Thursday, August 30, 2007

questions these kids ask

Yesterday was Katrina's 2nd anniversary. I know most of you must be sick of hearing about it by now, since that's all they talked about yesterday. But you know, it's only appropriate.

So here's my Katrina story.

The hurricane happened just days before I left for Spain for the Fulbright. When I got there, the US Ambassador talked to us about the hurricane, and what questions Spaniards might have for us and what we should say. Basically, he said that we can say whatever we want, but to keep in mind that we are "cultural ambassadors" of the US in Spain, and should think about what we were going to represent... blah blah blah.

Then came my first day of school as a teaching assistant. I think it was a week after Katrina. One of the first things I was asked to do was to start off in the Geography and History class. The teacher of that subject asked me if I could answer any questions the students might have about the hurricane. I couldn't say no, so I agreed to do it. It started off with questions like, what made it so bad, what caused it to flood like that, how many people were affected, etc etc.

Then, one small boy (the same boy who had asked me the day before if there were a lot of bitches in California - he meant beaches), raised his hand and asked me this questions: "Why are all the people drowning on TV, Black?"

I knew a question like that was bound to come up. I tried to answer it by regurgitating some article I had read about the low-income community that lived near the levy, and how they were the only ones who could afford living in an area that was below sea level. But ultimately, I had to say that I didn't know for sure, but that racism and discrimination exists in the US, and people who were underprivileged are the ones that were harmed the most.

The boy was satisfied with my answer, but I wasn't. I almost wanted to make it simple and Kanye West-it, but you know, that wouldn't have worked. But that's the image that we as Americans got, and even more so around the world. The only positive thing that I could think of was knowing the fact that this kid was questioning something that obviously was not right.

When I was in Sevilla, I had another encounter with a child that made me slightly speechless and unable to answer the question he had asked. The child was my host brother, who had just turned 12. Sweet kid; he was one of the people I hung out with the most. One day, we were looking through books together, and he showed me one of those "Children of the World" books, where it pictured all kids of all color holding hands, standing on top of the Earth. Nice illustration, I guess, but the kids pictured were the most stereotypical images of what "children of the world" looked like. The Black kid was dark dark dark with tribal clothes, big eyes, and round thick lips, the Latin kid was brown with a sombrero, the White kid was pinkish with blue eyes, and the Asian kid was literally yellow, with slanted eyes and bucked tooth. My host brother looked at the picture, and then held out his arm next to mine, comparing the color of our skins. He then asked, "You and I are the same color. You're tanned just like me. Why do they make you yellow in this book?" I had no answer. I said, I don't know, and hugged him. It made me like him even more.

Kids say the darnest things sometimes, but kids do have the bravery and innocence to openly question about things we may not notice. I have high hopes for these two kids and what they might question in the future. I always remember them when I feel like I should be more inquisitive about the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen, sister.