On Tuesday, I got to spend the whole day with my eighth grade son, It was a regular school day. He wasn't home sick. He didn't have an appointment. I wasn't giving him a mental health day.
He was suspended from school.
He was suspended for fighting.
He threw the first punch.
Nine minutes went by between hearing the words and throwing that punch. He wrestled with what do. How to handle it. A school administrator would later tell him that he should have handled it like MLK. He should have acted in peace. He should have told a teacher. He didn't.
Those were the words hurled at our black son by his white classmate.
Those were the words he carried around for nine minutes before reacting. I try to imagine what that felt like to him. How it still feels. I can't.
And to be fair, he did use his words before using his fists. When the classmate called him “slave” our son told him it wasn’t okay, and that he could not say that to him. The classmate’s response was “monkey”.
When a fist fight happens at school, news of the incident travels at lightning speed. When a black classmate is called “slave” and “monkey”, junior high kids in a very white school are shocked and outraged. They knew about racism. MLK, Rosa Parks, the civil rights movement, how far we have come. Maybe they didn't know how far we still need to go.
A lot of those kids went home and told their families what happened at school. A lot of those families reached out to our family. There were text messages, phone calls, emails, Facebook messages and chats at the ball field. They support our son. They support our family. There is no excuse for this. They are sorry this happened. Their responses were immediate, heartfelt and genuine. They are why we love this community. They are the reason we love living here.
Even though I'm a white mom living in this super white town, what happened to our son wasn't shocking to me. The purpose of this post isn’t about the incident, or the classmate. But about the reality of racism, and how our community responds.
Our two black sons are teenagers now, and I could give you a list of racist things that they have experienced since elementary school. Maybe it was a racist joke overheard on the bus. Maybe it was monkey sounds. Maybe it was a kid who thought calling them the n-word was no big deal. We have dealt with these issues head on each time by talking to other parents or talking to school administrators. We haven't shared these things in a public way because we didn't want to make life harder for our kids.
This summer we were trolled on Instagram. Ugly, vulgar, racist, comments. I won't share all of the details because the language is so vile. I had posted a photo of our son laying on our dog's bed eating a bowl of cereal. This troll commented,”Y'all, she's got that black nigga sleeping on the floor." It got uglier from there. It was gross. And even though I am not usually shocked, I was shocked. I was also scared. We contacted the police. Someone had created an Instagram account for the purpose of attacking our family.
I should not have been shocked. Our country is on fire along the lines of race. I should not have been surprised that our family was feeling the heat of those flames.
Our son’s in-school fight turned some of this private stuff public. The Instagram attack happened publicly as well. So, perhaps this is the right time to be more public about our family's experiences with racism.
What happened after the words and fists were thrown, showed us something powerful about our community. When people know about this stuff, they care about it.
So, if you didn't know, now you do. Racism happens here, too.
Maybe some ugly words, a fist fight, and some outraged junior high students can spark a change in our community. Maybe we stop being shocked that these things are happening in 2017. Maybe when we are driving our kids to soccer practice, we start a conversation about racism. Maybe we tell our kids that what happened in Ferguson, or Charlottesville, or Baltimore is not unrelated to the lives we live here. That racism is not just something that happens in other places. Maybe if we talk about it enough, we make a great place to live, even better.