A group of girls went running to the two female adults, who accompanied them to the park.
"That black boy is bothering us! We told him to leave us alone, but he won't. And he's being so mean and scary!"
I stood within earshot, eagerly awaiting the adult response, expecting to hear questions about what happened. Even though the girls were all spilling their views of the story in the typical, chaotic, 7-10 year old girl way.
"We were just playing and he comes over and is trying to bother us!"
"I was doing a cartwheel, and he started copying me."
"He's scaring me!"
On and on they went. And finally, the adult turn to talk. "Stay away from him then. He does look a little scary. And where's his parent?" They all look around, expecting a color matched mom. "Great, he's probably here alone. Yeah, he's up to something, just stay together and away from him."
Is it bad that I chose to observe this whole situation, rather than jump in immediately? Well, that's what I did. I stood back and watched, and waited to see more of the children interaction away from their adults. And of course, it escalated. In only a matter of minutes, the group of girls found their way back, this time with a couple of them in tears.
"He's so mean!"
"He won't go away!"
"That black boy is scary!"
Finally, I had enough.
I'd listened as my son first approached the girls. He saw them doing cartwheels, and wanted to join. Now, I'm sure he could've been more gentleman like. He could've requested to join in, rather than saying "hey, I can do that too! See!" But he assumed everyone is welcome to play, because that's his heart.
I watched and listened, as this group of girls berated my son. As they laughed at him for being a boy who could tumble. Heck, he could tumble better than most of them. Still, they picked apart every detail of every move he made. And when he stood up for himself by saying "I'm just as good at this as you are", their attitudes got worse. It was when he shifted from being kind, to having to defend himself, that the girls ran to tell their very twisted side of the story.
I watched as the girls provoked my son, saying he couldn't catch them. And when he did catch them, they paired up on him with harassing comments. I studied the mannerisms of them all, and even stood aside when they shoved him down the slide. But when he pushed back and told them to stop, suddenly he became the "mean kid".
With the girls spewing hate to the adults, I stepped up. What I wanted to say was far from what came from my mouth, which is a good thing in this case. I had given myself time to cool off and really get a grip on who was in the wrong here. My words were few, but direct. I addressed the adults, as well as the girls.
Simply worded "that's my son. He's not here alone, and I'm pretty sure you aren't telling the truth."
The looks on their faces... I can't begin to put words to it. Busted, because they knew they were the bullies. Shocked, expecting a mom that fit the predetermined image of that "mean black boy". Regretful, as they realized I heard every hurtful comment that rolled off their tongues.
Before this experience, I would've said I don't believe we still have a race issue here. Yep, I'm playing the race card a minute. But these same girls didn't bat an eye at the skinny white boy, who was far more aggressive than my son. They didn't run away and cry. They played with that boy. But when the Haitian boy wanted to play, suddenly he's mean and scary.
My son is Haitian, almost the darkest skin you can get. He's strong, extremely muscular for his young age. He's been called a bully, mean, scary, and told to go away. I'm not that mom that'll say my kid is completely innocent. We've got a long way to go, there's a lot of healing left to take place. But maybe, just maybe, if we can stop judging someone by their appearance, and stop labeling them out of our own fears; we can find ourselves knowing them, allowing them to be themselves, and loving who they are.
And maybe, just maybe, I'll step in sooner, should this type of situation reoccur.
I tucked my son in bed tonight, next to his big bear. "Be nice, and say goodnight to bear too, because he's just like me... He's big and black."
"Yes, he sure is. But he doesn't get to have the beautiful skin, or that sweet heart you have. I'm glad God didn't make you a bear!"
"Me too mom! I wouldn't make a good black bear."
"Nope... But you make a pretty awesome, black boy! "
Color can't be erased. But treating it like a negative thing, can.