Dear Savvy Sister: How to handle 2nd grade racists? And their mothers….

Dear Savvy Sister,

We have recently learned that a few of the moms in our daughter’s second grade class have told their kids and other parents that my daughter is aggressive on the playground because she is black, and that she forgets to wash her hands sometimes because she likes to be dirty.

Recently, she made up a song called ‘I Hate Myself.’ Some of the lyrics include, “I hate my skin, I hate my hair.” She has refused dessert because she doesn’t want to be fat. One mom texted another that my daughter was a ‘bitch’ to her son. She is eight years old, and has been in the USA and our family for less than 15 months. I am so distressed that I don’t even know what my question is.

Love, Mama Weeble


Dear Mama Weeble,

I know what your question is. You want to know how fast the Savvy Sister can fly to wherever you are and take care of this matter. And I’m tempted to do that for you. You will not BELIEVE how mean I get. And have I mentioned I’m freakishly strong?

But here’s the thing – it’s going to happen again. So we might as well learn how to deal with it.

As an aside, it’s hard for me to fathom that such ignorant bigotry would be directed at children. But it explains how racism is perpetuated – passed down from intolerant mothers to daughters and sons.

I’m going to assume that you’ve already verified that you’re getting accurate information. The rumor mill among elementary school mothers is like mountain stream after the snow melts – fast-moving, powerful, and full of bacteria.

If it’s all true, you’re going to have to attack this problem from several different angles. First, call the teacher. TODAY. Explain to her what you’ve learned, and see what she has to say. Ask whether your daughter actually has been aggressive, or if maybe she just plays like the boys, which is fine. If the teacher has noticed some friction between the children, ask her why the flipping fricking fruck your weren’t notified immediately. Inform the teacher that ANY reference by a student regarding your child’s skin color must be addressed immediately and directly, and subsequently reported to you.

Then you must visit the principal, and be prepared, because you’re going to use the B word. Your child is being Bullied because she is black. If the girl is in public school, that principal should sit straight up in her leather Barcolounger with a slight quiver to her lips. Explain to the principal everything that has occurred. She may be reluctant to get involved in the bad manners of adults – but if your daughter’s well-being has been compromised, the adults’ actions have clearly trickled down. Tell the principal you expect the matter to be addressed promptly. If the principal and staff at the school has been otherwise helpful and welcoming, throw in some superlatives first to soften her up.

Next, I would write an email to the parents of your daughter’s classmates. It should read something like:

Dear Parents:

As you know, our daughter Bailey was adopted from Tallulahstan last year. It has been quite a year of adjustment for all of us, but rest assured we have merged into a happy, loving family. 

Recently, Bailey has come home upset due to comments by some of the kids in her class. The comments have to do with the color of her skin, how she looks, and where she was born. We understand that sometimes children can feel uncomfortable around people who are different from them, and can thus say unintentionally hurtful things. 

Our daughter is trying so very hard to adjust to life in America. She loves her classmates, and wants nothing more than to simply be one of them. Nonetheless, we all – my husband, my daughter and me – we all understand that the children and you, their parents, might have questions about where she is from and how she came to be in our family. International adoption is a wonderful, unique, challenging way to build a family, and we’d like to open our hearts to you should you want to ask us anything about this process. The hope would be that by understanding it all, you can pass that information, as you see fit, down to your children. We are anxious to move past the awkward stage of the children judging each other, and move toward that beautiful moment when they congeal as a class of second graders ready to learn. 

Thanks so much to those of you who’ve reached out to us, and gone out of your way to welcome our daughter into this community. We look forward to seeing you at next week’s PTO cupcake fundraiser. 

Finally. You must help your girl get through this. I’m sure you already tell her how beautiful she is inside and out, and that you have the book I’m Gonna Like Me by Jamie Lee Curtis. But more importantly, you must remember that she is carefully watching you to mimic your response. If you act scared, she will feel scared. So you must act strong and confident, and reassure her that Mommy and Daddy will never let anyone hurt her or be mean to her without repercussions. Tell her that sometimes children say mean things when they’re confused or afraid, even if those things aren’t the least bit true. Until this blows over, try to spend as much time in the classroom as possible. Maybe you and your husband can take turns. And at class events or gatherings, let your Mama Bear claws show. Throw your shoulders back, shower your child with affection, and display the same courage it took to create your awesome family.

Be proud, Mama Weeble. Be proud of yourself, and be proud of this extraordinary child. It will take strength for you to weather this storm. But that strength is dwarfed by the huge weight your daughter carries each morning when she walks into school. That, my dear, takes strength. Make sure she knows you know it.


the Savvy Sister.


