – always messing with me, following me, talking to me and stuff like that.” That was it, after that he lost interest in the conversation.
Next, I spoke with his teacher who listened to me recount the telephone conversation with the other mom and when I was done said “I have no idea what she’s talking about.” She assured me that she would have noticed if he was disruptive and terrorizing the class, but it just wasn’t the case. She did recall an incident where the girl was crying after recess because she had wanted the boys – including my son – to play a certain game, but they were playing basketball and didn’t want to join her.
“They do have sort of love/hate relationship where some days they goof around with each other and others they bicker, but nothing mean or abusive,” she continued, “I can even see how one might get the impression that they may have a crush on one another.”
She paused, then added “Really, I don’t understand, I mean, he’s no different…” and her voice softened and she stopped talking as if something had just occurred to her, “than the other boys.”
He was in fact different from all of the other boys (and the girl) in this scenario and it was a significant difference. They were all white. We are African – American. At that moment I felt sorry for his teacher because she was caught off guard and the reality of what she was looking at wasn’t a good feeling. I, however, was not caught off guard because, you see, while I won’t begin by thinking race is the motive, I will exhaust all other possibilities and let you lead me there.
I told her that there was no need for her to feel bad, after all I’ve been Black all of my life and I know how this game is played. She was right, it was unfair for them to single him out in this way, but I also knew that it wouldn’t be the last this would happen to him in his life. I know that many White parents get really upsest over their daughters with Black boys. As we wrapped up our conversation, she offered to follow-up with the parents and I assured her that it wasn’t necessary, I had told the mom that I would return her phone call. In hindsight, I’m sure it’s a phone call she wished she could undo.
There are few things that make me more upset as a parent than dealing with race on behalf of one of my children. I hate to be put in that position because the kids don’t know what’s going on while the adults are behaving badly. While I have no doubt that this mother and her cohorts were not conscious that the color of my son’s skin distorted their view of him (I’m choosing to be generous here), it did not dull the sting or lessen my anger. Unfortunately, Black children are punished more often and more severely than their peers of other colors for the same infractions. Black boys in particular are almost always considered the aggressor even when the evidence points elsewhere. Quite frankly I’m tired of the denials and excuses that inevitably come when you point this out.
I called the group spokesmom and relayed the conversations that I had with my son and his teacher.
Silence…stammering…more silence… followed by, “Well, things have been better in the last couple of days.”
Of course it has. Then I broke it down to her: my belief that a perceived relationship between my son and the girl was at the heart of this matter and the fact that my son was being singled out because of his skin color substantiated by the teacher’s observations that he behaved much in the same manner as the other boys.
I had to ask her if I was so wrong, why didn’t the group take their concerns to the teacher long before my son was labeled the class terrorist? And whose testimony were they basing their assertions on? Shouldn’t they have confirmed this with the teacher?
More stammering…deflecting…the girl and her two friends told them about what was going on…stammering…
Basically, this is how the conversation ended: Me telling her to tell her daughter (or whomever’s daughter) to stay away from my son and my son was instructed to do the same. Next I told her to never call my house again. If she had a problem go to the teacher and handle it appropriately and tell her friends to do the same. The teacher knew how to get in touch with me and would do so. Finally, I told her that she could deny and deflect all that she wanted to, but she and her friends are bigots. Maybe closet bigots, but bigots none the less and to please make sure she told her friends that, too.
The really sad part was the both my son and the girl were very upset that they could no longer be friends. In fact, this caused more of a disruption (this time noticed by the teacher) than the original alleged issues. Not surprisingly, neither the teacher nor I ever heard another complaint from any of the other parents for the rest of the year.
So, you see, it is completely possible that a Black boy was suspended over a mutual staring contest with a White girl. It really is just that stupid.