Saturday, October 28, 2006

A true story

When Ben was 18 months old, we walked down to Pine Grove Park from our house on Lincoln Street in Port Huron. There was a play scape there, that had a pretend pilot house and ship's wheel. Ben was just learning to love climbing and the slide. And he had just discovered the ship's wheel.

I helped him climb up, and there was a three or four year old white kid up there already. He looked at Ben, and he said, "No black kids can be pirates here!"

Ben laughed and clapped his hands. I went to the three year old's father, and told him what his kid had said. He glared at me for the longest ten seconds of my life. Then he brushed past me and yelled, "Jason! C'mon, we're going home." The kid ran to him like he knew what might happen if he didn't, and off they walked, across the green grass to the street.

At the time, I was posting a lot of poems on the site One of my favorite reviewers was Dean Walker, a twenty-somthing coffee salesperson from Sebastapol, California. I wrote him about the incident, and he wrote this, for Ben.

Home Grown Pirates

Boxed in and filled with sand
like an ocean
the towering creosote soaked pilings
take the form of an old shipwreck,
with riggings and planks,
and a captain's wheel.
Paid by the commons
for the children to enjoy.

"Aye scalawags all aboard,"
shouts a portly pint size scoundrel.
And hence heed the call
and came skipping
from his yard none other than
two year old Suleiman.

"Holt boy!There are no black pirates!"
says the patch-eyed little thug,
within ear shot of his parents,
keeping the world of thievery
squarely in the domain of whitie.


The Curmudgeon said...

Remember "South Pacific?" The song, "You've Got To Taught How to Hate?"

I think Rodgers and Hammerstein were onto something.

I remember some years ago -- probably 15 years ago or more -- when Middle Son was not much more than a toddler. He was watching an NBA game on TV. And when I came into the room, he was eager to share with me. "Look, Dad! Look at those black guys! They're really good! Don't you think so?"

Several different lectures began to take shape in my mind -- but, fortunately, I just asked a question: "What do you mean?" (Something like that, anyway, very neutral.)

"The black guys, Dad! The guys in the black shirts!"

Ah. Now I knew what he meant: He meant the Bulls -- who were wearing black uniforms that day. It was the uniforms that he saw. And only the uniforms.

Which struck me as a particularly good way to look at the world. Unless you were a fan of the other team, I suppose.

But what might a stranger have thought of Middle Son's remarks?

As parents, we naturally want to shield our children from hurtful -- and hateful -- remarks. So I don't question what you did for a second.

But you say Ben laughed and clapped his hands when Jason shouted at him. I wonder: What did an innocent like Ben hear -- or not hear -- in Jason's challenge?

When our kids were little, my wife would take them to the park and let them play on the swings and the climbing toys and such. And the kids met and mingled with other kids -- many of whom did not speak English. Yet somehow they communicated well enough with each other to take turns and enjoy each other's company. I wonder if little kids can work through things better than we can.

I don't know if that makes me an idealist or marks me as naive....

Cynthia Bostwick said...

Clearly a case of me taking on the battle for my son--he didn't know, nor probably did Jason, the true import of the remark.

It's funny: Ben's friend Haj is the first Asian he's met. Now, whenever we encounter an Asian person, Ben says, "Look, Mommy, Haj!" The interesting thing about race consciousness at his age is it hasn't any negative attached, just a noted difference.

Like the difference in jersey colors. Good story, good lesson.

Thanks for your comment.