19 responses to Dear Savvy Sister: How to handle 2nd grade racists? And their mothers….

  1. Katie says:

    Oh my….I am in tears for this family. This precious child. And oh my word! Your words and advice were AWESOME! More tears….way to go! Good Job Momma!

    • tricia says:

      Dearest Katie, doesn’t it break your heart? Boo for people.

    • tricia says:

      Thanks, Deborah….after your years at Legal Aid, I know you’re no stranger to these issues. Hope your trip out west was spectacular.

  2. Carol L Harris says:

    I agree with the above comments. Your assessment of the situation and counsel re the adoptive parents are excellent points!

    • tricia says:

      Thanks, Carol….hate that we even have to talk about stuff like this.

    • tricia says:

      Thanks, Lili! I love when people remember my mad boxing skills…

  3. heather says:

    First off I have to say wow! As a parent and being the “protector” of your child it is definitely hard to hold yourself back from becoming the beast of the century. I would definitely listen to the advice given by savvy sister. First off the teacher should notify you if your child is indeed being aggressive. I know when there have ever been any issues with my children their teacher informs me. This could be a child just venting to their parent and no one knows there is any issue because the child didn’t tell the teacher or yard duty. It can be an issue that the child saying your kid is aggressive just is sensitive and doesn’t speak up when someone might boss them around. Some kids are just more bold than others. I know my son can be sensitive and will say kids are bossy. Once I tell him to speak up there is no issue. If there still is I don’t go around bad mouthing another kid… I go to the teacher and tell them what’s going on and they can figure out the real truth because they are there seeing what’s happening everyday and know both of the children. If the teacher isn’t being any help then go to the principal. I know our principal would not stand for anything like this. She would send out letters or hold an assembly for parents to hear about non tolerance and the proper methods to use if there are issues with another kid. Not to go around bad mouthing or gossiping, go right to the teacher and the teacher will take the proper measures. And if anyone needed to they can go to the principal anytime. No one acts a certain way because of their skin, hair, nails, etc… it’s how they are raised and how they are as a person. Kids are always growing, always learning… heck we as adults are still learning as well. I hope everything works out! I’m sorry you have to go through this.

    • tricia says:

      Heather, thanks so much for weighing in. Really glad your teachers have been so supportive….that’s the way it should be, right?

  4. Ana says:

    All three of my Black sons have been called the N-word by first grade. All three times I have called the principal and raised hell. Fortunately we have had some very strong and wonderful teachers who were unquestionably on our team. In most cases the parents have been horrified at their children’s behavior and worked to correct it. Even when parents are not overtly racist, the cultural water we all swim in STILL IS RACIST and we have to actively fight against it, guard against our families’ absorbing it. Be brave out there, all you parents of children of color. You are your kids’ heroes and protectors. It is hard and we have to be strong. Keep up the good work.

    • tricia says:

      Ana, you said it. Strong words from a strong perspective. Thanks.

  5. Niki says:

    In awe of your advice. I have my own little beautiful girl of African American descent. If this issue ever arrives, I am grateful to have this in my back pocket 😉

    • tricia says:

      You’re welcome, Niki – let’s hope the issue gradually disappears. Write back any time.

  6. Margey says:

    Thank you for the wonderful advice. Parents of children of color need more people like you. My son has been called lots of things and treated poorly more often that I know, I’m certain, because he is black. This summer he ran away from a day camp (tried to run to my office) – he is 8 – because kids were calling him “the stupid black kid.” Last year, some other kid pushed him off of the top of a sliding board. We advocate for him tirelessly and he is a GOOD boy. It’s heartbreaking. To Mama Weeble, keep your head up and your daughter will, too. Good luck, Mama. We’re all in this one for our amazing kids.

    • tricia says:

      Thanks to you, Margey, and all who’ve given Mama Weeble the support she deserves. Long live us!!

  7. Day says:

    Thank you, Savvy Sister for some of the best advice I have ever seen anywhere. You are something! I am a friend of Mama W’s and her wonderful, intentional family. Courageous, that’s what she and her husband and children are…and that is what you counsel. Truly gives me hope that together we can conquer prejudice! Your newest fan!

    • tricia says:

      Day, you made it easier to get up on this early, early, sleepy morning. Thanks for reading. You are a keeper.

  8. Becky Dahl says:

    We adopted a little girl four years ago. She will be 8 in December.
    I would love to have them meet each other. We live in Park City.
    You can e-mail me at the above address if you are interested.

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